For generations the Jews had been talking about and waiting for the promised Messiah who would be a descendant of King David. What an honor it would be, I’m sure many a woman thought, to be the family chosen to produce the Messiah! I wonder if that thought had ever entered the mind of the young, engaged-but-not-married, Mary or her fiance Joseph.
One day an angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary and said: “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
What the angel said would happen, happened. Then Mary journeyed to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When she arrives, Elizabeth proclaims to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed … You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Mary responds to Elizabeth (sounding a lot like one of the Old Testament writers or prophets):
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”
It is clear from their words to each other that these two women are filled with the Holy Spirit! Dear friends, do our words make it clear to others that we are filled with the Holy Spirit?
Mary stays with Elizabeth until John’s birth and then makes the several day journey back home. She is now 3 months pregnant and her belly is probably starting to “show.”
Mary and Joseph are engaged. In their day that was a commitment almost as binding as marriage itself. Breaking off an engagement, except in certain circumstances, was punishable by stoning. So was adultery. To break off an engagement (such as if your fiancé slept with someone else during the engagement) required a bill of divorcement.
The couple would be bound in engagement typically for a period of a year before the wedding. During this period they could even be referred to as a husband and wife couple, but they were not to live together or sleep together during this time.
So you can imagine what people would think when the engaged Mary turns up pregnant. She could be publicly disgraced, or worse. Joseph was an upstanding man, this could seriously ding his reputation as well.
Have you ever willingly put your reputation on the line to follow God? Can you think of a time in your life that you have risked or sacrificed what another person would think of you in order to show God what you think of Him?
Joseph is considering quietly giving Mary a bill of divorcement. But during the night Joseph has a dream and an angel tells him, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
I wonder if Joseph woke up from that dream in a cold sweat? I wonder what questions ran through his mind as he lay there in bed in the early morning light ... Was Mary pregnant with the Messiah?! How can I possibly raise God’s son? Its going to be my job to raise the man who will forgive all the nation’s sins? What if I “mess up” as His parent? Will Mary and I be able to have other children in the future? If so, how will they feel having Jesus, Son of God, as a sibling? We don’t know what Joseph thought but we know what he did - Joseph obeyed the Lord’s angel.
Thus far we have read about several women for whom God opened their womb – such as Sarah and Elizabeth. They each had been sleeping with their husbands for years, not getting pregnant. When told by God or an angel that they would have a child, some of them doubted. We just read about Zechariah’s doubt – and he was a priest! These women had tried and failed many times, and concluded it was impossible.
Mary had never slept with anyone and, according to God’s law, she wasn’t suppose to until she married Joseph. So when she questions the angel saying “how can this happen,” she is not assuming what Gabriel says is impossible – she’s just unclear on how this is going to play out since she is a virgin and is suppose to remain one for many more months. Hers was not a question of doubt, but of logistics. She would not have known it was even possible to become pregnant without sleeping with a man.
I believe Mary considered it an honor to be used of God, however He saw fit to use her. We learn from our reading that she was a "ponderer" so its no wonder she couldn't help but wonder how when she hears of God's plan. God doesn’t seem to mind her questions or her curiosity as she is grounded with great faith in Him. I pray that each of us would have the wisdom, fortitude, grace and faith to respond to God and His plans for our lives as Mary did.
May we each say to God today: “I am Your servant. May it be to me as you have said.”