As I reviewed last week, the angel Gabriel told the aged Zechariah that his wife would bear him a son in spite of her lifelong infertility and advanced age, and that this son would be a delight to them and would do wondrous things (Luke 1:13-17).
Zechariah returned to his home when he had completed his temple duties in Jerusalem, and in time he learned that Elizabeth was expecting a child just as the angel had foretold.
Then, in Elizabeth’s sixth month, Gabriel appeared again, this time to Elizabeth’s relative, a young woman named Mary who lived in Nazareth, a small town 85 miles to the north. Luke (1:26-56) tells us she was already formally committed to be married.
The angel’s address to Mary was clear and forthright: Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you. But his words frightened and perplexed her. After all, angels don’t often visit in visible form and this unusual appearance would at first be troubling.
Gabriel calmed her fears. Don’t be afraid, Mary, he said.
He went on: God is pleased with you. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. The angel declared both the child’s sex and name before a conception had even taken place. The information was being delivered directly from God.
Gabriel continued: Your child 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. Amazing!
Mary would know the facts of life. Hence her perplexity: How can this be? she asked. What the angel foretold would be contrary to nature as she understood it. Virgins did not have babies; babies were born to mothers and fathers. Gabriel responded: The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Mary’s response was wholehearted. Without hesitation, she answered: I am the Lord’s servant. May your words to me be fulfilled. With that, Gabriel vanished.
Some who consider this account are left asking: Is a virgin birth possible? Therefore, some believers struggle with doubt over this part of the Advent account.
Here are two thoughts to encourage faith.
First, the language used describes not the natural but the supernatural. Gabriel’s message is not from those who know only the sciences, but from God the Most High. The Most High is above all — Transcendent, Unlimited, Unrivaled — and he is thus able to do whatever is in accordance with his purposes.
Further to this thought, consider that Mary was told that the conception of this baby was to be a divine enablement radically beyond the natural. Moreover, when the angel said, the power of the Most High will overshadow you, he was using the language of creation (Genesis 1:2b). If God could create the universe with supernatural power at the beginning by the utterance of his word, why could he not work the wonder of a virgin birth?
Second, our personal faith is also encouraged by looking back on the creeds of Christendom. They appear to be unwavering on this matter. Consider the ecumenical version of the Apostle’s Creed. The middle section makes ten affirmations about Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Here are the first two: he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…
When we utter that creed’s declaration from the heart we join with millions of believers across the centuries and in many parts of the world. We believe! And while we worship Jesus the Christ as our Lord we honor the maiden who willingly, and at great initial cost to her reputation, became God’s servant in his plan to dwell among us in the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn.
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say —
“Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!
(from a Basque Christmas Carol)