Saint Luke tells with amazing brevity the story of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary: You are to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary’s initial response, her subsequent visit with cousin Elizabeth, and her beautiful song of worship are all recorded in few words (Luke 1:26-56).
And so there is a lot we do not know. Were responses in the rest of her family and community as serene and poetic as Mary’s? And what about her parents? After all, how could such an announcement from a young, unmarried woman fail to land with jarring impact?
How did Mary’s mother find out about her daughter’s pregnancy? What was her first response? Imagine if a teenage girl today should say to her mother, “An angel appeared to me yesterday and told me I’m going to have a baby without any man’s involvement.” And how did her father take the news?
Then there’s Joseph, the man she was pledged to marry. Matthew tells us simply that Mary “was found to be with child…” (1:18) Had her parents told Joseph, or did she tell him herself?
In Matthew 1:13-25 we see that, however he got the news, at first he was understandably upset. His immediate impulse was to break the engagement (actually to divorce her according to Jewish customs at the time). But he would do so as quietly as possible so as not to subject her to public disgrace.
An angel had to appear to Joseph in a dream to change his mind. He then took Mary into his home, though they were not intimate, Matthew tells us, until after the baby was born.
And what was Mary’s state of mind during all of this?
Then I’m curious about Mary’s trip to be with her aged cousin, Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). It is likely that Elizabeth and Zechariah, her husband, lived in Hebron, a town some distance south of Jerusalem, and 80 miles or more from Nazareth.
How does this carefully chaperoned young woman (according to the customs of the times) get from her home to that distant place? One assumes she walked. But was it with her father? Or a caravan of travelers? Where would she have stayed overnight during this three- or four-day trip?
Then, after staying three months with Elizabeth, she returned to Nazareth. How did the community respond to her now-obvious pregnancy? And how would Mary have dealt with probable shunning and scorn?
I believe Luke, the careful historian, would have known the answers to these questions. He says his research had been thorough (1:3). Years later he may have visited with Mary in Ephesus where the Apostle John is said to have taken her to live out her days.
If he had such firsthand information, why did he not tell us? It must be because he isn’t writing a novelette to portray human conflict and struggle. He’s reporting on the coming of God into our world in human form. And on the Virgin Mary’s willingness to be the servant of the Almighty in bringing into the world the Messiah. Above all, he’s writing the story of redemption. Joy is the dominant note.
Only later, a man named Simeon, a devout worshiper of God, prophesies to Mary that later in her life her suffering will be great as a part of this mission, telling her “a sword will pierce your own soul, too” (Luke 2:35).
So, what does all of this say about Mary? There’s no indication in the gospel accounts that Mary was to be worshiped or treated as other than one of us. But she is to be deeply admired as a devout young Jewish girl who has kept herself pure and is selected (with her assent) by the Almighty to be the bearer of the Messiah.
We have many unanswered questions. But, during Advent, Mary should be held up as a model of openness to God’s will. Her response to Gabriel’s announcement rings down the centuries: “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept anything he wants. May everything you have said come true” (Luke 1:38 NLT).
Photo credit: Randy Son of Robert (via flickr.com)