At this time of year, when Christmas is wrapping up and people are full of Christmas joy and cheer, we’ve been inundated by movies and songs and church messages that remind us about Mary and her baby. We’re reminded about the Christmas story as told in Matthew and Luke about an angelic presence, a divine conception, a virgin mother, a long journey, and a baby in a manger – when prophecies were fulfilled as the miracle Seed was born in human form. And the story starts with Mary’s choice to say to God “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38a).
Mary Lowry’s song “Mary, Did You Know?” plays almost on repeat on the radio. It’s a beautiful song about the divine potential and possibilities that once lay as a newborn in Mary’s arms: (Verse 3) Mary did you know That your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary did you know That your baby boy will one day rule the nations? Did you know That your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? This sleeping child you’re holding Is the Great I Am?
She couldn’t not know about the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. I am sure she heard numerous times growing up in her Israelite family about the prophecy of Immanuel, the Savior of Israel: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
Someone had to be the virgin that was chosen. Did she ever expect it would be her? Probably never. Did she ever hope it would be her? Probably never. Did she consider saying “no” to God? Maybe for a second.
We know what Mary was promised in Luke 1:30-33: 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” We also know about her journey to and arrival in Bethlehem to register her family, as documented in Luke 2. But there is no evidence about Mary’s experiences between conception and birth, and we are left to wonder about her.
“The Nativity Story” from 2006 takes a glimpse into Mary’s life from just before her encounter with the angel through the birth of Jesus. It’s a great movie, and along with all the messages and music I hear this time of year, it leads me to ask this one question:
Mary, what were you thinking????!!!
I know. It’s a weird and possibly sacrilegious question. But think about it.
You are a teenage girl, probably about 15. That’s our modern day high school sophomore age. Back then, it was not as young an age as it is today. But it’s still young to have your first baby. From this point forward, you would forever be a mother. You would officially lose your childhood and become an adult.
You are not married, but you are betrothed to Joseph. You probably barely know him, since you probably did not grow up together and your parents have chosen him to take care of you. How would he take this news? Would he still accept you?
You live in a society where it is illegal to be pregnant but not married. It is socially unacceptable to the point where your family and your fiancé could have banished or stoned you. What if Joseph did reject you? What if your family threw you out?
And the biggest issue of all. You have to explain this miraculous pregnancy and convince people that you are carrying their Messiah. You. A commoner. A teenager. An unmarried girl. No social status, no ties to the priests and prophets. Who would believe that? It is such an incredibly incredulous story, and it rings with such insincerity. You made a mistake, right, and now you’re making up a story? I can hear your friends and probably even your family asking you such questions.
You might have even gotten questions and serious doubt from Joseph, your betrothed. What man in his right mind would believe that you are pregnant with God’s Son? Thank God He intervened with Joseph and told him you weren’t crazy: Matthew 1:18-21 – 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
You a made a brave and faithful choice to believe God and honor Him with your life. I don’t know if you thought about how you were going to survive those nine months. I don’t know if you wondered how, or even if, you were going to explain yourself to people. I don’t know if your family looked at you funny and doubted your purity; I’m sure they had difficulty believing you were the chosen virgin God has prophesied about for all those years. I don’t know how many of your friends turned their backs on you and whispered hurtful things behind your back. I don’t know how many nights you would have cried yourself to sleep, wondering if you did the right thing or regretting your choice.
Mary, I don’t know what you were thinking or feeling or believing. I don’t know if you stayed confident in your decision to follow God, despite all the judgments and criticism, or if you had (many) moments of doubt about your brave choice.
Mary, what I do know is that you are now a woman forever etched in history as the woman with the courage to choose God over society, faith over fear, and courage over complacency. You didn’t hesitate to say “yes” to God, despite all the possible consequences and societal restrictions. You chose your God, the God of Israel you heard about growing up, and believed Him to be bigger and more faithful than anything you would face in the next nine months.
Mary, I don’t understand why you made the choice you did. Mary, I don’t know what happened in those next nine months and what kind of negativity you faced. Mary, I don’t know how you felt having to give birth among the animals in what was probably a very smelly and noisy stable, instead of being able to birth your baby at home surrounded by your family. Mary, I don’t know how many nights you prayed God would protect your baby as you fled to Egypt away from Herod’s wrathful killing spree. Mary, I don’t know if you knew how many lives your Son would touch and change. Mary, I cannot begin to imagine how it felt to see your beloved son beaten and crucified.
Mary, all of this could be summarized in this way: Mary, I don’t really know you. Your story isn’t told except for a few details. The rest is left up to my imagination and the possibilities that Biblical scholars and preachers present. But despite knowing so little about you, Mary, I am amazed by you. Your courage and your faithfulness seem to abound. Your confidence and faith seem to be untouchable. Your love and devotion to your Lord seem to be limitless.
Mary, did you know you would be someone to admire? Mary, could you imagine your story still being told 2000 years later?
Mary, even if you didn’t know, we know you. And we thank you heartily and joyfully for being the person who birthed the miracle producing, sinner loving, leper (outcast) touching Son of God who saved us all from our sins and opened the door for us to have a personal and intimate relationship with God.
Mary, thank you for braving society’s condemnation, your family’s criticism, and Joseph’s possible rejection to be faithful to God and give us the Savior of the world. Mary, thank you for believing bigger than we ever could in a God who does the impossible.
Mary, whether you knew the impact you would have on the world or not, thank you for making the hard choice. May we all have the courage to follow your example and live a life of such great faith.
Marie Fremin. 12/29/14, 1/1/15