“I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.” – Luke 1:38
Luke 1:26-38 is the story of the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she will be the one to give birth to the long-awaited messiah. It is incredible and joyous news to Mary–as seen by her song in verses 46-55–but it is not without cost.
As an aside before I continue, much of what I will write in this devotional is held with very, very loose hands. There is a lot of reading between the lines and wondering. I could very well be totally wrong about much or all of it. However, I do think that it is worth thinking about as long as we are aware it isn’t explicit in scripture and we hold it loosely.
From verses 28 and 30 we know that Mary is “highly favored” and has “found favor with God”. We can pretty safely assume that she has followed God faithfully and most likely has a good reputation in her community. She is also engaged to Joseph who we know from Matthew 1:19 is “faithful to the law”, but also compassionate in that he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace”. On top of that she is a virgin, meaning she and Joseph have waited for marriage, further showing their commitment to following God’s Word and cementing their good reputation.
As far as we can tell, up to this point in her life Mary has done everything right. And yet, with this wonderful news from Gabriel, she may not be treated as if she has made the right decisions.
We don’t know for certain when Mary told Joseph she was pregnant and revealed what the angel said, but we know at least part of how Joseph reacted. Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story of what Joseph decided to do when he found out.
“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” – Matthew 1:19
We don’t know the details of how this meeting went or how Mary reacted afterwards, but it couldn’t have been easy. It seems that Joseph didn’t fully believe Mary or else why would an angel of the Lord have needed to appear to Joseph in a dream to convince him and change his mind? Joseph may have logically assumed that Mary had gone around his back and slept with someone else. We can imagine that this hurt both Joseph and Mary. Joseph may have thought he was cheated on and Mary may have been hurt that Joseph could think she would do such a thing.
Mary is being faithful to God and now she has to spend the night thinking that in following God and submitting to His will, she is going to lose Joseph. It may well have been a very hard and trying night for Mary’s faith, but from what we see of Mary in scripture, it would seem that her response would be to trust in the Lord. “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.”
As we know, an angel of the Lord did appear to Joseph and convince him of the truth and Joseph decided to marry her, but not before Mary had to wait at least a night thinking he would divorce her.
Once Joseph decides to continue with the engagement, we don’t know when they were officially married. It may have been after Mary spent three months with Elizabeth (Luke 1:56) or that may have even been when Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, we don’t know. They may not have even gotten married until after Jesus was born. Luke 2:4-7 makes it sound like they were still engaged when they travelled to Bethlehem and Jesus was born. Whenever they officially got married it seems likely that at least those who knew Mary and Joseph would be able to figure out that Mary was pregnant before they were officially married. Whether she was “showing” at the time she told Joseph or by the time they were married or if they didn’t get married until after Jesus was born, whatever the case was, other than Joseph and Elizabeth and probably Zechariah, how many people would have believed that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit?
Their public reputation and even how their close friends and family looked at them may have been very different because of this. We know from Jesus’s public ministry that many of the people of His hometown did not think highly of Him. Whether this had anything to do with the circumstances of His birth or just that they had seen Him grow up among them we don’t know, but if they did fully believe in the miracle of His birth they most likely would not have reacted the way they did. In fact, Luke 3:23b points out that Jesus “was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph”.
“Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed.“Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.’ – Matthew 13:54-57
(Jesus was born in Bethlehem, however Mary (Luke 1:26) and Joseph (Luke 2:4) were from Nazareth and returned to Nazareth later.)
Though Mary may have faced challenges and her faith may have been stretched by some of these things, she was not left without encouragement. Her time with Elizabeth would have been a source of encouragement to her, especially Elizabeth and the baby John the Baptist’s reaction to seeing Mary (Luke 1:39-45), which also contains another example of Mary’s faith when Elizabeth says,
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!”
It could be assumed that she would have also been encouraged when Joseph came back and told her that he too had been visited by an angel and believed and would marry her.
Then the journey to Bethlehem and giving birth in a stable of some kind would have been challenging and probably not what she had pictured when told she would give birth to a king.
But the shepherds coming and telling her and Joseph of the angel and the heavenly host they had seen as they came to look on Jesus would have been another confirmation (Luke 2:1-21).
Eight days later they took Jesus to the temple and both Simeon and Anna were moved by the Holy Spirit and came up to them and declared who Jesus was and the new “father and mother marveled at what was said about him” (Luke 2:22-38). They were amazed, but even in this confirmation of who Jesus was, there was a warning when Simeon said, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
As we can see from Mary’s journey as mother of Jesus so far, there are moments of encouragement and confirmation mixed with challenges and hardships. Often as readers–because we know the end of the story–we miss out on what Mary might have experienced in the moment. She didn’t know that Joseph would change his mind about divorcing her. She had to face her community pregnant before marriage. She had to travel to Bethlehem pregnant for the first time and give birth for the first time in a stable. She had the promises of God through Gabriel, but she still had to trust God’s word and live it out.
Mary’s personal journey as mother of Jesus continued its up and down course when the Magi came to visit Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). They had traveled from the east to present gifts for Jesus–whose star they followed–and to worship Him as king.
Shortly after this remarkable visit, Joseph is warned in a dream that their family must move to Egypt because Herod is trying to kill Jesus. So the young married couple fled with their child to a different country in the middle of the night to wait until king Herod passed away (Matt. 2:13-23).
After returning to Nazareth, when Jesus was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. On the way back home, they didn’t realize Jesus was not with them until a day passed. They returned to Jerusalem and finally found Jesus in the temple with the teachers after three days. When they found Him, Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
Mary didn’t know where Jesus was for days. She revealed that they had been “anxiously searching” for Him. As a parent, this event must have been at least mildly terrifying. Jesus’s response to their search left them somewhat confused.
“Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” – Luke 2:49-51
The phrase, “his mother treasured all these things in her heart”, among other things, speaks to Mary’s contemplation of who Jesus was as “Son of the Most High”. She had the words of Gabriel, Elizabeth’s reaction, her own song, the report of the shepherds, the visit of the Magi, this temple experience, and the Old Testament scriptures to reflect on. While all of this gave her some idea of who Jesus was, it was not fully understood by anyone until after Jesus’s resurrection. She knew He was the savior, but how He was going to save or to what extent He was going to save was not fully known.
Mary didn’t know the exact details of how everything was going to work out and how God would fulfill His promises through Jesus. She had to exercise faith and trust in the same ways that every believer must. God’s word has given us the truth about this world and our lives. We don’t know exactly how He will work all of His promises out, but just like Mary we can trust that He will and follow in faith.
Mary’s faith will be explored further in the next devotional which will cover Jesus’s earthly ministry and Mary’s experiences of it.