When I think of Mary, my view is a little skewed–I always picture her as an adult woman. One thing that makes Mary’s story a remarkable one is her faith, but some things that typically get overlooked make Mary’s story even more remarkable than we often realize.
Traditionally, Jewish girls were engaged between the ages of 12 and 14 to their future husbands, meaning that Mary probably wasn’t older than 14 when she conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Jewish engagements lasted one year and then the marriage took place, but even during the engagement, the girl was called her fiancé’s wife and adulterous conduct could be punished by death.
We often read Mary’s story and think that she had such great faith because she found favor with God and was willing to experience the cultural shame of being pregnant before she and Joseph married, but there is much more to Mary.
And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your Word.” And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:38).
When Mary gave this response to Gabriel, she knew that she was saying “yes” to shame for herself, her child, Joseph, and her family. Mary knew that if Joseph chose, he not only could call off their engagement, but also he could claim that she had committed adultery and have her killed or banished.
Mary chose to have faith that God would provide for her and her baby, but she didn’t know how. Mary was a very young teenage girl–she had to be frightened to be pregnant and unmarried. Mary must have been concerned about the shame that this event could bring to her family. She had to wonder about the weight and importance of her baby and the life He would live.
How could she, an unmarried teenager, parent the Son of Yahweh? Would Joseph stand by her? Would he leave her? If he left her, would he show her mercy? What about the birth–would it hurt? What would her parents say? Would anybody believe that she’d been visited by an angel?
When we read Mary’s story now, we know that Joseph didn’t leave her. We assume that Mary and Joseph raised Jesus well. We know that Mary survived the birthing process. When Gabriel showed up to visit Mary, though, she didn’t know any of those answers.
Mary rejoices in God, giving praise for His mercy, holiness, and grace. This is the response that all of us are supposed to have even in the most difficult situations, but it doesn’t mean that Mary wasn’t afraid or worried.
For a relatively good telling of the Christmas story, pick up the movie “The Nativity Story;” for a more modern experience, take a look at “A Social Network Christmas,” below.
Has this article given you any new insights into the Christmas story?
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!” (Luke 1:41-42).