Mary was a simple teen-ager. Devout and sweet, betrothed to the town carpenter, she was ready to lead an unspectacular life and a gritty existence in Nazareth. She and Joseph would raise a Jewish family. They would celebrate the feasts together with travels to Jerusalem.
Hope for the Messiah lingered in her heart and in the hearts of many of her relatives who lived among the hills of Judea. Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary’s uncle and aunt, were particularly faithful to the ways taught by Moses. And, yet, they were childless. It was a mystery and a sorrow to them and to all who knew their righteous lives. They had been such good Jews. Like most barren women of her day, Elizabeth wrestled with the emptiness. Her insecurities often got the better of her as she fought back the feeling that she might somehow be under a curse.
And then the angel came. Gabriel shined before Zacharias as he took his turn to make offering at the incense altar. The prayers he prayed over the decades had been heard. Now, those prayers were answered, according to this bright being, the messenger sent from the throne room of the Lord.
A Prayer Answered
Elizabeth’s womb was about to come alive, Zacharias was told. All that he and his wife had hoped for was about to come true. She would bear a son, an Elijah, a man with a call to make the people ready for the King, the Messiah, the Savior.
Zacharias, however, was doubtful. These words were just too good to be true. “How shall this happen?” he said to Gabriel. “We are old people.” Those would be the last words Zacharias would speak for almost a year. His unbelief prompted the Lord to mute him. He would have to keep his doubts to himself.
Please let’s cut Zacharias some slack. He had lived through a troubled and torturous age with his family and nation. Israel’s glory days of David and Solomon were long, long past. How heavy life must have been for a people so favored and so informed. The oracles of God were theirs to read and to study and to share. The people lost sight of that last part. Rather than allowing their nation to grow into a powerful witness for God, they selfishly guarded their privilege and grew prejudiced against other peoples, whom they came to see as inferior.
Age creeps up on us just as it did on Zacharias. He was faithful to the Lord and His commandments, but his sense of wonder and expectation waned. It is all too common among believers. The flame of faith doesn’t always burn brightly. We live in a brutal world. Aches, pains, heartaches, disappointments, disasters, and death do a number on us as they have done on believers in all generations.
Gabriel’s visit jump-started Zacharias’ faith, I am sure – especially since all that the angel said came to pass. Still, he could only smile, chuckle, and nod when his wife miraculously became pregnant a short while after this Temple visitation.
A Virgin Conceives
Mary, remember, was young and engaged. Excitement likely surrounded her preparations for the day when Joseph would take her as his bride. Wedding plans can get wild and contentious at times, but for the most part, they are joyful anticipations of a great celebration.
In the midst of all this, Gabriel appeared before Mary and announced this: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (See Luke 1:29). Stunned, this young bride-to-be struggled to comprehend the meaning of this sentence.
The next words were even more astounding: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).
Mary had been chosen to give birth to the Son of the Most High. God would enter humanity through her.
Like Zacharias, she had her questions: “How will this happen? I am a virgin.” Gabriel explained that her conception would be a work of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who made Elizabeth’s womb alive, the same Spirit who hovered over the face of the waters at a time when the earth was without form and void. The Spirit would “overshadow” Mary – the substance of His presence would generate the incarnation, the activity of the Word taking on flesh and bone.
“For with God, nothing is impossible,” said Gabriel.
This was enough for Mary. She questioned no more and offered herself as a living sacrifice: “Be it unto me according to your word.” In so many words, this virgin girl said, “l am yours, Lord – do as You will.”
Soon Mary would sing with Elizabeth. Two women, great with child, rejoiced at the miracle of God with us.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name.
And His mercy is for those who fear Him
from generation to generation” (Luke 1:46-50).
May these thoughts ring in our hearts as we see the Christmas season approach fast and furiously. Let us think upon the miracle of Mary and her choice to allow God’s purpose to be manifest in her. Hers was a simple and strong faith in the mighty God who does great things.