I just completed my first year of seminary and some friends and I decided that over the summer we would work on translating the book of Luke so that we could stay sharp on the Greek we learned. Yes, I’m a nerd. I quickly discovered that the book of Luke was not the easiest place for an amateur to begin. Have you ever had that really smart friend who used a lot of fancy words? I’m pretty sure Luke would be that guy. Anyway, as I was working on translating the first chapter of Luke, one particular story seemed to jump of the page. It was the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her that she was going to give birth to the son of God. In church-world, this event is referred to as the annunciation. This story is found in Luke 1:26-38. I will be using my own translation in this post (in italic), but you can find a professional translation here at Bible Gateway.
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into the city of Galilee which is called Nazareth to a young woman betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the name of the young woman was Mary. And when the angel came to her he said, “Greetings highly favored one, the Lord is with you.” She was troubled at his word, and she considered what manner of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God. Behold, you will conceive in the womb and will bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus. This one will be great and will be called son of the highest, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will not be an end.” (Luke 1:26-33, translation mine)
So take just a moment and try to put yourself in Mary’s sandals. You are a young woman (stay with me fellas), probably just a teenager, going about life as usual. You are engaged to a guy named Joseph and will be married sometime soon. All of a sudden, an angel appears and starts talking to you. “Greetings, highly favored one, the Lord is with you.” Now I assume that the appearance of angels usually quite startling, if not actually terrifying, because they’re always saying “don’t be afraid.” So Mary is obviously and understandably a bit perplexed. But before she has a chance to say anything the angel keeps talking. “Don’t be afraid, you’ve found grace with God.” Ok, that’s nice to hear. It’s good to find grace with God. Maybe this guy…or this angel…isn’t so bad after all. “Oh, and by the way,” the angel continues, “You’re going to be pregnant, and have a son. You’ll name him Jesus and he is going to be the son of the highest and he is going to be king of Israel and his kingdom is going to last forever.” Wait, what? I imagine at this point that most of us would have taken off running about halfway through that last sentence, or, maybe pepper sprayed the creepy guy who just showed up saying really weird things. Not Mary though, she asks a very logical question.
“And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be since I am not knowing [having sexual relations with] a man?” (Luke 1:34, translation mine).
That’s a great question. “Hey buddy, maybe you’re not familiar with how this whole ‘having a child’ thing is supposed to work. There’s something that people have to do before they can have a baby and I haven’t done that thing.” We obviously don’t know how Mary said what she said, but I get the impression that she was much kinder and much less sarcastic than I would be. When I read the text I get the impression that she was actually quite sincere in her question. I have no idea what response she was expecting from the angel, but I would bet a significant sum of money that it was nothing like the response she actually received.
And the angel answering said to her, “Holy spirit will come upon you and power of the most high will overshadow you, therefore, the holy child that is born will be called the son of God. And, behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also herself conceived a child in her old age, and this is the sixth month to her who is called barren. Because no word from God will be without power.” (Luke 1:35-37, translation mine)
So if I was Mary this is probably how I would have reacted. “Hold on a second…back up. I’m going to get pregnant by holy spirit and the shadow of the most high? How does that even work? You know what people are going to think right? I’m not married yet, remember? Maybe you’re not from around here, but if people find out that I got pregnant before getting married, the very best I could hope for is public shame. Also, I’m pretty sure that Joseph is going to know that it’s not his kid since we’re not, ya know, doing that thing, so according to our laws he has every right to call off the wedding, or even have me stoned. I’m just not so sure that people are going to buy that ‘Don’t worry, it’s God’s baby, I’m really still a virgin’ story. And even if Joseph, by some miracle, does still decide to marry me, this will ruin my wedding day. I’ll have to find another dress, I’ll be pregnant in all my wedding photos. Doesn’t God know that this is going to mess up all of the plans that I made for my life? ” I have no doubt that Mary knew all of those things were true, and yet, she didn’t mention any of them. Her response to the angel just blows my mind.
And Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord. May it be for me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, translation mine).
Wow. What heart! What obedience! What faith! Here is this teenage girl going about her business when some random stranger shows up and turns her world upside down by telling her that she is going to become pregnant miraculously and give birth to the son of God. Mary, knowing full well the consequences she might face, basically responds with “Ok, whatever you say.” That kind of trust in God is amazing. I want to have a heart like Mary.
P.S. This, for me, is one of the major benefits of studying Greek. It makes me slow down and think every word and phrase.
P.P.S. Isn’t it a bit silly that some people believe that God entrusted a woman to carry, give birth to, and then raise his own son and then go on to say women aren’t fit for ministry? Can you think of a more important ministry than raising the son of God?