The story is familiar, maybe to the point that we have forgotten how incredible it is. Some have trouble accepting the virgin conception and birth of Jesus because it is so outside our experience. Since we believe that God created and ordered a universe beyond our comprehension, it is not so difficult to believe he could create a child in the womb of a virgin. What is truly amazing to me is that this young, peasant, pious, small-town Jewish virgin would accept such an awesome and challenging task.
Let's read the story again with just a few questions and comments to help us hear the story again and rejoice.
Do you think Mary ever imagined an angel would speak to her personally? (Luke 1:26-29 TNIV)
In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
How could Mary think God would notice a poor girl like her from despised Nazareth? Even the Bible itself reminds us that people of Mary's day asked, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Why would God notice her, in this out of the way place, among a group of people with no claim to power or position? (Luke 1:30-33; John 1:46)
But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
Legend has it that Jewish women often prayed that they could be the mother of the Messiah. But could Mary actually dare to pray such a prayer? What right, what claim, did she have to even be able to utter these words? The angel's words pull back the curtain of life and help us see God's grace at work. (Luke 1:34-37)
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail."
How could she believe God would bless her when it appears in every way that he hadn't? After all, she was poor, her country under the heel of the Roman boot, and her people had been under political subjugation for hundreds of years. Mary had no financial or legal claim to expect God would bless her in this way. Yet Mary does believe that God has seen her situation and has come to bless her, and through her, the Almighty would bless his people! (Luke 1:46-49)
And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name.
Looking at the horrid political situation of her time — coupled with the religious hypocrisy and power struggle — how could Mary think of Herod and the Romans, yet still pray for God’s deliverance? God's deliverance seemed blocked by the power-mongers and the dishonest religious leaders in the system. Yet Mary proclaims: (Luke 1:50-52)
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
Don't you think it must have caught in her throat when she saw Pharisees & Sadducees gloating in their rich and religiously arrogant sense of superiority? But, Mary steadfastly trusted that God would turn the tables and make things right for his downtrodden people. (Luke 1:53-55)
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors."
Most of all, Mary surely realized the mess she would bring on herself by accepting this challenge! How could her friends believe her? Wouldn't her reputation be trashed as the rumors of her pregnancy swirled in the small village of Nazareth? She must have realized that even going to live with Elizabeth during her pregnancy would not silence the skeptics and she would be disgraced in her home town — for how could anyone understand this miracle inside her? (Luke 1:56) Don't you think she knew her son, Jesus, would one day be called "Mary's Boy" because no one would believe his miraculous conception? (Mark 6:3) Most of all, Mary surely had to anticipate possibly losing her betrothed husband, Joseph, for how could he understand? (Matthew 1:18-24; Joel 1:9)
Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the betrothed of her youth.
When given the open challenge of bearing the Messiah miraculously conceived in her womb by God's Holy Spirit, Mary said, "Yes!" This is the power of God's miracle — Mary is willing to partner with God in a mystery she could not fully understand. Mary said, "Yes!" to the challenges and joys as well as the surprises and wounds. She said, "Yes!" to the precious moments she would share with her baby, but she also said, "Yes!" to hearing her son being called Mary's boy in ridicule. She said, "Yes!" to wonder of the Magi and their gifts and also said "Yes!" to the horrifying moments as she watched her boy crucified before a hardened and mocking mob. While she could not anticipate where all this would lead anymore than she could understand the miracle of her son's conception, Mary said, "Yes!"
You see, one verse, the miracle verse of the whole story, stands out. When faced with this blessing and this cost, with this joy with such challenge, Mary answers the Lord with these incredible words of pledge: "I am the Lord’s servant ... May it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)
Such is the stuff of miracle and grace — the gift of character that forms us to be like the Savior and provides us our way back to God!