In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27
to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on 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. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
A few questions about this passage - how did Mary know it was an angel - was it white, with wings and a halo? Why was Mary chosen above anyone else? Did the angel go to anyone else beforehand only to find that they refused to take part in this crazy salvation plan? Was this the first time Mary knew about Elizabeth's pregnancy?
There are lots more questions I could come up with (why don't you suggest some questions and answers in the comment box below?), but it illustrates how little we know about the woman who carried our Lord and Saviour for nine months and then had the awesome responsibility of bringing him up. In this day and age, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, we love to know everything about everyone - from their shoe size and their favourite colour to their favourite holiday destination. The press goes over every minutiae of detail and the slightest thing is headline news. This must be partly why the gospel accounts are so tantalising; frustrating, even. We know very little about these people who, after all, played such a significant part in world history.
All we know is that her name was Mary, she was a virgin, that she'd found favour with God, became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit, was obedient and allowed God to work through her in this most extraordinary way. Perhaps, though, that's all the detail we have, because that's all the detail we need. It tells us of the extraordinary work of an extraordinary God for whom nothing is impossible, who delights in creating life out of seemingly impossible situations. In case you're sceptical about the virgin birth being true, I know of at least three couples who were told that there was no chance of them ever having children - the tests had been done and they were almost definitive - but each couple now has more than one child. It doesn't take much of a leap of imagination to see that God can grow a baby inside a virgin.
Our God is the God of the impossible. No word from him ever fails. He brings life out of death, hope out of hopelessness, joy out of sorrow.
This account also tells us that our God works in partnership with us. He could have effected the great salvation plan without involving humans - it might have been an eminently more sensible idea - but he chose not to. He chose to work with us and through us to bring salvation to a broken world. He's still doing that today. Together, God and humanity is the only hope for the world. Are you open to partnering with God?
One final question ... did Mary have any idea that her road of motherhood would end at the foot of the cross?