[reprinted from December 20, 2012]
One month later God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee with a message for a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph from the family of King David. The angel greeted Mary and said, “You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was confused by the angel’s words and wondered what they meant. Then the angel told Mary, “Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:26-33 (CEV)
Mary was not a person in the Bible that I could identify with as I was growing up. She was represented to me as submissive, quietly assured of God’s benevolence, and just a young, sweet girl. None of those characteristics would have been applied to me by people who knew me. But then I actually read the Bible for myself and that is not the Mary that I found there. I read some history and Mary became someone I could learn and grow in my own relationship with God. In my mind I sat down with Mary and asked her about what happened to her after she received this great honor of being called by God to give birth to His Son, the Messiah. Glorious in Kingdom terms but pretty harsh in the world she lived in.
I had plans. Mary was engaged to a man, Joseph. To be engaged in her time was like being married. The contract was signed and all that was left was the celebration and the consummation. To break the contract was a really big deal. And coming up pregnant was a reason to break the contract – especially if the groom wasn’t part of the pregnancy!
Mary had plans. Like most of us, preparing for the wedding celebration and a new household is a frantic time but it is the best time! You have dreams about how wonderful it is all going to be. And then this stranger (an angel?) suddenly appears and shatters all those dreams that you had, to tell you that God has a different plan for you. It’s an overwhelming plan. It is more than you could have asked or imagined and yes, you are humbled by His call. And then the reality of that plan begins to take shape.
Family are the first to judge with my church a close second. And so Mary goes to her parents and to Joseph and tells them she is pregnant – by God. I wonder who she told first. There is no record of Mary’s parents’ reaction but in that time in history and in the culture it is doubtful that they were calm and understanding. We know that Joseph had decided to divorce her quietly. I’m not sure how “quietly” that could be done in a small town and synagogue (Matthew 1:18-25). And a possible response to a girl who would have sexual relations outside of marriage was to stone her to death, and this was done by the good and ‘righteous’ church people!
When the ‘chips are down’, I was surprised who was with me. And so Mary is saved from a possible stoning because Joseph receives a dream from God, explaining that Mary was telling the truth and that he, Joseph, was to be the earthly father to Immanuel. And Joseph steps up and takes on the responsibility of his pregnant wife. I bet Nazareth was like any other town in that it had ‘busybodies’ who were quick to start doing the math and determining whether Mary was pregnant before the wedding. People like that love to snicker and whisper behind your back when they see you at the market and as they sit near you in the church.
And then the night of labor comes and Mary is far from home, far from family. She isn’t in her clean bed but in a stable, lying on a dirt floor. She doesn’t have a midwife to be there for this first birth. Had she ever been in attendance herself when someone had given birth? Joseph’s experience would have been with farm animals. And so Mary labors alone with her husband and gives birth to – the Messiah – in a stable with their donkey and maybe a cow present. And just as she may have dozed in exhaustion, the door to the stable is filled with shepherds who say they have heard about the baby from a chorus of angels. It is an extraordinary night! This may have been the first time that God shows us again that “family” isn’t about blood relations but about God-relations, those who do His will are our family (Mark 3:31-35).
Another less than uplifting prophecy. Jesus is presented at the Temple for circumcision and dedication as the first born son, as is tradition. A priest, Simeon has, like all of God’s people, been waiting for the promised Messiah. God reveals to Simeon that this child is the One he has been waiting for. After so many generations, what an extraordinary blessing to Simeon! And then he delivers another message from God to Mary –
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Luke 2:34-35 (NLT)
Have you ever had a sword pierce your soul or your heart? I believe I have. A message from God is often not uplifting but convicting so that God’s people will turn to God’s will.
Then there were the cries of all those babies. Soon after the birth, Mary and Joseph learn that crazy King Herod is so afraid that this rumored Messiah-king will threaten his little kingdom that he orders all, all the boys two years and younger who lived in Bethlehem and its vicinity to be killed. So the soldiers came, burst into homes or snatched them up on the streets or out of their mother’s arms and ran them through with a sword! Mary and Joseph escaped the massacre, again because of a dream, but you know they were aware of what was happening and they knew the ‘why’ of it. What a terrible journey to Egypt that must have been. No one to care and support them. (Jeremiah 31:15)
God and I. And so when all this is read and discussed, I see how God faithfully walked with Mary every step of her life. From the announcement of her pregnancy to her son’s horrific death and departure back to the glory from which He came, God never left this fragile woman. He wrapped her in His strength and so she completed the mission she had been given.
Mary, Did You Know? written by Mark Lowery & Buddy Greene & sung by Kathy Mattea