Mary was an ordinary Jewish girl. She, like most Jewish women and girls of her time, would have spent most of her day working. Almost as soon as she could walk she would have been helping out with the chores it took to keep daily life going — stoves tended, beds made, homes kept in repair, food prepared, animals cared for, water drawn from cisterns and wells.
She was learning all she needed so she’d be ready to marry Joseph.
Mary spent her childhood listening and soaking up the truth about God from what she heard in the temple and from the conversations of parents, siblings and neighbors. She helped prepare food and the tables for the Jewish celebrations and feasts. She had heard the stories and Isaiah’s prophecy. Although she never held a book of scriptures in her hand, she had heard Isaiah 9:6-7.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
The political climate during Mary’s youth was difficult for Jews, like it still is. One can imagine there was talk about trusting in God and that maybe in their lifetime he would send a Messiah. As they became more and more oppressed, the Jews may have thought that this could be the time for the Savior to come. Mary believed, along with the rest of her community, that hope was on the way.
This belief and her familiarity with this prophecy she’d heard her whole life may be what gave her the courage she needed when the angel first appeared.
In Luke 1:26 – 33, the angel said,
“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.”
Don’t be afraid, but God is about to change your life.
I’m sure there were a lot of questions going through her head. Mary could have said,
- “No way! This will just ruin my life. I won’t! I won’t! I won’t!”
- Or, “Then you’d better tell Joseph. He will be so hurt.”
- My mom is not going to be easy to convince that this is how it all really happened. And don’t even get me started on the in-laws!
- Or she could have said “Then find some way to get me out of Nazareth, because people will talk.”
But the only question she asked out loud was the practical one, “How can it be? I’ve never been with a man.” The angel explained the logistics of it and then told her, “Elizabeth is pregnant right now, too.” That was significant because Elizabeth was advanced in age and had never been able to get pregnant. You know the women in the family had talked about that years, so Mary was surprised at that, too, but the angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Maybe once the angel explained the logistics of it, Mary decided, “If God can take of this really BIG detail, then he’ll take care of all the other things too. God did a miracle with Elizabeth and he is doing a miracle with me.”
She put what she knew about God together with what the angel was saying and responded in a remarkable way for a teenage girl.
We don’t know exactly what it looked like, but in my head, I picture this teenager in front of this angel Gabriel – who was no little, cute, precious moments angel; this was the warrior angel. I picture her on her knees, with her arms out and her head back, resting fully in everything she knew about God and saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
The scripture says that the angel left and Mary went in a hurry to see Elizabeth. (The mother in me is thinking, did she go talk to her mom first? Did she just leave a note? None of that really matters, but I am curious!)
Luke 1:41-43 describes what is was like when Mary finally got to Elizabeth’s house,
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?
Elizabeth confirmed to Mary what the angel had spoken. And then in verse 45, Elizabeth says: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”
How did Elizabeth know all this? The verse said that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and that spirit told her, “This baby is the hope you’ve been waiting and watching for.”
Hope was on the way!
God was using Mary’s family to confirm to her all that the angel had said so that Mary could rest in the truth of the Messiah. Mary leaned into Elizabeth – older, wiser, although still a first-time mom – just a few months further along in the journey. She was there for three months, you know they did a lot of talking, planning and praying.
It was there, in Elizabeth’s courtyard, that Mary began rejoicing in the face of a completely life-changing event:
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-56)
This is proof again that Mary knew a lot about God and about scripture. Mary is overflowing with joy and wonder over her selection as the bearer of the Messiah, but it’s not just a personal blessing. She recognizes that this Messiah comes as part of God’s plan for the world, not just her.
God used the prophet, the angel, and Elizabeth to confirm what he was doing in Mary’s life.
But that wasn’t all. Because after Jesus was born, God sent the Shepherds. Luke 2:10 tells their story:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
The shepherds ran to find Jesus and Mary and they told her what the angels had said. Suddenly complete strangers are confirming what she already knows.
When Jesus was 8 days old, Mary and Joseph followed Jewish law and took Jesus to the temple. Serving there that day there was a man named Simeon who had been promised by God that he would see the Messiah before he died.
Luke 2:29-32 says:
Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Simeon knew Jesus had come to not only save Israel but to be light that would reveal God to the Gentiles. God gave Mary confirmation after confirmation about what he was doing.
While Mary knew from the moment of conception that Jesus was God’s son and that He was going to do something magnificent for all people, the way it unfolded could not have been what she pictured for her child. Simeon warned her: “Your soul will be pierced as a result of this child.”
Mary never had to worry about Jesus making bad choices or whether or not he would continue to follow God – like we worry for our children – but the things she witnessed during her child’s life were gut-wrenching.
When I picture Mary, I think of someone quiet, standing off to the side. Brave and strong but not very talkative. In all of scripture there are only four times where her words are recorded. We’ve mentioned two of them already. The Bible says several times that Mary either pointed to Jesus or pondered things in her heart.
If you are a parent, you know what it means to “ponder”. You have moments when you look at your child and think “What in the world are they thinking?” Then you have those moments when you look at your child and see God working, those moments when the Holy Spirit reveals things or specifically guides them.
Just like Mary knew Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, she had also heard his prophecy about how the Messiah would be treated. How he would be pierced and bruised and carry the sins of the world on his shoulders. To watch him suffer physically was agonizing, but she understood the spiritual agony as well, that Jesus’ soul must be crushed under the weight of the world’s sin, had to have made it worse. Did Mary know in that gut-wrenching, soul-piercing moment that this was Jesus’ purpose? I don’t know. But she came to understand it later.
The last time we see Mary in scripture is with John and the other disciples and 120 God-fearing Jews, as they are called in Acts 1. Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” These were the first church members.
Jesus rose from the dead and lived with them for 40 days. During that time, the disciples came to him and said, “Is now the time you are going to take over and do all the things we thought you were going to do?” Jesus responded that it wasn’t for them to know God’s plans yet and that they should go wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Mary sat and waited with them.
Jesus had risen from the dead, remained with them for a time but then returned to heaven. And Mary waited, again. She was the first to hear the name “Jesus.” She was the first human to know that Hope was on the way. She was the first to give up everything for Jesus’ sake. She was the first to care for him, the first to hear His words. She had an intimate knowledge of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, because she’d met him before. But now she waited for the Holy Spirit to come upon her again so that she could go and do exactly what Jesus told all of His followers to do — go and tell the world what she knew about Jesus.
Jesus changes lives, we know that. And He began with the life of His mother. Here are a few things to consider.
Mary rested in what she knew about God.
What do you know about God?
Do you rest in what you know? Even when life gets crazy or when the unexpected happens, do you rest in what you know to be true about God?
Mary rejoiced when she faced something life-changing.
Do you rejoice?
Some life-changing things are easy to rejoice in! Some things you really have to search for it.
How do you respond when the Lord surprises you with the unexpected? When your life gets disrupted by an illness, by an emergency, or maybe just by a schedule change, you may find it frightening, or at least bothersome. A surprise like that might be God’s way of calling you to something new. We can respond to these unexpected events by fighting them or by denying them, “This is not happening. I will not let it happen.” Or we can respond in a grudging way: “I have to accept it, but I don’t have to like it.” Or we can take the approach of Mary and Joseph: “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it happen.”
Mary leaned into other’s experiences.
Do you refresh yourself by leaning in to others?
Mary was an ordinary girl but she was called for an extraordinary, unique purpose – one that no one before her and no one after her will ever have. There was a specific moment when Mary’s calling became clear. For us, there may that one specific moment where we feel God is clearly directing. Other times, it may be a process of discovery. But along the way, God sends things that will confirm the calling and challenge us to move on in it. He did that with Mary – he used Isaiah’s words, the angel’s visits, Elizabeth’s circumstances, the shepherd’s worship, Simeon’s prophecy and the Holy Spirit’s filling. And God does that for us too. Sometimes he even sends people or situations to tweak our direction.
Do you lean in to others’ experiences – learn from them, do you look for God’s confirmation and challenge in those he has placed around you?
And a bonus question: Do you allow yourself to be that for other people?
Mary remained faithful when her life didn’t turn out as she expected.
Do you remain?
At the end of the journey, we found Mary with the same attitude that she started with. “I am your servant.”