Can you imagine being an unwed, engaged teenager between 14 & 18 years old, being told you would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and the child born would ultimately be the Son of God? What sort of thoughts, feelings, emotions would you have? How do you think she felt, in a culture where pregnancy outside of marriage was not necessarily uncommon but was not socially accepted and she would likely be sent off, engagement broken, the shame of her family and community? As we read the accounts of the announcements of the coming births of Jesus and his cousin John the Baptist, we see the range of reactions.
“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “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.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And 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. And 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And 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.” Luke 1:5-38 ESV
In Luke 1:5-24, we see the account of the announcement of the coming birth of John the Baptist. When the angel tells Zechariah that his wife and he would become parents, after all of these years of praying, and while so old, Zechariah’s response was basically “How will I know this?” There is a double-entendre here. The word “know” is both used as understand, gain knowledge of, or come to know. But it also is he word used for “knowing” your spouse, sexual intercourse.In a sense he was asking how will I know this is going to really happen, and how is it we are going to “know” each other and actually get pregnant because we are so old. In effect, he was questioning the announcement, as to the capability of God’s plan. And for this, he was unable to speak until the baby was born. And keep in mind, this was a legally married, wholesome, ministering priest and his wife.
Now look at the announcement to Mary in Luke 1:26-38. She asks the angel how she will have a baby since she has not “known” a man. Here we see the angel tell Mary she will conceive a child of the Holy Spirit. Mary is not questioning the “will it happen”, but the “how it will happen”. She actually uses the Greek word doulē, which means bondservant. It is the same word used by Paul in his letter to the church in Rome: “From Paul, a bondservant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” Romans 1:1 NET The term bondservant in the New Testament is a foreign one to us in the 21st century. It means that I am actually better off placing myself as a servant or slave to this other person than I could ever hope to be on my own. I volunteer to make them my master and I am their slave. This was Mary’s response to the announcement from the angel.
And while the angel did declare that she was “highly favored, endued with special honor, covered by grace”, Mary was still a flesh and blood human. To place extra spiritual connotation onto her actually detracts from the work of the Lord through her. It means that she had to have played a role and was worthy of the task. However, just like all of us, Mary was a sinner. She had faults. We don’t know what they were, but Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23 make it pretty clear that only Jesus, fully God and fully man, was perfect and not subject to eternal death. But, wow, what a special honor to have been chosen! Just like we all are, in Jesus, by God. We did nothing to earn the work of Jesus on the cross. We must find ourselves pretty arrogant to think that anything we can say and do would undo that amazing work. God did it in spite of our sin, not in light of our good deeds. We only must place our trust in Jesus and follow Him. And so Mary’s willingness to be used by God is an example of humility and grace, but by no means did she earn that part in history. God commands all. Mary was simply obedient to become the Mother of Jesus.
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