Luke 1:34 NIV
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
Gabriel’s first mission was to an ageing theologian, a priest, in the city of Jerusalem. It might seem natural that God would send his messenger to a man who was knowledgeable in the Scriptures and practiced in religious duties. It would seem likely that he would be able to comprehend and receive a message from God, as unexpected as it might be. Gabriel’s second mission, however, was to a teenager, who lived in the town of Nazareth in a region of northern Israel called Galilee (named for the large lake in that area). Girls like Mary would have had a very rudimentary academic education even if they were well taught in the art of home making. Who knows if Mary could even read and write? Gabriel’s message to Mary was even more startling than his message to Zechariah:
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.
Mary’s response was one of surprise, but her initial reaction was not so much directed at the child she would bear, but at the fact that she would bear a child at all. “I am a virgin.”
Mary was relatively young, maybe 15 years of age, but she knew what was required to get pregnant, and she was well aware that this was not something she had yet experienced. Perhaps in that moment she was wondering whether the person before her (and who knows whether she recognised him as an angel) was suggesting some kind of prohibited liaison with the man she was engaged to but not yet married. How could that possibly happen? She barely knew Joseph, but she knew he was a man of honour, and to suggest to him that they should sleep together before their wedding day was unthinkable. If she only suggested it he would probably want no more to do with her. Could she risk her future marriage this way?
Mary may well have been relieved when Gabriel informed her that it would be a supernatural conception. Young people often have less problem with the supernatural than older people like Zechariah (or me). Her response was less skeptical. Instead of Zechariah’s “How can I be sure of this,” she responds simply with, “I am the Lord’s servant, may everything you have said about me come true.”
This is a challenge for us who are older and “wiser” in the ways of the world, more educated perhaps. God has spoken words of hope and promise into our lives, at various times and in different ways over the years. But we have been weighed down with disappointment that things have not turned out the way we expected, the way we hoped. We are like Zechariah, going through the motions but without the freshness of faith and belief that Mary had. But we need to avoid the tendency to react like Zechariah with scepticism. We need to respond, when God says outrageous things to us, not with doubt, but with quiet acceptance.
I am the Lord’s servant, may everything you have said about me come true.