When Gabriel, God’s angelic messenger said to Mary, “You will be with child and give birth to a son,” its possible she made a connection between this angelic announcement and a prophecy contained within the Old Testament book of Isaiah: “…the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son” (Isaiah 7:14 NIV). But this led to an understandable question…
“‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon 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” (Luke 1:34-35 NIV)
So Gabriel told Mary that this miraculous event would be accomplished through the power of the Highest in the Person of the Holy Spirit. In the original language of this passage, the word “overshadow” carries the idea of “covering with a cloud,” not unlike the cloud of God’s glory that appeared from time to time in the Scriptures (see Exodus 13:21 and Matthew 17:5).
This was the visible revelation of the power and presence of God and it meant that the same power of God that was revealed in the Old Testament would be present in Mary’s life as well. Because of this, Mary’s child would differ from all others: He would be the Holy One and the Son of God.
“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:36-37 NIV).
These verses make reference to Mary’s relative Elizabeth who was pregnant with the child who would later come to be known as John The Baptist (see Luke 1:5-25). So Gabriel brought Mary a promise and some evidence as well. If God could enable Elizabeth to become pregnant when she was well past her childbearing years, He could certainly accomplish a miraculous event in Mary’s life as well.
Here was Mary’s simple but powerful response…
“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her” (Luke 1:38 NIV).
Think about the kind of faith that Mary demonstrated in this response. Notice she didn’t argue, debate, or reject God’s plan- she simply said, “let it be to me according to your word.” In this, Mary’s example provides us with a good example to follow. In fact, her response took a lot more trust in God than it may seem. First, we should remember that Mary agreed to become an unwed mother in a society that mandated capital punishment for those who were physically intimate prior to marriage.
We might also consider Mary’s faith from a practical perspective. For instance, it’s likely that Mary had to endure the whispers, gossip, and suspicious looks that were sure to follow her wherever she went. Not only that, many believe that Mary was just 14-16 years old when these events occurred; perhaps even younger.
So Mary was aligned with God’s plan but there was one more family member to consider…
“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’-which means, ‘God with us.’
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:19-25 NIV).
It may be easy to overlook Joseph’s role in the Christmas story but let’s consider his reaction as well. For example, how would you respond if you were in Joseph’s position and your fiancée said this…
- “I’m going to have a baby.”
- “The baby’s Father is God.”
Would you accept that? Probably not. So we shouldn’t be surprised to read that Joseph wanted to break off his engagement with Mary when she was found to be pregnant before their wedding ceremony. However, Joseph (who, like Mary, was almost certainly about 14-16 years old) was a person of character and integrity. He was determined to conduct himself in an honorable manner even if seemed as if Mary had not acted honorably towards him before their wedding.
Yet Joseph immediately moved forward in faith once God’s plan was revealed to him, just as Mary had done. These features of the real Christmas story are all important but sometimes easy to forget while we’re trying to avoid the holiday crush at the mall.