In this Advent season when we prepare to meet God in the Christ Child, my thoughts turn to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The gospel writer Luke has a special attraction to Mary and her pondering heart. Mary did not take what was happening to her at face value, but sought the deeper, hidden intentions behind her experience. She was perplexed and pondered what sort of greeting the angel Gabriel gave her when he said "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). She pondered the words of the shepherds (Luke 2:19) and kept all the strange events of Jesus' childhood and "treasured all these things in her heart." (Luke 2:51). We can only imagine her ponderings at the foot of the cross.
In the encounter with the angel Gabriel, Mary is nothing like the passive recipient of God's will that is normally assumed of her. She is perplexed. She wonders. She ponders her future and the meaning of God's will. She questions God - "How can this be?" (Luke 1:34). I wonder if that question occurred to her again as she endured the scorn of her neighbors during her unwed pregnancy or saw her son tortured to death.
I know a man who is a professed atheist who struggles mightily with the question of God. He proclaims to have resolved the issue, but he reads extensively on religion and belief. On his kitchen bookshelf are not one but two Bibles. His struggle with God betrays a faithfulness that is uncommon even for believers. I have asked him, if God does not exist, why do you struggle so with him and with the phenomenon of faith?"
I see my friend as part of a long line of faithful ponderers from Abraham to Mary to you and me. What makes Mary a model of faith is not only her willing submission to God's will, but her struggle with that will for her life. Mary, with her questions and ponderings, shows us the way for Advent. It is a time to ponder what God is up to in our lives and in our world. It is a time to treasure in our hearts those things God has done. It is a time to receive God's word of grace for us. Her life was not easy after her encounter with the angel and there were doubtless many more times for questions and chances to ponder, but in the encounter with God, Mary, like all of us who respond to God with struggles, questions and ponderings, found favor.