The First Christian was a Single Mother: Fear, Favour and Faith

By Carolyn Weber

For most of my childhood, I was raised by a single mom. When I consider my own fortunate position alongside a godly man, I have no1868223HighRes idea how she did it all. I continue to be surrounded by single moms, and remain highly sensitive to their survival situation. I am inspired by their endurance, their love, and their determination to make a better life for their children. Perhaps it has been this firsthand experience, then, that lead to my initial reaction to Mary’s own response to the preface of the Annunciation:

“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:26-28).

Then Luke tells us “Mary was greatly troubled at his words …” (Lk 1:29).

I’ll say!

Luke’s detail about Joseph and Mary being merely pledged to marry, and later not consummating their marriage, provides important confirmation of a virgin birth. It is the fulfillment of prophecy along with proof of the miracle of the immaculate conception. It also conveys just what a risk Mary faced, especially in her day and age. Joseph held the right to abandon her: she would have been ostracized from the community at the very least, justifiably killed at worst. We tend to forget this threat in the school pageant re-tellings of the Christmas story.

“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God’” (Lk 1:30).

Do not fear. A refrain we hear again and again throughout God’s message to His people. But what does it really mean? When faced with a stack of bills, a sick child, the empty side of the bed along with the empty promises … when exhausted, alone, vulnerable, afraid … troubled … how do we bear the blinding glory of God’s message announced almost unbelievably before us?

How to find the favour through the fear?

The answer lies in Mary’s yes – the very first human yes to the very first insertion of the embryonic Christ into our historical world. And how this yes holds the seeking, and sustaining, of God’s favor above man’s favour.

Yes. The most submissive, the most powerful of words.

Mary’s single motherhood only emphasizes her and God’s mutual faithfulness from “conception” (or conversion) to “delivery.” When Gabriel goes on to explain how she is to become the mother of Jesus, the savior of mankind, Mary’s response is not “why” but “how.” The angel patiently explains, but then it is up to Mary to live out the mystery of such explanation. It is Mary who remains alone with God, so to speak, during her “expectancy,” during His gestation and entering into human time and space.

Pregnancy takes approximately forty weeks, the same symbolic number occurring throughout Scripture in stories of prayer, pilgrimage, and preparation. The very essence of the origins and incubation of human life, as coming forth from the female body, has its roots in such amazing God-print. Through the example of the very woman who birthed Him – and who faced much danger and judgment and isolation in doing so – God’s manifestation as “Emmanuel” (or, “God is with us”) not only honors, but treasures, the troubled heart which still says “yes.”

Our almighty God could have actualized our redemption any way He wished, but He chose to enter through a woman’s consent: through her “yes.” It is a great wonder, and yet no wonder, that the Lord of All chose to come into the world through mother love. It is this beautiful response of mother love to Father love that underscores how Mary’s conception of the savior of humankind was dependent upon no single human; neither was it possible without God. Just like grace.

Arguably, then, Mary represents the “first Christian,” the first person to step into the actualization of prophecy, the first one to carry and birth Christ. Through her, we see God’s most gracious undoing of Eve’s curse with the magnifying of her original honor. A gesture of treasuring His most beloved daughters. Of providing, most authentically, what indeed all women (and men) want.

“Want” represents both a desire and a lack. When we “want” something, we wish for it; we can also be in need of it. Our deepest desires come into line with our deepest needs. And so, in this fallen world riddled with want, we can only be troubled until we are filled with God’s peace. Through the abundant grace of God’s coming to live among us, and die for us, the Gospel fills our want.

Mary responds to the Annunciation with praise entitled “Mary’s Song” (Lk 1:46-55). Her words reinstate why she held God’s favor, as they serve to remind us how, as believers, regardless of our human relationship status, we are married first and foremost to Christ. In such sacred relationship, there can be no single, but only singular men and women.

And it also reminds us that we are not alone. In saying yes to God, Mary’s song becomes ours. As God delivers grace to us, we can help bring forth that deliverance in others. When we trust in His abundance, His provision and His power, our souls indeed “glorify the Lord” (Lk 1:46).

May we all experience a “Mary” Christmas – the kind where our souls leap in “yes” to the birthing of Christ in our lives.

Amen.

Carolyn Weber is the author of two award-winning books, Holy is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present and Surprised by Oxford: a memoir. She is a professor and a busy mother. She wrote “We are a People of Place: Coming Home as a Follower of Christ” for Faith Today.

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One thought on “The First Christian was a Single Mother: Fear, Favour and Faith”

  1. To be clear, while a wonderful meditation at some points on Mary’s faithfulness she wasn’t a single mother in her own time nor should she be considered to be one in ours. Given the author’s background, I’d have thought the dis-similarities between Mary’s situation and the plight of single mother’s today would have appeared more stark to her then they obviously did. That is unfortunate.

    Mary was considered Joseph’s wife the moment she was betrothed which occurred some time before the angel’s announcement to her. She was Joseph’s wife when she was found to be with child. She was Joseph’s wife when the angel spoke to him about continuing in their marital relationship. She was Joseph’s wife when she visited Elizabeth and they rejoiced together. Not only did Mary have to say “yes” but so did Joseph. Yes to raising someone else’s child as the heir in and to his home. Yes to the potential shame and disgrace that Jesus’ perceived illegitimacy carried for both parties in the 1st century. Yes to allowing God to work beyond what he could have imagined.

    So Jesus was born not simply to a saintly single mother but into a loving, courageous, faith-filled family who were embracing God’s plan for them knowing “nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

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