Several times in the Word Online ‘Life of Jesus’ material, we are encouraged to take note of the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke recounts the story of Jesus' birth entirely from Mary's point of view. Let's take away the sentimentality of the context in which we sometimes hear this story, if we're familiar with the Christian faith and its celebrations around Christmas-time; let's take it back to its original context.
Mary and Joseph lived separately in an insignificant town in the northern province of Israel, Nazareth. In Series 1 Episode 5 Nazareth is described as a sleepy backwater, far away from the capital, Jerusalem, in the south. They were born into humble circumstances - very ordinary people in many ways.
Two things are stated unambiguously about Mary: she was engaged to be married and she was a virgin. She had had no sexual relationships with Joseph, or any other man. This was the strict sexual, ethical code of ancient Israel. Engagement was a very strong commitment. The absolute intention was to get married and it took a form of ‘divorce’ to end an engagement. Both families prepared for the marriage day and the time when the wedding celebration took place, then the sexual relationship would start.
Not surprisingly, Mary is described as ‘troubled’ Luke 1:29, when the angel Gabriel appeared to her to tell her she was to become the mother of Jesus, who is going to be called the Son of the Most High and the Son of God. What a shock! Surely it was impossible! No wonder she was over-awed and felt emotionally upset.
However, her response is held up as a great example in the Church for many reasons. In Luke 1:38 , we read: “I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” She was humble enough to be willing to be used by the living God for His purposes even though it meant considerable risk to herself: she would suffer the social stigma of being an unmarried mother in that society; how would Joseph respond when he found out this unbelievable story? She had outstanding faith. She simply obeyed God and trusted him. She put God before Joseph. She was prepared to face the challenges, the uncertainty and the risks relationally, economically and socially. She realised that God had sent a messenger to her, given her a unique responsibility and that her primary concern should be to fulfil the responsibility God had graciously given her.
The historical and the biological fact of the virgin birth means that the uniqueness of Jesus is, literally, the fact that God himself brings about this birth through the human agency of Mary - her womb and her childbearing capacity. We call it the Incarnation: when God became man; when God took on human nature. Jesus, as the Son of God, existed eternally with his Father and with the Holy Spirit, three persons in one Godhead who existed before time, before the creation of anything, in all eternity. They have always existed and Jesus did not take on humanity - he didn't become a man in a physical sense - until this moment in history. He did this in order to come alongside humanity, to identify with us and to set us free from our sin through his atonement and sacrifice on the cross.
As we consider Mary’s response this Christmastime, may we be prepared to respond to our God-given responsibilities with that same humility and faith.