Luke 1:30-33 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “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!”
For me, Mary used to be an easily overlooked character in the story of Jesus’ birth, but lately I’m noticing that she is so central to it. As I become more acquainted with her, I am truly a fan. Having worked in the crisis pregnancy ministry for quite a while, I really tune in to her response to this surprising announcement that she is about to become miraculously pregnant without “knowing” a man (many estimate she was around 14-15 years old based on the information given). In the Jewish culture she was living in, young women in their early teens were engaged to be married based on arrangements made by the head of the home. She was promised to Joseph of Nazareth but had not yet officially married him. The cultural expectation was for her to keep herself pure—a virgin—until she was formally his wife. She had done that.
Let’s mentally put this part of the story into slow motion. The news of her body being a place for the Savior of the world to dwell until he was born would be a shocking piece of news for her to process. Most women (and teenage girls) would have experienced this life-altering information as crisis- inducing, especially in the ancient world she lived in. Based on the customs of her culture, Mary anticipated that she would be rejected by her fiancé and her entire community…possibly her family as well. There were no programs for unwed mothers to receive assistance or help from the community-at-large or the government. What she would encounter would be cultural shaming, rejection, and poverty. Facing single motherhood is intimidating even today, but back then it would have been downright frightening.
All Jewish laws and norms were designed to provide for women and children through the family structure. If you did not keep up your end of the bargain (virginity until marriage and faithfulness to your husband) then everyone else had a right to shun and reject you (and potentially stone you to death) because you did not follow the rules set out by your culture. She did not expect that people were going to believe her story that it was from an immaculate conception she had become pregnant.
The gospel accounts of her response show that her initial encounter with the Angel Gabrielle troubled her spirit and she likely battled moments of panic or anger. What she demonstrated for us, though, was a trusting, solid faith in God, His goodness, and His plan for her life in the midst of wrestling with a lot of internal questions, concerns, and fear. She acknowledges that this hardship is going to be for the purposes the Lord has in mind, and her mental positioning is one of servanthood.
In the gospel of Luke we are given an orderly, eyewitness account constructed from personal testimonies gathered by Luke about the beginning of the life of Christ – all for the purpose of giving certainty to what the early Christians were taught. He writes like an investigative reporter but he also includes Mary’s declaration of praise.
Mary’s Song of worship (a.k.a. “The Magnificat”) in Luke 1:46-52 occurs when she is greeted by her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. Mary had just traveled 100 miles to visit Elizabeth because the angel told her she too was expecting a baby in a miraculous way. Mary desires to see her, probably for support and encouragement, since no one else will understand. Upon greeting one another, they both experience the work of the Holy Spirit, leading them into spontaneous praise. The first part of Mary’s song reads as follows:
“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the mighty one has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones and has exalted those who were humble…”
I want to just stop the story and zoom in on this declaration from a woman who is about to have her life invaded by a baby she had no part in creating, knowing that she will face great earthly difficulty. Mary’s faith shines brightly here. She surrenders to this invasion of a baby into her not-yet-wed life by worshipping God…some translations use the word “Magnifies” instead of “exalts”, meaning to “make bigger”. She does not make herself or her problems bigger. She is humbled, accepts what God is doing through her, recounts to herself and those around her what He has done in the past for the people of Israel, and bows low to His will.
There is so much application for my life in her story…maybe yours too. When the unexpected life-change comes along, I need to make God bigger, not me or my problems. When I feel like I’m facing challenges that I don’t have the resources to navigate, rely on the Lord. Remind myself of what He has done in the past...for me and for others. Refocus to an eternal perspective. Don’t withdraw, but rather seek out those who will understand and encourage me. Magnify the Lord…sing His praise even when it may hurt while doing so. Allow Jesus to become the central figure and purpose in my life. Welcome Him to invasively dwell within me for the purposes God has created me.
What if Mary had said “no” to God? What if she had resisted, thrown a tantrum, pouted, or ran away until she had the baby, leaving him for someone else to find and care for and then returned to Nazareth and lied about where she had been, or come up with some other non-faith response trying to control the situation? The ripple effect on the entire world would be completely different.
Instead, she humbled herself, postured as the servant of God, and trusted Him to carry forward His purposes through this unexpected pregnancy in an ancient, hostile world to unwed mothers. Truly she has impacted us all in her humble, trusting, servanthood to God through mothering the Messiah, The Christ, Jesus, the Son of God.
May we count her blessed as the woman who went through this for all of us to have the gift of a Savior. She is the mother of Jesus, then, now, and always. We are so grateful for her humble obedience and the example of her faith in God in the midst of unexpected, difficult circumstances.