“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 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 the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:26-33
I’ve been pondering this event in Mary’s life for a couple of weeks now. What keeps running through me is how hard it had to be for Mary to let God be God in the fulfillment of the angel’s prophecy over her. I read this section of scripture every year at Christmas time. I rejoice in God’s selection of Mary to be His Son’s mother. I sense the burden and hardship with this honor. But for some reason as I read this recently I realized the immense disconnect between what the angel said of the son Mary would bear and the reality of the life she and Jesus lived out.
When the angel delivered this news to Mary, she received it with simple faith and obedience. She asked a practical question, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” that the angel answered. And with that little bit of knowledge Mary’s response is one of the most significant faith responses in history, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” The angel also gave her the news that her old, barren aunt Elizabeth was pregnant and about to have a child. This truth became the place of immense confirmation for Mary as she rushed off to see her aunt and found her far along in her pregnancy. She heard Elizabeth testify about the coming of Mary’s child calling Mary the ‘mother of my Lord’ and declaring that her own babe leapt in her womb for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. What a time of delight and excitement this must have been for Mary. She was given a promise. At every turn she found new reason to believe what she had been told. The reality of the truth of the angel’s promise was evidenced by a rounding body, confirming prophecy from several sources, and the very physical antics of an unborn son.
But I keep thinking of what I would’ve expected out of the angel’s promise … those words that painted a picture of a king. ‘He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High. He will be given the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end.’ Most of the people of Israel missed the coming of Jesus because they were looking for a king who would put flesh to the reality of the words that the angel spoke. As Mary mothered Jesus through infancy, childhood, adolescence and then his short adulthood, did she struggle with the dissonance between the promise she had been given and the reality of her son’s life? Finally she stood at the foot of the cross where the promise turned to ashes on her head. What agony to watch her thorn-crowned son jeeringly labeled ‘King of the Jews.’ And then Jesus died. Did Mary still cling to hope? What an impossible test of faith, hope, and love.
I love it that in Acts 1:12-14 we see Mary the mother of Jesus as one of those waiting in constant prayer in an upper room in Jerusalem in obedience to Jesus’ command. Seeing Jesus alive; eating with him; hearing him teach again – all of this experience of a lively Jesus after a brutal death, would’ve been the guarantee that the promise of the angel was true. The reality looked different than what the words seemed to promise 33 years prior. The reality was much, much bigger than Mary could’ve begun to grasp and therefore impossible to communicate. The words were true; the promise was true; but the fullness of the truth didn’t become Mary’s until the day she entered eternity and experienced the reality of her son; her Lord and her King, reigning on the throne of David forever. So often in my own life the promises of God don’t seem to be playing out. Mary’s experience gives me hope to hang on, believing God and trusting that in time I will see the full reality of what He has promised.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
2 Peter 3:9