“…conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…”
As someone who has spent years attending women’s Bible studies, I’ve gone through my share of books on women in the Bible. But ironically, not one of them has included Mary, mother of Jesus. Apparently, we Protestants overreact so much to the veneration of Mary in other traditions that we risk eliminating her altogether from our own. Considering that our Savior was the offspring of her womb, she is the only parent of Jesus named in the magi story (Matt. 2:11), and no other human besides Jesus and Pontius Pilate is named in the Apostle’s Creed, that seems like a pretty big oversight.
Luke holds up Mary as a positive example of a response to God’s word in contrast with Zechariah’s response. We read the latter in Luke 1. Recall that Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, and infertility had prevented them from having any children. The text says this:
“Now while Zechariah was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the holy place of the Lord and burn incense. Now the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering. An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to him. And Zechariah, visibly shaken when he saw the angel, was seized with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John….’”
Had an old couple ever, in salvation history, conceived a child? Yes. But did Zechariah believe? Read on…
“Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well.’ The angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will be silent, unable to speak, until the day these things take place.’”
Contrast Zechariah’s response with that of Mary. Had a girl who had never known (in the biblical sense) a man conceived a child? No. Never. But did Mary believe? Read on…
“The angel came to her [Mary] and said, ‘Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. So the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.
“’And look, your relative Elizabeth has also become pregnant with a son in her old age—although she was called barren, she is now in her sixth month! For nothing will be impossible with God.’ So Mary said, ‘Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.”
Luke’s point is not that women are more spiritual than men. The Gospel writer simply contrasts the unlearned, poor girl’s response with that of the religious man who should have known God better.
May we, like Mary, have the attitude that says, “Yes, I am the servant of the Lord…!” in every circumstance.
Mary also shows an astonishing grasp of scripture. Her hymn of praise in response to the angel’s message, often referred to as The Magnificat, demonstrates a knowledge of her nation’s history and also echoes the hymn of Hannah:
“And Mary said,
‘My soul exalts the Lord,
and my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my Savior,
because he has looked upon the humble state of his servant.
For from now on all generations will call me blessed,
because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name;
from generation to generation he is merciful to those who fear him.
He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts.
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy,
as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Did you notice that part about all generations calling her blessed? I want to be in that number, don’t you? Let us rise, then, with our own generation to marvel at the grace of God shown to this lowly woman. And let us like her declare his mercy, power, might and faithfulness, joining our voices with hers to exalt the Lord born from her womb who has ascended into heaven and who sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty… having brought forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.