Whether or not you believe in Jesus, there is a beautiful treasury of literary images surrounding this aspect to the story. God’s ultimate plan for humanity is fully dependent on a single choice presented to a single person. The decision, the choice being made having eternal consequences for not only her and those after her, but all of those who came before she did, as salvation was only granted to those before her as a result of the sacrifice of Jesus, her son, who would only exist in human form if she consented.
In the Catholic Church, there is the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a prescribed set of readings from Biblical and extra-biblical sources, and prayers set to the time of the day, as well as the season of the year. On December 20th, the following is from the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours.
With the preface given above, I was absolutely struck by the beauty of imagery. All of humanity, the historical giants of the Jewish faith that preceded her, were all in anxious anticipation of Mary’s decision to the Angel that had asked on behalf of God. Jesus, being the Word of God, as the theology holds, is dependent on the word of a woman.
From a homily In Praise of the Virgin Mother by Saint Bernard, abbot:
You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by a man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.