It’s that time of year again! “The most wonderful season of all!” It’s when we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although, prior to that event is the story of the 14-year-old Jewish teenage virgin, Mary, discovering that she will be the one giving birth to the savior of the world. In Luke, chapter 1:26-38, we have the most accurate account of her receiving this incredible, albeit mind-blowing, news…
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered 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. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
It often seems that this part of the story has lost its power over the centuries, which often happens to things that become repetitive. Christmas scenery tends to depict Jesus’ family as icons shining with joyful smiles, while a calm Mary receives the gifts of the wise men as a kind of benediction. Yet, that differs from how Luke tells it. Mary is described as “greatly troubled and afraid”. Then, when the angel announces his proclamation that she will give birth to the Son of God, and His Kingdom will reign forever, Mary had something far more mundane in mind: I’m a virgin!
In the modern United States, where each year a million teenage girls get pregnant out of wedlock, Mary’s predicament has undoubtedly lost some of it’s force, but in a closely knit Jewish community in the first century, the news an angel brought could not have been entirely welcomed. The law regarded a betrothed woman who became pregnant as an adulteress, subject to death by stoning. God’s plan would supersede the law. C.S. Lewis has written about God’s plan, “The whole thing narrows and narrows, until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear – a Jewish girl at her prayers.”
I often wonder how those next nine months went. How much praying did Mary do? I remember watching my wife, and myself, go through different stages of emotions as we eagerly, although not always patiently, awaited the birth of each of our children. There seem to be more worry, panic, and extreme anxiety with our first, obviously. Even though we were legally married and in our mid-twenties, it was still a roller coaster ride that circled around ample amounts of prayer. That’s what makes the thought of Mary’s pregnancy more intriguing. How many times did she reflect on the conversation with the angel? When He kicked and moved in her womb, did she understand who was kicking her? How’d her parents take the news? We never have read anything about Jesus’ grandparents.
We can dwell on this story and think of all the different scenarios from now until we meet Mary, but what we do know is that a 14-year-old Jewish teenage girl had so much faith in God that she bet her life on it. She could have let the cultural circumstances and concerns about everything that might happen consume her until the point she denied the anointing of God. She could have run away for fear of shame to never been seen again. There is so much that could have happened! Yet, God decided to put the fate of the world inside a 14-year-old girl. Philip Yancey wrote, “The virgin Mary, though, whose parenthood was unplanned, had a different response. She heard the angel out, pondered the repercussions, and replied, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.’ Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain, and in that matter-of-fact response Mary embraced both. She was the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms regardless of the personal cost.”
There is a lot we can learn from Mary. My prayer is that as we enter into this season of joy that we do so differently than we ever have. Eagerly looking forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus, but also looking at everything that led up to that moment. Let’s try to not worry about the gifts and the gatherings as much, and let’s try to put ourselves in Mary’s place. Do we, as Christians living in the United States in 2017, have as much faith in God as a 14-year-old Jewish girl? And are we really accepting Jesus on His own terms regardless of the personal cost?