26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
- Luke 1:26-33
Every year, as Christmas Advent begins, I'm always captivated by Mary's encounter with the Angel Gabriel. It is a conversation which tops the list of passages often taken for granted in the timeless Christmas Story. So pause with me for a moment and consider as we set the stage to switch from ordinary to extraordinary...
- Mary was young. We often think of betrothed women to be in their late teens or even twenties. But, no, Mary was likely early to mid-teens. A mere girl. By 1st century standards, she was ready... but she was young.
- Mary was betrothed. According to Jewish custom, betrothal was as big of a deal as marriage itself - nothing like a modern-day engagement. Once the betrothal ceremony was performed, you were as good as wed as you waited to finish the final ceremony and consummation based on a contracted dowry the groom had to fulfill first. This stage could last months or years.
- Mary was likely not of a very high class. Some scholars have suggested that marrying Joseph was an opportunity for her to marry "up". What we do know is that Nazareth was not a high-standing community. (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” -John 1:46)
So here is this young Galilean girl from Nazareth, of a very basic station in life, going about her daily business, just waiting for the time when her betrothed would arrive ready for the final wedding ceremony.
Basic, normal, humble, life.
But it isn't her betrothed who arrives. No, it is an Angel of God with a life-shaking, normal breaking, message from the Almighty Himself. God reaching down to the lowly and proving; He uses whom He pleases and whom he chooses may not always make sense to our finite thinking...
Why not a rabbi's family?
Why not a prestigious family?
Why not a more stately region?
However, He has a purpose and a plan, yet, this initial greeting has Mary troubled. Not just a little troubled, no, the passage says she was greatly troubled and trying to discern what was going on.
When we seek answers, God will provide.
Here He first provides comfort through Gabriel and then he offers up explanation.... detailed explanation! Life-changing information.
Was Mary's head spinning with all this info? Was she thinking, "How will I tell Joseph?" We don't know. We do know she asks "How?" and Gabriel answers. More details.
Soak it in. Think it through. What would you do in Mary's sandals? Afraid, young, possibly poor, realizing she could loose her husband-to-be AND her reputation in the process. But instead, once she gets past the craziness of it all, she says some of the most profound words in all of the Christmas story:
... "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."
- Luke 1:38b
When faced with a difficult call from God, whether it is as simple as, 'Be nicer to your sister-in-law' or as huge as, 'Sell everything and become a missionary', are we as ready as Mary to say, "I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word"? I wonder how ready Mary even felt. Was it a matter of readiness or of obedience and faith?
This Christmas season let us look up from our mundane lives and SEE God's messengers. Let us respond in faith and allow God to work in magnificent ways through us. Ways which can extend beyond December and into the year(s) ahead.
A post-note on this section which also strikes me as quite profound: A large part of the story often has us looking, understandably, at Mary as a main character when, in fact, she is a beautiful footnote to Who truly takes center stage here. This entire section is not about Mary, it is about God: what He is doing, how He will work.... and my heart flutters: Let us be happy footnotes to the greatness of God at Work in, through, and all around us.
Merry Christmas Blessings,
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