Driving to church on Sunday afternoon, I was looking for something on the radio. When I hit the pre-set button for NPR, the first carol that came on was "Gabriel's Message" (LSB 356), not exactly what I expected from NPR, but very welcome! It fit well with Sunday morning's Gospel.
Gabriel called Mary "highly favored one" and said she was blessed among women. When Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, she too called Mary "blessed among women."
What does it mean to be "highly favored"? Some of my friends almost make it sound like there was something special about Mary, something different, that caused God to choose her to be the Mother of Our Lord. Or if not that, maybe God made her into something special, something different, so that she could be His mother.
But what if Mary really was "just like us"? What if she really was just as much a sinner as I am? Like Pastor says, "favored" is grace-language. Isn't is possible that the title "highly favored one" is due not to what she was in her own person (with or without God's help) but rather due to what He declared her to be and because of the copious amounts of grace He was going to be showering upon her over the next 30+ years?
But if "highly favored" isn't about Mary's self, then you have to start wondering where the favor is. Surely it's not something as self-centered as being "famous" and that we all know about her. Instead, there were the realities of life she had to face when her family suspected that she been behaving sleezily, and then when she was on the run as a refugee, and then when she was tagged as the mother of a rabble-rouser -- that's not the kind of "favor" from God that most of us covet.
Gabriel calls her highly favored. Elizabeth calls her blessed. And Simeon says that a sword will pierce her soul. Personally, I suspect I'd tell God that I didn't want that kind of favor or blessing. Who needs pain and suffering? Who wants to be the outcast? Who wants to have her soul pierced?
And yet, maybe that's where the favor is found.
Maybe she is "highly favored" because she was appointed for a very difficult life, a life full of suffering, and that she would have a soul pierced in a way that she'd never choose for herself. When we suffer, we're driven to depend upon Jesus in a way that we never would otherwise. When our soul is pierced, He binds us up.
And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly will I rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12)
Maybe the "high favor" and the "blessedness" of Mary is the great measure of grace she received, commensurate with the sufferings she endured in being the mommy of Jesus. As much as we all hate suffering, would we actually choose to trade the comfort of the Absolution for something "easy"? Jesus said of a different Mary, "She loved much, for she was forgiven much." Maybe that's also related to the anfechtung that His mom would endure. Maybe the "high favor" was that the Blessed Virgin just needed to receive more of the Gospel, more of God's love, more of His support, more of His forgiveness, to continue living out the life she was called to as the Mother of Our Lord.