By Annette Francine
Gospel of Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Whether or not you believe Jesus is the Christ is immaterial here. Let’s focus on Mary.
Based on information I’ve acquired from multiple sources over the years, Mary may have been all of thirteen years old at this moment in her life. At least one source depicts her as having Moorish descent, making her of very dark complexion. Although the Catholic faith (possibly others, as well) teach that Mary was without sin, or ‘immaculate’, nothing in the Bible supports anything other than her virginal status and her sincere devotion to God. Contrarily, Scripture repeatedly emphasizes that Jesus—and in all of humanity, only Jesus—was sinless and perfect.
In any regard, there is no indication this announcement was made to Mary in the form of a dream or vision. The archangel Gabriel literally visited her. She has got to be wondering what was in the wine she’d had earlier. Right? Given her innocence and devotion, one can reasonably conclude her to be quite humble, almost certainly struggling to comprehend how a lowly individual such as she could be selected for this incredible task. No matter your beliefs, she believed in the promise made to her.
I can’t help speculating her mind was abuzz with questions and, possibly, concerns about how this would all come about. Would or did the conception occur immediately? Was she immediately cognizent of it? And when her pregnancy was evident, did she begin to freak out a little bit? She’s already betrothed to Joseph, as it was customary for marriages to be arranged well before a girl’s first menstruation. Historically, and even to this day in Middle Eastern culture, you know not much is more highly prized in a woman than her virginity. So, how does one prepare for that conversation with one’s parents? Or breaking the news to Joseph? In that society, she would have been shunned — very possibly for all of her life — even my her own family. Wouldn’t that prospect churn in one’s gut?
At the very least, I wonder how saddened she was by the shame and disappointment her condition brought to Joseph and her family, who most assuredly could not comprehend her “explanation”. Although it isn’t recorded in scripture, perhaps Gabriel or other angels visited her later, giving her guidance and encouragement. Then again, I’m probably imposing my own very limited degree of faith upon her and, instead, she was perfectly accepting and content to let her future unfold as it would, in any manner it would.
But however she would have introduced that revelation, it wasn’t looking good for Mary. By the accounts, Joseph fully intended to file a writ of divorce since a betrothal was as legally binding as a marriage, and this would be required of him. Evidently, truly caring for Mary and wishing to spare her the shame she would have to endure among her town folk, he also intended to send her away. But another visit from Gabriel, this time to Joseph in the form of dream, changed all that.
There are very few references to Mary recorded in Scripture, but as a mother, holding my own child in my arms was such a miracle to me, and so indescribably profound. What must Mary have felt upon holding Jesus? She believes he is the Messiah, the fulfillment of centuries of prophesies, a king for all time. There would be no way to grasp it, would there?
Nowhere in the Bible is insight provided as to what all Mary knew regarding Jesus’ future: his miracles, martyrdom, and purported resurrection. Did Jesus have conversations with her, trying to prepare her for what would come? I find evidence in Scripture that probably wasn’t the case. Like I suspect most parents do, I agonize over hardships my kids endure just in “normal” life, from which I’m unable to protect them. But when I consider Mary…. Talk about strength. Talk about faith.