In the sixth month, 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. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 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.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon 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 barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)
For centuries, the Jewish people waited for the appearance of their King-Messiah, the “Anointed One.” They wanted a political and military deliverer who would save them from foreign domination. The “king” of the Jews at this time was Herod, ruling on behalf of the hated Roman conquerors.
No doubt many Jewish girls hoped to be the mother of this Promised One, thinking of the honor and glory due to the woman who brought him into the world. To be the mother of the King would be a great privilege.
Have you ever wondered if other maidens were offered this opportunity before Mary? Probably none were, because the timing was not right and God knows the innermost heart of every person. He carefully selected just the right one: a virgin, of the proper lineage and a person after God’s own heart, as was her ancestor David before her.
So God sent the awesome angel to Mary. Did he appear like a normal person as did the angels that appeared to Lot in Genesis 19, or did the glory of the Lord shine around him as with the angel who later appeared to the shepherds in Luke 2? If the latter, no wonder Gabriel needed to calm her fears.
She was probably between 13 and15 years old. So young, and yet, under the custom of the day she was already betrothed to Joseph, although they were not yet living together. So she asked the logical question, “how will this happen?”
Did she expect Gabriel to tell her to rush the nuptials and start their household immediately? Maybe she recalled the words the Prophet Isaiah had written: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 NIV. The Hebrew word for virgin can also mean ‘young woman’ but when the Jews translated the passage into Greek in the Septuagint two centuries before Christ, they used the word ‘parthenos’ or virgin. An unmarried young woman in that culture was assumed to be a virgin. Medical science had not yet developed artificial insemination, so her question is reasonable.
Her response – Mary was willing to trust God. But I doubt she could have imagined the consequences, to herself and humanity.
Mary was not an ‘unwed mother.’ In fact, that was part of the problem. Under Jewish custom, marriage was a two-step process. She and Joseph were betrothed under a binding contract, legally married, which could only be severed by divorce. Although they would not live together for some time, any sexual relations with a person other than her betrothed was adultery, punishable by death.
When Mary first received the news from Gabriel, she rushed to her cousin where the two celebrated their ‘miracle’ babies. So imagine her distress when her condition became obvious after her return home. Joseph knew he wasn’t the father, so he rejected her. Her parents and neighbors probably assumed the young couple had jumped the gun. Even after Joseph received reassurance and took her as his bride, no doubt rumors continued, probably for years.
Just as they were settling into their new life together, they received another blow. Mary was soon to deliver but the government said they had to take a three-day journey south to Joseph’s hometown to register. And then the town had no vacancies, she had to deliver in a barn, and had a bunch of dirty shepherds show up to pay their respects. Did she just want to rest in peace after her labor?
The Bible says, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19. She had greater faith than I do. Early on, I would have asked, “What did I get myself into?”
To help you appreciate this miracle more, listen to the words as Clay Aiken sings, “Mary, did you know?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiaZYZor6vI