And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word. And the angel departed from her.
As Mary uttered this word, she laid herself upon God's altar in absolute abandonment to God's will, that He might do in her, and through her, whatever pleased Him.
I. If we consider the CIRCUMSTANCES THAT PRECEDED AND LED UP TO THIS GREAT UTTERANCE, we shall see, in Gabriel's conversation with her, three arresting things.
1. Gabriel made clear to her what her vocation was. This is the first condition of a rightly lived life — it must be lived in obedience to the recognition of the vocation of God. Each of us has been created for a definite end, and to fill a special sphere in life.
2. Gabriel's converse with Mary revealed also the power in which that vocation was to be realized. She must abandon herself to the power of the Holy Ghost.
3. Gabriel indicated also the condition under which alone the Divine vocation could be realized, and that was by the consent of her own will. God could not take possession of Mary without her free response to His call.
II. THE LIFE OF REGENERATION IS OF NECESSITY NOT SIMPLY A LIFE OF NEGATIVE SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD, BUT A LIFE OF POSITIVE CONSECRATION TO GOD.
1. If consecration to God is the condition of a rightly-lived life, since it is an action, it is an action which must take place at some time in our lives. It must be definitely entered into.
2. If this life of consecration is one which we definitely enter into, it must be continuously persevered in. You cannot consecrate yourself in a moment, so as to secure perseverance in a consecrated life. We can only live the consecrated life when, having entered into it by an act of self-surrender, we live in obedience to consecrating grace.
3. The life of consecration must be lived in a God-assigned sphere. If Mary had turned aside from the vocation of God, and with all possible zeal had sought to serve Him elsewhere, and in other spheres than He had appointed, her life would have been a life, not of consecration to God, but one of self-pleasing. For you must remember this, that it is quite possible for a religious life to be a self-pleasing life. We may be apparently leading the most heroic lives of self-sacrifice, and, after all, our lives may be lives of self-pleasing all the time, for they are lived in a self-chosen sphere; and the question which every one who seeks to be consecrated to God must ask himself is this — Lord, where wouldest Thou have me to be? And then — Lord, what wouldest Thou have me to do? And then — Lord, what wouldest Thou have me suffer? We must be where God would have us be, we must do what God would have us do, we must suffer what God would have us suffer, if our life is to be consecrated to God, and not dedicated to self. It is so important that we should remember that all right spheres in life are God-assigned. God calls one man to the priesthood, another to serve Him in lay life; God calls one to religion, another to secular life; God calls one to serve Him in married life, and another to serve Him in single life; God calls one to serve Him in wealth, and another in poverty; but the essential law of living a life of consecration to God is a hearty, generous embrace of the God-assigned sphere of life. Hearty, generous embrace — no mere resignation. What have we Christian people to do with resignation? We have to rise to something much higher than resignation; we have to leap forward in response to Divine vocation, because it is the vocation of God.
III. THE CONDITION OF RESPONDING TO THE DIVINE VOCATION IS ABANDONMENT TO THE HOLY GHOST. What is God's great purpose in putting us in the sphere of life in which we are? I do not answer this question with dogmatic confidence, but my belief is that the primary purpose of God's dealing with His people is — formation of character; that we are placed in our spheres of work, wherever they may be, rather for what God means to do in us than what God means to do by us. I know quite well that wherever God places us He means to do a work by us; but — I repeat it — I believe that God's primary purposes of His dealings with us is not the work He does by us, but the work He wills to do in us.
IV. CONSECRATION IMPLIES PAINFUL SACRIFICE. Mary would naturally shrink back from response to this vocation for two reasons.
1. The call might seem too high for her. How many there are who shrink back from living generous, Christian lives in the world because they think that, if they are really to make up their minds to live lives consecrated to Christ and of loyalty to God "in among the haunts of men," they will be taking up a position which is too hard and difficult for them to maintain. What underlies many a poor, miserable, dwarfed Christian life is this cowardice which is so common among us. It is undeniably the fact that whole surrender to God does of necessity involve painful consequences; for they who thus give themselves up to God are called to know the fellowship of Christ's suffering. It is quite true that consecration to God is going to Calvary. Unless we are prepared to know the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, we cannot really and truly say this second word of Mary's.
2. But there is another thing that would have made her shrink back from her vocation, and that was the suspicion and calumny that would follow upon her consecration. Ere long men were pointing at her with the finger of scorn, and even Joseph was thinking of putting her away. And one thing is certain — is it not? — that men who go out into the world to try to lead a godly life often find themselves exposed to its calumny. Its hatred of goodness will make it only too ready to believe any scandalous story that is spread abroad about any one who lives for God. It is a fear of the condemnation of the world which holds so many back from God. Yet Mary faced it all; though her response meant such awful nearness to God, though it involved such great sacrifice as to bring upon her intense shame, boldly she said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word."IN CONCLUSION, let me point out how that this life of consecration is the fruit of love. It is love that consecrates. Love is based on gratitude, and Mary recognized the-fact gratefully that God had the right to claim her to use as He willed. "Behold the handmaid, — the slave of the Lord — be it unto me according to Thy word." "O God, I am Thine handmaid, Thy slave; Thy right over me is absolute; I cannot for a moment refuse to obey Thy voice." And so it is. God has upon us a threefold claim, each springing from an act of love.
1. The first is the claim of creation. Here we are in God's world not of our own will, but of His will.
2. But God has a second claim upon us, and that is the claim of redemption. The eternal Christ, the Son of God, came into the world, became the Child of Mary, and passed to the cross. He gave Himself — every portion of Himself — upon the tree for us — His mind, His heart, His will, each member of His sacred body. Behold it quivering upon the cross! Why? That He might buy us for His own.
3. But there is one other reason, and that is gratitude for regeneration. O mystery of mysteries! To think that you and I, sin-stricken as we are, should not only have been redeemed, but that we should have been "married to the Lord!" To think that He who in His humanity is the fairest of God's creation, should have stooped from the height of His Father's throne to the deep depths of our fallen state, and not simply have brought us forgiveness, but that He should have embraced us in His arms, and brought us to His sacred heart, and made us with Him one — bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh! To think of this, and all this as within the bounds of truth! Grasp the mystery of regeneration, and what follows? Consecration to God, abandonment to Christ. As the wife consecrates herself to her husband, so the regenerate to the great Bridegroom of the Church. Whole surrender is my duty; whatever He asks, that I yield. Creation, redemption, regeneration — revelation after revelation of God's love, kindle in my heart gratitude, and then lead me to take myself wholly up to God's altar and lay myself down there a living sacrifice at God's feet, as I cry, " Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word."
Parallel VersesKJV: And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.