by Bekah Vickers
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. — John 1:9-12
Children of God: Receiving Our Rightful Inheritance – In our final week leading up to Christmas, we are celebrating what it means to have “the right to be called children of God.”
Read Luke 1:26-38
There are a whole slew of things I haven’t quite gotten around to doing since I’ve had kids. One of the things that I fully intend to do “someday” is to write out the birth stories for each of my three children. In years past, I would’ve thought nothing quite so strange as the desire to tell someone else how you gave birth – but now that I’ve given birth myself, I understand that the experience is so unique, so important, and often so unbelievable that it’s impossible not to feel the need to share it. At the same time, it’s such an intimate story, so very precious in its own (messy, gross, painful, glorious) way, that I’m not exactly sure how I could even start.
But what an incredible thing that Mary did not neglect to share her own birth story – the birth story that would change all our lives! The Gospels of Mark and John demonstrate that we can know Jesus without knowing about the manger – but what a gift to know the manger, too! This birth story has the power to teach us so much about God, about His Son, and about the people He delights to involve in His salvation plan.
Of course, Mary’s birth story doesn’t actually begin in Bethlehem but in Nazareth, with a visit from the angel Gabriel. I struggle to imagine this scene: Mary, minding her own business, perhaps going about chores at home or in the field, and then the angel Gabriel appears out of nowhere with a message. In other parts of Scripture, angels sometimes appear in disguise, but Gabriel must have come in full angelic attire, because although Gabriel greets Mary with a great compliment – “O favored one, the Lord is with you!” – she is so upset that he must recite the magic words (“Do not be afraid”) before he can proceed.
But after that initial misgiving, Mary hears the angel’s message, asks one vital question, and then submits herself entirely to this crazy plan. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she says, and just like that, the trajectory of her simple life is changed for eternity.
When I try to imagine what kind of girl Mary was, to be so obedient, so willing to believe and follow – I cannot help but think of her ancestor David. When Samuel visits Jesse’s family to anoint a new king – a better king than Saul has turned out to be – God demonstrates His ability to choose based on the heart, rather than the outward appearance (I Sam. 16:7). God knew from the start that David would have a heart dedicated to the Lord. I think He knew this about Mary as well. She was young, but God already knew all the days of her life before one of them came to pass (Ps. 139:16).
I think we can make a pretty good guess about what God saw in Mary’s heart. In her Magnificat, Mary demonstrates a ready knowledge of the word of God, echoing in her song several refrains from the Scriptures. But she doesn’t just have rote knowledge of all that was written in the Law and the Prophets; she also understands the character of God. She knows He is trustworthy, and that He can be believed – even when it comes to the “impossible.” And in response to this knowledge, she has cultivated a heart ready to receive the Lord.
If I had been the one visited by the angel, I feel certain I would’ve had more than one question for him. Why me? What’s the time frame here? What about Joseph? But isn’t the Messiah supposed to be a king? What do I do when I think of more questions?
I don’t doubt that Mary did have some questions – perhaps she was too starstruck to ask in the moment and only thought of them later, in the middle of the night when she woke up with the panicky realization of what just happened. Or perhaps her age was a protection for her: what teenager isn’t ready to risk everything for something great? What teenager has any real idea of what “risk” means, anyway? But all conjecture aside, we know that Mary only asked the one question, as if to say, “It all sounds great – except there’s just one thing….” And Gabriel replies evenly, with a precise answer to the question of conception so that Mary and all of us readers will be assured that this is no ordinary baby. But he adds to this a sign to prove his message: Mary’s cousin Elizabeth is also unexpectedly (and Providentially) with child. “For nothing is impossible with God,” he says. And Mary, in her heart, knows this is true. And because of her courage, her obedience, and her willingness to submit herself to the Lord, we know it, too.