Reflecting on my life from a perspective of years, I trace my choices and decisions through myriad events, joys, and sorrows. I take stock; I give praise; I consider what I’ve learned and how those lessons impact my life today. I think about my legacy too—how has my life shaped the faith of my children, grandchildren, and future generations?
One woman, Mary of Nazareth, left a unique legacy: Jesus, the Son of God, was her son too. She was God’s choice to bear and raise the Savior of the world. No one else will ever have a similar experience.
But Mary left a personal legacy as well, found in Scripture, and we can all learn from her—women and men. As Mary looked back over her life in her later years, what did she see? Mary knew how to wait—and follow—with faith.
Seeing the angel and hearing him speak hadn’t frightened or troubled Mary as much as his hello: “O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28*). What was he doing here talking to her, and what did his strange greeting mean?
She was betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal, a binding form of engagement to wed, could take place when a girl was as young as 12. Most often we think of Mary as in her mid to late teens when Gabriel appeared.
Favor with God. Had God looked on her with favor because of her devotion to him? Or did his favor come in the position he gave her? Perhaps it was both. Mary’s words to her relative Elizabeth a short time later expressed her amazed gratitude:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name (Luke 1:46-49).
How much Scripture had she known back then? Only Jewish boys received formal schooling and religious training. No matter. When Gabriel explained God’s plan for her and answered her one question, Mary didn’t hesitate. She would do what God said she should do. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Acceptance had required strength and faith. Her pregnancy was sure to be misunderstood—by Joseph, by her parents, by the entire community. There would be gossip, shaming, exclusion. Mary accepted all these possibilities and trusted God with her life and his plan—whatever it was.
Surrounding all the uncertainty had been joy. Mary sought out Elizabeth—pregnant herself after long, barren years, just as Gabriel had said. Mary knew Elizabeth would understand when she told her. But when Mary arrived, Elizabeth seemed to know already: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! . . . And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:42, 45).
Hearing Elizabeth and Zachariah’s story and sharing woman to woman with Elizabeth for three months encouraged Mary and fortified her strength and commitment as she returned home and prepared for the birth of her son.
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Every pregnancy means waiting. And when the baby’s born, though we don’t often realize it, we begin waiting anew. What will our child grow up to be? What kind of life will unfold for him or her?
So Mary waited for the birth and then welcomed her son, wondering about the future. She stored up memories of everything that happened, and there was so much to ponder and contemplate! Traveling to Bethlehem, the unusual birthplace, a visit from shepherds who told of angelic announcements. Encounters with aged prophets in the temple. Extravagant gifts from Magi from the east who came to worship the child. A warning to flee quickly to Egypt to keep the baby safe from Herod.
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Joseph. Such a gift from God! He hadn’t believed her at first, but he was a good man and he wanted to protect her as much as he could. Then an angel spoke to him in a dream, and Joseph took her into his home yet kept her a virgin until after Jesus was born.All his life he loved her and cared for the child as if Jesus were his own.
Of course, they couldn’t escape that Jesus wasn’t Joseph’s son, or any other man’s. But his name, Jesus—“God saves”—it wasn’t an uncommon name. All Israel waited for the Messiah to free them from Roman rule. But in Joseph’s dream, an angel told him Jesus would save his people from their sins. How, and when?
Mary wanted to understand, yet full understanding took time.
Finding Jesus in the temple with the teachers when he was 12, asking and answering questions, declaring to Mary she shouldn’t have been surprised to find him in his Father’s house—was that the turning point? Or when Jesus was grown, had clarity come in conversations she had with him?
A day came when Mary wanted to save her friends from embarrassment. She told the servants at a wedding feast, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), and Jesus turned tall cisterns of water into wine without a word.
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Adult children pursuing their lives and ambitions can distress as well as bless their mothers. Mary felt proud of Jesus, of course. Teaching with such wisdom, healing the sick, even raising a widow’s dead son! But disputing with the religious leaders? And the crowds! What would happen next?
Mary had thought she understood Jesus’ mission. But his brothers didn’t believe in him. And the stories she was hearing! Had Jesus gone mad? He had to come home! She went along with the family’s “rescue mission.”
Had she forgotten who he was? Or had Jesus’ brothers insisted she join them, thinking Jesus would agree to abandon his ministry if she were there too?
She likely later regretted it. And took to heart his response that day: “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50).
Jesus didn’t come home. Eventually Mary left home herself and followed him, all the way to Jerusalem and the foot of the cross.
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How had the waiting come to this?
Simeon had promised a sword would one day pierce her soul. That sword did its work as Mary stood near Jesus’ cross. She didn’t want to watch his suffering, but she couldn’t leave him or look away.
He told his beloved friend John to care for her. Then it was finished. He was dead. John put a hand on her shoulder and guided her away. The Sabbath came and went, followed by another long, aching night.
But sometime after dawn on Sunday, Mary heard the tomb was empty. Was it John who told her? Then the report of Mary Magdalene: “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
Jesus was alive? He was alive!
Scripture doesn’t tell us whether Mary saw Jesus after the resurrection or watched from the Olivet hillside as he returned to Heaven. But I like to think that she did.
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In the upper room with all the other followers, Mary prayed and waited. She’d been waiting all her life, really, for what had finally happened—Jesus, the Son of God yet her boy, had done what he’d been sent to do. He’d made the sacrifice to save the world, and he was alive again and with the Father in Heaven.
What was next? She didn’t know, but he had told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit. So Mary prayed with them, and waited, until the Spirit came.
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We don’t know when Mary’s earthly story ended. We don’t know where or how. But looking back had always pushed her forward. Looking back at her life can push us forward too.
When Gabriel brought God’s message, Mary didn’t hesitate to act on what God wanted her to do. We have the whole written Word. Are we as quick to accept and obey?
Mary used her mind to inform her heart. She observed, she listened, she reflected, she sought wisdom and understanding. We can do the same. We have unlimited resources to help us learn and grow.
Mary persevered. The normal life she might have wished for as she raised Jesus and his siblings was not the life she got, but she pressed on. At times she stumbled, but she resolved her doubts and learned to trust her son as who he was—the Son of God, the Savior.
Mary’s personal legacy, her heroism if you will, is this: she faithfully followed God day by day, circumstance by circumstance, even when she didn’t fully understand. She lived thoughtfully, patiently, faithfully as she waited for more to be revealed.
At the end of her life, Mary’s reward surely came as she reunited with her son, now her Savior. I can imagine Jesus’ glad welcome and his affirmation of her faith and her long wait.
We’re all waiting, every day. We don’t know what will happen next—in our lives, in our country, in the world. We don’t know when Jesus will return or what we and our loved ones will go through before he does.
But we do have this day and our commitment to Mary’s son—the Son of God. Like Mary, let’s follow God faithfully as we wait for his plans for us and for this world to be revealed.
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*All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.