And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
To “serve” means to offer help in whatever way help is needed. If a person comes to a church community, or to any other context and says “I’m here to serve,” that literally should mean, “I’m here to do whatever is helpful.”
Unfortunately, while we may say “I’ll do whatever is helpful,” we don’t always mean that. Because what if you said “I’ll do whatever is helpful,” and someone told you, “go empty the trash, and then clean the bathroom.” How many of us would either say “I don’t clean bathrooms” or “is there something else I can do instead”?
Today’s verse is the response the Virgin Mary gave to the Archangel Gabriel, when she was told that God had called her to carry His Son in her womb. The Virgin Mary was certainly surprised by the visit of the angel. She had some questions, like how can this happen since she was not married? The Archangel answered this question by telling her:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Luke 1:35
Then Mary said “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) She thankfully didn’t say “I can’t do that,” or “can you please choose something else for me to do?” God had a specific plan for her, and she willingly and obediently went along with it.
God has a plan for each life. That plan might be something large, like a calling to a certain career, or it might be something small, like a circumstance or an opportunity to serve on a particular day. Circumstances, some of which I believe are provided by God, give us opportunities to serve on given days in specific ways. For instance, someone drops their groceries in the parking lot of a store, and circumstance has us standing in close proximity. There is now an opportunity to serve. God tells us that we are to love our neighbor, and our neighbor is the person who is next to us at a given moment. Did God allow the groceries to fall to the ground, so we could help pick them up? Or was the person who dropped them just clumsy? In either case, God calls us to serve, and in that circumstance, in that moment, we are supposed to help the neighbor by helping to pick up the dropped items.
There are lots of ways one can serve. We can choose any of them. When the call comes out for a volunteer baseball coach, if you don’t know how to play baseball, it’s okay to pass on that one. However, what if no one stepped up to serve as a baseball coach, and a team of kids had no one to coach them? Maybe this is a call to learn something about baseball and serve as a coach because that’s what is needed.
This is probably an extreme example that will not happen to any of us. A more common example is at a church festival or a school carnival, there is a call for volunteers. We eagerly step forward as a parent or as a church member and offer to serve. We are handed a mop and told to mop up spills on the floor. Our reaction is “I don’t do mopping; can I be a cashier?” If there is a call for cashiers, and one wants to be a cashier, then it is very appropriate to step up to serve in this way. However, if there is a general call to serve, and one steps up to answer it, one has to be prepared to serve in whatever way is needed.
Sometimes there are specific calls, like the call to be a baseball coach, or sing in the church choir. And we have specific skills or interests to answer them. So that we not only get to serve, but we get to serve doing something we like. However, many times there is a call to serve in a way that perhaps stretches our comfort zone, or calls us to do something we’d rather not do (like taking out garbage or mopping a floor). To truly serve is to do whatever is needed, whether that is answers God’s call for our lives, or answering the call to serve in a temporary situation.
In a church community, there are many opportunities to serve, and needs to be filled. Some of those are more attractive, like singing in the choir or serving on the church board, and some are less attractive, like washing dishes after coffee hour. Each of us needs to understand that service is whatever is needed in a given circumstance and that to truly serve, one must step up eager to help in whatever way is needed at a given moment. When the Virgin Mary was visited by the angel and told that God’s plan for her life was miraculous, unbelievable, incredible and hard, she didn’t say “choose someone or something else,” or “find something easier for me to do.” She said “I’ll do it.” We are not likely to be presented with something as heavy as she was presented with. However, whatever opportunities to serve present themselves (whether in a daily circumstance or a life calling), our answer should mirror that of the Virgin Mary, “I am here to serve, according to Your will” not mine.
Lord, thank You for the gift of another day. Thank You for the possibilities that this day will bring. Each day brings an opportunity to serve You, according to the talents You have given me. And each day brings an opportunity to serve, according to the circumstances I will encounter. Give me joy in using the talents with which You have blessed me. And give me the eyes to see the opportunities to serve others in whatever circumstances I find myself in today. Help me to always see myself as Your servant, and let my life today be lived according to Your will. Amen.
Be open to serving others as they need, not necessarily as you want. Seek to serve God in every circumstance that arises today!