The idea of reputation has been on my mind recently, and, with Advent also on my mind, I thought of Mary. One of the strongest temptations we face as image-bearers is the pursuit of selfish quests for glory. I am often filled with desire, fear, and ambition, all related to how others think of me.
Yet Mary, when Gabriel comes to her, disregards this concern. His prophecy spells immediate shame for her, a virgin. Perhaps later, in the stillness left after Gabriel’s departure, apprehension is a temptation. But in the initial moment, she receives his word with faith and joy. She doesn’t express fear over the gossip that will inevitably crop up, or the ostracism that she will certainly be subject to. At that moment, only her identity as “the servant of the Lord” matters.
Actually, she is concerned about her reputation, if we read a little bit farther. In verse 48 of Luke 1, she proclaims that God “has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed”. Her reputation is on her mind — but it’s different from how we usually think. First, she’s focused on what her reputation will be because of God’s works, not her own. Because God has condescended, because in his mercy and might he has acted on behalf of the humble and poor, people will call her blessed for what God did through her. Second, she’s looking ahead to generations in the future, not the present. Paradoxically, Mary’s future honor is dependent on her present shame. She will be subject to gossip and judgement, and is even almost rejected by Joseph, her betrothed. But here is, to play on a phrase, the “long view” of her reputation — a view unaffected by any present disparagement of her character, instead confident in her faithful servitude and the future blessing that will bring.