As we approach Christmas, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about the major characters we hear so much about ....
A few questions about Mary - how did Mary know that her mysterious visitor 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, 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? There are hints later in the infancy narratives when Simeon later prophesies, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” She walked with Jesus throughout his ministry, prompting him at Cana, standing there on the fringes of the crowd at Capernaum, at the foot of the cross, and then, significantly, in the upper room when the Holy Spirit fell in power at Pentecost. She was her son’s most faithful follower. She knew the sorrow of the way of the cross, but the joy of the resurrection, perhaps more than most. No wonder we call her blessed.