Puzzled yet believed: Devotional Commentary for November 25-December 1
This is the season of our Savior's Birth: the record of His First Coming, the beginning of the fulfillment of the Promise of Redemption. It is a familiar Story. We know the main events and recall major occurrences. But at times, we miss significant details which seem less momentous but very important. Here is a portion from Luke's record, publicly declaring the First Coming of the Messiah:
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
26Six months after Elizabeth had become pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee.
27The angel went to a virgin promised in marriage to a descendant of David named Joseph. The virgin’s name was Mary.
28When the angel entered her home, he greeted her and said, “You are favored by the Lord. The Lord is with you.”
29She was startled by what the angel said and tried to figure out what this greeting meant.
Following his record on the prophecy and conception of John the Baptizer, Luke talks about another marvelous Event which took place in Galilee, a region of no renown among the Jews. Six months after John, the herald of Jesus' Coming was conceived, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to break the News of the Birth of the Son of God. The time for the fulfillment of God's Plan of Redemption had come.
Gabriel was sent to a pure maiden who never had any intimate relationship with any man. Her name was Mary, a virgin of a low social estate. At the time Gabriel visited her, Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. Betrothal is the initial ceremony before marriage during which the future couple would enter into a vow of commitment to each other, which is a binding matrimonial covenant prior to consummating the marriage. Mary was bound to Joseph with a marital vow when the angel came to visit her.
Gabriel entered Mary’s home unexpectedly and unannounced. He greeted her with unusual yet kind words. He assured her that the Lord is with her and that He favored her. God chose Mary for a specific Purpose without any merit of her own. God’s Favor in this context is not exactly the same as His saving Grace or Redemption. Although we cannot completely separate God’s Favor from His redemption, His Favor upon Mary in this context meant that she was preferred by God and, therefore, separated for a specific Purpose.
Like Zechariah several months earlier, Mary was also gripped by fear. She was startled by the sudden and unannounced appearance of the angel. What is more, she did not understand the nature and the content of the salutation Gabriel spoke to her. She had many questions.
How is it that an angel of God would come to a poor and insignificant virgin already committed to marriage? How can she have God's Favor when she was an insignificant lowly girl from a region of no good reputation? Mary tried to make sense out of what she saw and heard. Here is how the conversation continued between Gabriel and Mary, as recorded in verses 30-38 below:
30The angel told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.
31You will become pregnant, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus.
32He will be a great man and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.
33Your son will be king of Jacob’s people forever, and his kingdom will never end.”
34Mary asked the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (NASB)
35The angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy child developing inside you will be called the Son of God."
36"Elizabeth, your relative, is six months pregnant with a son in her old age. People said she couldn't have a child."
37"But nothing is impossible for God."
38Mary answered, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (NASB)
Gabriel called Mary by name and reassured her that nothing should cause her to be afraid. Calling her by name probably affirmed to Mary that the messenger really knew who she was and that he was not making a mistake. He was not there to harm her in any way. He told Mary not to be afraid because she had found Favor with God. He encouraged her by the certainty of God’s Favor.
Quoting from Isaiah 7:14, Gabriel told Mary that she, a virgin, will become pregnant, give birth to a Son, and name Him Jesus. Once a poor and insignificant peasant virgin, Mary now knows that she is the virgin of whom the prophet spoke as the chosen maiden for the fulfillment of God's Redemption of the lost and His people Israel. God's Favor was upon her and she was chosen.
Gabriel continued explaining to Mary that her Son Jesus is not an ordinary mortal born like other human beings. He is the Son of the Most High, formed and manifested in the womb of this chosen mortal virgin. He is eminent in every aspect of Who He is. God His Father will set Him upon David’s throne forever. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His Kingdom will never end.
Startled by his sudden appearance, puzzled by his strange greeting, and perplexed by his unbelievable News, Mary asked the angel "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" She was betrothed and was under a marriage vow that has not yet been consummated. So, being virgin still, she cannot be pregnant. Gabriel's announcement was completely inexplicable. Mary simply responded with a confused demeanor.
If the message was true, and it was, Mary probably dreaded the cultural and moral ramifications which would have flowed from the public view regarding premarital pregnancy. Her whole community knew that she was betrothed to Joseph. No one would believe her if she tried to explain her pregnancy and attempted to defend her innocence of any sexual misconduct. How would she be viewed by her husband, family and friends, and the community at large?
Gabriel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the Power of the Most High would overshadow her, fully covering her by His Majesty and His Glory. The conception of Jesus in her womb was not natural. God Himself would execute His Plan within her physical body by His Power and by His Presence. God Himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, would form the human flesh within Mary's virgin womb as divinely created Holy human embryo. The Child will be God's Son, the Eternal Word in flesh and blood.
Gabriel mentioned what God did in her relative Elizabeth's life, to affirm to Mary that nothing is impossible to God. Elizabeth had been barren and had already passed childbearing age. She was no longer expected to conceive. Nevertheless, Elizabeth had been pregnant for six months. Once barren, she was now expecting the forerunner of the One Who will be conceived and delivered by Mary. Gabriel assured Mary that her pregnancy, through the intervention and overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, is as certain as Elizabeth's pregnancy which is now evident.
Finally, Mary acknowledged God's Lordship and accepted His Will for her life. She conceded that she is the Lord's servant and submitted to God's Will as spoken by the angel. Having delivered God's message, the angel left Mary and went his way. He left behind a virgin who rested upon God's Faithfulness, His sovereign Will, and His Providence. Her faith in God freed her from the grips of doubt. She trusted God even though she didn't know.
The angel Gabriel is once again dispatched to a little known virgin living in a town of no significance: a perfect setting divinely chosen for showing the Glory of God. Her name is Mary and she lived in Nazareth, a city in Galilee. Having been betrothed, Mary was probably preoccupied with the affairs of her upcoming marriage to Joseph. But God had a different Purpose for her life.
Even though she had no idea of what her future held, the News from Gabriel took Mary out of the confines of her personal expectations and ushered her into the magnificence of God's Glorious Purpose. Puzzled but not resistant, Mary wondered how such a marvel can happen to someone like her.
We too might feel the same when we understand what God has done to save us from His Judgment. But we continue in our ways consumed by the business of life, with little attention to our God and our Father. Our lives are filled with plans that consume our waking moments. In our human efforts, we make plans and then work hard to succeed at them. We approach these plans in an organized and responsible fashion.
Nothing wrong in planning and in being diligent in what we want to accomplish. But we often slip into a severe shock when things don't seem to go our way. Could it be because we exclude God from our thoughts and fail to look to Him for guidance and direction? Or, could it be we feel God expects us to do what we know without bothering Him? There is nothing anywhere which justifies the exclusion of God from the affairs of His creation, much less those whom He redeemed with the precious Blood of His Son.
Puzzled and perhaps confused like Mary, we probably react with some resistance to the changes God imposes on our personal hopes and aspirations. Common sense cannot explain these sudden reversals in our lives. Only the faith that God imparts to us equips us to accept these changes, not with hostile resistance to our loving Father but with a trusting heart, knowing that He does everything for our earthly and eternal good, and through it, to reveal His Glory, Majesty, Mercy, Grace, and infinite Love.
Mary was unable to grasp the mysteries of God's incredible Work in her life. However, God worked through her meek spirit and obedient attitude, enabling her to rise above her doubts and confusions. Just like her, God works through our obedient mind and faithful heart causing us to submit happily to our Lord Who ordains the courses of our lives. Then we break into a doxology of praise in loving obedience unashamedly singing: May your Will be done in our lives as it is in heaven.