But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:3).
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Mary. She’s not introduced as beautiful like Esther or wise like Abigail. She’s just a young woman–a virgin–living in the small town of Nazareth, engaged to a man named Joseph. She’s just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life.
And then the angel shows up.
In the Bible, angels don’t drop by just to say hello. When an angel shows up with an announcement, it means that God is about to do something big and you get to be a part of it. Abraham, Gideon, Joshua, Daniel–these are the people that angels speak to.
No wonder Mary was “perplexed” or “greatly troubled” at the angel’s words.
But the angel went on to tell her that yes, God was getting ready to intervene in history once again. But this time God himself was stepping into history through the unlikely vehicle of a virgin’s womb. Her womb. God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah. Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the one who would reign on David’s throne forever and whose kingdom would never end.
It was not a risk-free proposition. Israel had longed for a king who would restore the nation’s sovereignty, but at this point in history Israel already had a king. Herod–a paranoid, violent, megalomaniac of a king. Herod killed his wife, several members of his family, and his eldest son over a threat to his throne. Would a man willing to murder all the babies of Bethlehem think twice before killing a pregnant girl? Hardly.
Yet Mary faced much more personal risks. Good Jewish girls didn’t turn up pregnant. How many of the townspeople would believe her story? Would her parents? Would Joseph? And if Joseph didn’t believe her and refused to marry her, who else would? Even her life was at risk. The Old Testament listed death as the punishment for adultery. Even though Mary and Joseph were not yet married, their betrothal was a legal contract that only a divorce could break. If people believed Mary was unfaithful to Joseph, it would have been considered adultery.
Rome did not allow its subject people to carry out the death penalty on their own, and the Roman government would never have allowed capital punishment for adultery. But that didn’t always stop people from taking matters into their own hands. Jesus was tested by a mob who wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery. The first martyr, Stephen, was stoned by a mob who became outraged at his defense of the gospel. And when Jesus began his public ministry in his hometown of Nazareth, the crowd became so incensed at his words that they dragged him out to a cliff intending to push him over the edge. If Joseph or Mary’s father decided that she had shamed the family, it was very possible that they could stir up a mob against her.
And yet Mary said yes. Mary didn’t have a road map. She didn’t have all the answers. She probably didn’t grasp the fullness of what Jesus’ mission truly was. Even the disciples didn’t see the cross coming, and Jesus told them three times. Yet Mary knew enough of God to know that if God had called her to it he would get her through it. She knew that God was faithful. She knew that God would keep his word. And she knew that her right relationship to God began with her as a servant. So she stepped out in faith, trusting that God would see her through.
Mary said yes. And her yes changed the world.
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