After Gabriel appears to Zechariah, Luke presents the account of his appearance to Mary. And if the angel’s news for Zechariah seemed astounding, it was but a trifle compared to the bombshell Gabriel drops on Mary.
“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Whatever upheaval Zechariah had to grapple with was minor league compared to Mary’s dilemma. Let’s consider her situation when confronted with the news that she would bear God’s Son through the virgin birth. What might this mean to her?
Mary was probably about 16, perhaps even younger. She becomes pregnant. Given the societal mores of the time, she could have fully expected that she would be disgraced, that her fiancee Joseph (who knew he wasn’t the father) would abandon her, and that she would probably never marry. It’s also important to understand that Jewish society in the first century took a real hard line on “blasphemy,” as later accounts of Jesus’ ministry and death make clear. A young, single woman claiming that God had made her pregnant would have encountered trouble.
We can try to imagine ourselves in Mary’s shoes, but I don’t expect we can ever really grasp the enormity of her situation. Mary must have known there could be problems. But rather than focusing on the size of her problems, she chose to trust in the size of her God.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” she replies. “May it be to me as you have said.”
Through the history of Christianity, Jesus’ mother has been the subject of a great deal of religious thought, some of it unusual and venturing outside the sparse Biblical accounts of her life. Theologies of Mary have long been one of the criterias Christians have used to differentiate themselves from one another. For Protestants, devotion to Mary is often characterized as a “Catholic thing.”
Yet in Luke, Mary offers one of the most powerful examples of a person submitting to God’s will, surrendering self and setting aside fears about the future. It is a response that ultimately has little to do with Mary’s age, gender or marital status. Mary’s example of a life yielded to God’s purpose speaks powerfully to us today, its simplicity transcending 2,000 years of complex theology.
God touches our lives often, in ways we almost never expect. We can relate to Zechariah’s confusion, but we must aspire to Mary’s faith. We need to try, as best we can, to be the Lord’s servants, entrusting ourselves to His care as we walk through each new day in His world.
These meditations were prepared by Rich Miller of Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Rich is a lay speaker who attends the The Hopewell United Methodist Church in Hopewell Borough, N.J.