“…you will conceive in your womb and bear a son…”
The angel Gabriel spoke these words to Mary of Nazareth, as recorded in the gospel according to Luke. This is a pregnant phrase – both literally and literarily. Lest we skim too quickly over it, let’s take some time with it this week.
Consider the magnitude of this announcement in Mary’s mind. A young woman, unmarried, promised to a man named Joseph, confronted with a heavenly messenger; it must have been unnerving, shocking, frightening. Already afraid and confused by the circumstances, she is told that she will become pregnant and have a baby boy.
“But wait,” she thinks, “Wait just a minute. Joseph and I are … But that’s not possible … How could it be that …”
At this point, Gabriel proceeds to describe this child in cosmic terms: “great,” “Son of the Most High,” “…the throne of his ancestor David.” He talks about his reign and his never-ending kingdom. It is a grand and glorious description, fitting for the King of kings. We who have heard the rest of this story smile and close our eyes and get carried away with the magnificence of it all.
Meantime, back in the world, Mary has only one thing on her mind, and gets right to the point. As if Gabriel has mentioned nothing else, she says simply, “I am a virgin. How is it possible that I am going to have a baby?”
Blunt. Direct. Intimate. Mary gets past her fear of angels in a hurry and lays it all out there. This is impossible! She knows how this process is supposed to work, and there has been a very important step omitted. And she says so! (Let us for now lay aside an on going scholarly debate about whether the translation of “virgin” is accurate or whether the text should simply read “a young woman of marriageable age.” The point is not the biological accuracy of scripture, but rather Mary’s response to the angel’s message.)
I can picture Mary’s jaw dropping and brow furrowing as she stares unbelieving at the stranger who has just ruined her life. A baby!? No way. In her reaction, all pretense is laid aside and she reveals something very personal to a complete stranger. The news has shaken her foundation, and her actions are surprising, unexpected.
Impossible! I’m not ready. I’m too young. I don’t know enough. I’m scared. I’m alone.
Do not be afraid. God will be with you. Nothing will be impossible with God.