Though I’m not Catholic, I’m familiar with the following prayer:
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…
This prayer comes straight out of the book of Luke (verses 28 and 42), and it’s how Mary was greeted first by an angel, and then, by her cousin, Elizabeth.
And this morning I fully realize this prayer is not ascribing majesty to Mary, as I so thought. See, I believed “Hail” to be a form of greeting used only with someone high of rank. But now, I know. Literally, hail means “rejoice” or “be glad.”
And to clear up another misconception on my part, Mary being full of grace does not mean she was a graceful person. Rather, Mary was blessed because God’s favor rested on her. It was His grace she was full of, not her own.
In other words, “Rejoice, Mary! Be glad because God has blessed you and His grace rests upon you!”
Funny thing, though, is many images depict Mary in a deeply contemplative state rather than full of joy. In my opinion, she looks to be melancholy.
But one can infer from the first chapter of Luke, that she did in fact rejoice. And not only was Mary full of grace, she was also full of praise! For this was the song of Mary’s heart…
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” Luke 1:46-52
This passage gives us a glimpse into Mary’s soul. At least at the time of immaculate conception. Oh, I’m sure she didn’t always remain on this spiritual high for could she? Because not long after, her betrothed wanted to put her away quietly.
And there were other hardships. If I were to place myself in Mary’s sandals, I’d have to say some of her joy slipped away. So perhaps the sad images of Mary do portray her best.
Especially during her third trimester. Traveling a great distance on a donkey. In the cold. And upon arrival to Bethlehem, the city of David, there must have been such crowds. And the straw to break the camel’s back… there was no where to go!
What must she have been thinking?
Me? I know exactly what I would have said. I’d have uttered in disbelief, “Are you kidding me?” For that’s my go to phrase. When something doesn’t go according to my plan, this flies right out of my mouth. And if I were in Mary’s place, I would have thought, “Here I am carrying the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and no one can make a place for me! For ME!”
And so, the contrast is striking. I, quite clearly, am nothing like Mary. For I am high in my thinking. But Mary was not. She was lowly. A humble soul. And thus, God’s grace rested upon her.
And it’s there, in the grace of God, that I need to pause for just a moment. Because I need it this hour.
See, the other night I had been lulled to sleep on my couch by the glow of the TV. However, I awoke with a start. I was brought to full alertness, but noticed nothing askew. Not even when I stepped out onto my porch to unplug Christmas lights did anything seem out of the ordinary. No, the world was quiet.
But then, I heard voices. And finally, I saw flashing blue lights at the top of the hill. And standing there in my bathrobe, I felt uncertain about what to do. Lights silently beckoned, but I didn’t know what had happened.
I hurried inside to wake my husband from his deep slumber and told him something was wrong… I told him I felt I should go up and see.
But he didn’t understand my reasoning. It was cold and dark and a policeman was already there. What did I possibly think I could do? No, he felt I should stay inside. And so, I left the bedroom to venture out again. And that’s when I heard the fire station siren. Something was wrong, in deed.
Still, though, I felt uncertainty. It was true there was an official on site, and it was true I was undressed… but shouldn’t I go up to see if I could be of service? I ventured back in as I heard the sirens approach. And by this time, I knew help was just seconds away. And so, I deduced my husband was probably right…
Thus, I did nothing.
I watched out my window as more and more emergency vehicles arrived. And when a spotlight shone forth, I realized it wasn’t just a simple accident. Not only that, emergency personnel were right on the edge of our property! I didn’t know how I could help, and yet, I felt compelled to do something. Once again, I woke my husband. Shouldn’t I go? Shouldn’t I do something? Anything?
I wish I could say that I rose to the occasion. That I hurried to help in anyway I could… perhaps in offering a kind word or holding a hand. I could have handed out hot coffee or blankets, or lifted up the injured in prayer. I bet that’s what Mary would have done.
But no. I stood still, instead. Compelled to move by the Spirit within me, yet unable to move forward one step. And so, by the time I made my way to bed much later, I felt like an utter fool.
By the next morning, foolishness morphed to guilt. And then, I was filled with deep regret as shame overtook me. Surely the shame of inaction is much more than the shame of an action taken. For I failed to do what was right.
And today, it strikes me that the shame I felt is just another form of the word disgrace.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was full of grace.
And I… well, I was full of disgrace.
When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2
Hail Mary, full of grace. This is the description we have of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Filled with grace because of her humbleness. And through humility, she became wise. And so, Mary being Mary, her earthly frame housed a wonderful gift. For within her womb was the seed of Christmas… the grace of God.
And me being me, this is the gift I need most this Christmas. For I am but a human. Frail and fraught with error. I make mistake after mistake. I fail God again and again, and yet, His gift to me is everlasting… His mercies new each day.
So this day, I choose to rest there. In the grace of my Lord and Savior. And I proclaim with great confidence…
Hail Pam, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
And not because of who I am or anything I do. But simply because I need Him. I need His grace.
Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness, for although the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:16-17
This Christmas, I am unwrapping God’s gift of grace. And in this reason alone, I shall rejoice. Funny thing, though, it’s not perfection that brought me to it. No, it was through a mistake.
And though my error brought me low, and I was awash in shame for a brief period, I was humbled by my folly. And it was in that moment, in my human weakness, that I found His gift.
My disgrace was exchanged for His grace…
A Christmas gift that keeps on giving.