After Gabriel appears to Zechariah to tell him that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, 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 in her teens. She had become pregnant. Given the societal mores of the time, she could have fully expected that she would be disgraced, that her fiancé 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 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 probably we can ever really grasp the enormity of her situation. Mary must have known there could be problems. But rather than focusing on her problems, she chose to trust in God.
The service of Evensong recalls for us Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel, in the form of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55)
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me,
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him
throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm;
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel,
as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.
In Luke’s recounting, 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.
Text adapted from Rich Miller’s Meditations on Christmas Past
Image from Saint Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church