10th Day of Advent
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
God selected an unlikely person from an unlikely place.
When Luke wrote his gospel for the benefit of Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4), at the mention of Nazareth he indicated that it was located in the region of Galilee. No doubt he added this detail because given its tiny population of only about 400 and its out-of-way location, it’s almost certain that Theophilus had never heard of the place. Nazareth wasn’t far from the royal city of Sepphoris (the capital of Galilee until A.D. 18) but it was an undistinguished, half-forgotten place. Nathaniel’s comment, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46) was a sentiment shared by many. Residents of Jerusalem looked upon Galileans as backwoods folks who had funny accents.
This humble village was the home of a humble maiden. We know very little about Mary’s background. Joseph’s distinguished Davidic lineage is carefully spelled out, but not Mary’s.
Regardless of her family background, there are a couple things that we can assume about Mary with a fair degree of confidence:
- She probably came from a poor family. Nazareth was a poor village and the offering that she and Joseph brought to the temple in Luke 2:24 demonstrates this.
- She was probably very young—shockingly young by modern standards. Girls could legally become betrothed as young as 12, and 13 was common. So Mary was probably only 13 or 14 years of age. Betrothal was similar to modern engagement but was legally binding. The betrothal period usually lasted a year or more, during which time the bride was the legal property of the groom though she still lived with her parents. A writ of divorce was required to end a betrothal. Sexual relations between the bride and groom during the betrothal, while not unheard of, would have been viewed as immoral, scandalous behavior.
What we know about Mary is that she was a virtuous, morally upright, virgin. When Gabriel addressed her as “favored one” he was indicating that she was the recipient of God’s grace.
We also know from her response to this angelic visitation that she was a young woman of simple but profound faith. Her initial response to Gabriel’s first address was to be “…greatly troubled…” Perhaps a better rendering of the phrase is “greatly perplexed.” In part, this reflects the almost universal response of all people when confronted by a heavenly messenger. But it also reflects the instinctive humility of a young girl reacting to such a gracious and honorable address by the messenger of the Lord. You could almost expect her to say, “Are you sure you have the right young woman? Are you talking to ME?” And once the angel has delivered his announcement, her response is not one of doubt—unlike Zachariah, she is never chastised—but simply one of confusion: How can I become a mother? I’ve never known a man!
Once things were explained to her, Mary’s response is as profound and wonderful as it is simple and straightforward, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” This young girl, barely in her teens, demonstrates a willingness to be used by God that puts such spiritual giants as Moses to shame. She doesn’t ask why. She doesn’t worry about the consequences. She doesn’t wonder, “What will people think?” or “What will Joseph say?” Her only question is for clarification. Once she understood what God wanted, she quickly and gladly submitted. A missionary friend who was deeply involved in the house church movement in China once told me, “Delayed obedience is disobedience.” For Mary, there was no hesitation. If God said, “Jump!” her only question was, “How far?”
Questions to Ponder
- Take a few moments and contemplate the enormous faith that was required of this young girl to submit to the will of God. What lessons can we learn from her example?
- Mary had none of the worldly advantages that contribute to earthly success, she did not come from a position of privilege, yet God used her as He has used no other woman in the history of the world. What was it about Mary that made her so useful to God?
- “Delayed obedience is disobedience.” Are there places in your life where you have delayed in obeying God?