History has elevated Mary, the mother of Jesus, to a place of honor and reverence. The holy mother who bore the Son of God. However, this is not the same Mary we encounter in the hour of the angel Gabriel’s arrival. Rather, we encounter a young girl, given a holy promise without any proof of the miracle foretold.
We encounter a young woman of great faith who endures scorn and shame from a society that did not believe her account of events. And I wonder if, perhaps, this Mary has something to say to us all.
As Mary’s body began to change – as it stretched and grew with child – her friends and family presumed her to be nothing more than a cheating harlot who brought shame to her family, her town, and the man to whom she was pledged to be married. Everyone expected her betrothed, Joseph, to denounce Mary as his wife, marking her as untouchable and damning her to a life of shame and struggle. In her culture, Mary had no social merit or value without a man to vouch for her.
And yet, Yahweh – the God of Abraham – spoke a new destiny over her with the announcement that she would carry within her the divine made flesh. Even in her own uncertainty of how events would play out, Mary praised the Lord, calling him “blessed” and “exalted” and “merciful.” Mary carried within her a quiet knowing that neither required proof nor the validation of others to make it true.
Not only did the angel Gabriel explain to Mary how it was to be that she would carry a child, though she was a virgin; he also gave her the name of a trusted confidante in whom a miracle was also growing. In her wisdom, Mary left her hometown to seek out her distant cousin – perhaps whom she had never met – so that she could celebrate this miracle with someone who shared her deep and abiding faith: Elizabeth.
Somehow, Mary was not overcome by doubt or disbelief in the face of those who disbelieved her and perhaps shunned her during her pregnancy. Rather, Mary tethered herself to the Lord and to his promise and sought out a friend in whom she could confide and find spiritual shelter amidst her days of expectancy.
How beautiful. How profound.
That the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob would entrust this miracle to two women. That Joseph and other men would only later be let in on the divine secret of Jesus’ prophetic birth. That it would not be up to Mary to prove herself, but rather up to the Lord to intercede on her behalf.
Mary was not the subservient picture of a woman that society had come to expect. She did not keep her head down and she did not apologize for her account of events. Mary clung to what she knew to be true – even in the face of shame and blame and a society that attempted to make her the scapegoat.
Fortunately, the Lord looped Joseph in and gave Mary an advocate in her husband. But the validity of God’s promise and Mary’s innocence never rested in the approval or understanding of Joseph. Joseph became Mary’s help-mate. Her trusted companion. Joseph took the journey alongside Mary, perhaps also becoming entangled in the scandal surrounding Jesus’ birth. He, too, was of great faith. But the nativity story centers on Mary and her unwavering faith and trust in the Lord – with or without the validation of man.
I wonder if perhaps Mary contemplated all that she might lose – all that could be at stake – if she received Gabriel’s news with a trusting and faithful heart. I wonder if she felt the sorrow of being shunned, the anger at being scandalized, the hurt at being scorned, the helplessness at being disbelieved.
Perhaps her trust in the Lord and his faithfulness outweighed every risk, every loss, every ache. Perhaps the Lord’s provision of Elizabeth was the anchor she needed to hold her head high and stand in her truth. Perhaps the faith of her childhood was the hope she needed to sustain her in the loneliness.
Perhaps her quiet and unrelenting courage has always been and always will be too profound, too holy for words.