Sunday night was our Christmas program. It was called ‘The Birthday of a King’. And well, that pretty much describes the play. It was about the birth of Jesus, the King of Kings.
One of the songs performed was Mary, Did You Know? And that got me thinking about Mary. We don’t have an abundant amount of detail about Mary; she probably was in her teens from what research tells us. Everything we can learn from Mary comes from the passage in Luke.
It begins in verse 26 where we meet Mary for the first time in such a detailed account. The passage in Matthew is told from Joseph’s perspective, and Mark and John don’t have accounts of the Christmas story.
Luke gives us the most detailed account possible, and we find Mary, a young virgin who was betrothed to Joseph.
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
At the beginning of verse 26, two key words help us understand the timeline of Jesus’ birth. First, the words ‘sixth month’ and ‘Gabriel.’
Six months earlier, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias. Zacharias was a priest in the temple, his wife was Elizabeth, and they were righteous before God.
And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
They had a problem though, as it states in verse 7
But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
Being childless carried a reproach in Bible times, in that culture, blessings were tied to birthrights and family lines. Barrenness could occasionally carry a social stigma that could be humiliating.
So, while they were righteous before God, not being able to have children, I’m sure, was a heavyweight on their shoulders, especially Elizabeth’s. But it was all a part of God’s plan for making them that way.
One day while Zacharias was doing his service in the temple, an angel appeared to him.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
Over and over in the Bible, when an angel appears to someone, they all have the same reaction…fear!
But then the angel spoke to Zacharias.
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
The angel continues in verses 14-17 telling Zacharias how John would live and the wonders he would do. And what was Zacharias’ reaction? Joy? Wonder? Surprise and delight? Nope! Doubt mixed with a little arguing.
And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
Then Gabriel said
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.
20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
Zacharias was punished for his doubt, and true to Gabriel’s word, Elizabeth became with child. So, the sixth month is where verse 26 starts. It is the sixth month of pregnancy for Elizabeth. John’s birth was preparing the way for the birth of Jesus. John the Baptist would have key roles in Jesus’ later life.
And now Gabriel was going to appear to Mary.
And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
And Mary’s reaction was typical in verse 29
But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.
Gabriel then spoke in a very similar manner to Mary as he had done to Zacharias; first, he calmed her…
30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
And then he told her something that changed her life forever.
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.
32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.
33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary’s reaction and response are much different than the doubt portrayed in Zacharias’ response.
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
Mary understood that the angel was speaking of immediate conception, he didn’t say in a year this will happen, or in six months, it was going to happen soon.
But Mary and Joseph were still in the middle of a long betrothal. So, her question was not in disbelief or doubt. And because she didn’t doubt, the angel did not rebuke her as he had done to Zacharias. Instead, her question was in wonder.
Mary knew she was standing before an angel of the Lord, so she didn’t doubt she could bear a child, she was just in the wonder of how it would be done.
35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed,
36 Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Gabriel says a lot here; he first tells Mary how she will conceive a child while still a virgin. And then Elizabeth comes into play. Mary was a relative of Elizabeth’s, so this news may have been a surprise to her as they lived miles apart.
Then Gabriel said something that can sum up everything.
For with God nothing will be impossible
After Gabriel told Mary these things, Mary’s reply was simple yet very profound.
38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Mary’s reply to everything should cause a bit of awe and wonder. Here was a simple teenage girl, preparing to get married, her life planned out in her eyes, and suddenly an angel appears and says that she will carry the Son of God. The Son of the Highest.
But not only that, but Mary was not married yet, and she was about to get pregnant. Joseph would know the child was not his, so Mary could get accused of adultery; an offense punishable by stoning.
Despite all that, and the “risk,” Mary still was willing and submitted to the will of God.
After the appearance of Gabriel and the shocking news, Mary fled to Elizabeth’s. Luke 1:39-40
39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.
It is there we see something extraordinary and shows that the mighty hand of God was on these two women. Luke 1:41, 43-44
And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
43 But why is this granted to me [Elizabeth], that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
Elizabeth’s understanding of Mary’s situation was amazing. Because there was still quite a bit of mystery that overshadowed these events. Mary was a virgin, Elizabeth was old and barren, and yet they were carrying children.
And the only details they had is what Gabriel told them. But Elizabeth seemed to understand and comprehend the immense importance of the child that Mary was carrying.
Her understanding must be attributed to the illuminating work of the Spirit. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, and after she left Elizabeth gave birth to John. Zacharias’ tongue was loosened, and soon it was time for the savior of the world to be born.