In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26–38 NIV)
Meet Mary, an ordinary person living an ordinary life. Her life had been all mapped out for her. She was anticipating marriage to an average kind of guy who would offer her a simple life in an unremarkable town called Nazareth. Things were stable and as they should be.
Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to Mary making the most incredulous announcement! With this news, the trajectory of Mary’s life was completely disrupted and headed in an unprecedented direction – one she did not ask for.
I can’t help but wonder if the fact she was highly favoured by God and the assurance he was with her softened the blow at all. I also speculate that she was looking into her future and watching it disintegrate before her eyes. The words “greatly troubled” seem a bit bland, as the literal translation really means Mary was in sheer terror. So much to absorb! An angel? Becoming an unwed mother? To the Messiah? But don’t worry, the Lord is with you in this.
I am positive Mary felt completely inadequate for the task at hand. Yet interestingly, even in her terror, Mary does not question whether or not this will happen. Rather, she asks, “How?” She seemed to understand the complexity of her miraculous predicament, as ill-equipped as she might be.
The angel gives her a pragmatic explanation of the plan, as well as some reassurance that Mary is not alone. Her cousin Elizabeth is also experiencing a miraculous pregnancy. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is all over this. It’s happening! No word from God will ever fail!
I might be sounding a bit skeptical about this story, but that’s not how I feel. I am actually quite humbled. The last decade of my life has been full of unwanted disruptions: things I did not ask for, certainly did not desire, and situations I felt completely incapable of handling.
Mary’s story showed me the best way to respond.
Mary’s story is inspiring. Her life was utterly and completely shaped by the sovereignty of God. In the Hebrew world, all life was sacred unto God. Every action was an act of worship. If God says something, it must be so. She implicitly trusted God was with her in this.
Mary gives me hope. She shows me her power and strength came from her response of surrender to God. She offered her life as a sacrifice and instrument to God, allowing him to work through her in bringing his redemption to the world.
Mary’s response tells me God was not merely a nice add-on to her life; he was the central focus. Her story demands our acceptance of the truth that God is the hero of the Grand Story, not us. Sometimes this is frightening and inconvenient, but it is always good.
Mary’s story opens my eyes to the wonder of God and how his desire to accomplish his redemptive work is through us and, most importantly, WITH us.
Deb Judas is part of the NAB Missional Initiatives Team, director of Formation with Forge Canada, and a member of the pastoral team at The Neighbourhood Church in Surrey, British Columbia.