Some of the greatest stories of success are rooted in the humblest of beginnings and Christmas is no exception.
God’s plan to rescue creation starts in the smallest of towns, a place called Nazareth. Up until this point, Nazareth had only a passing mention in scripture. Some of those around Jesus would later ask, “Does anything good ever come from Nazareth?”
Yet, this small town in the province of Galilee was suddenly thrust into the spotlight of God’s plan to save the world. Sure, the story could’ve happened in places such as Jerusalem — in the more “metropolitan” areas of the day — but, God opts for an effort that could’ve used John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” as the background music.
It is in the town of Nazareth where two families have come together to make an arrangement for a marriage. At this point, there is nothing extraordinary about this marriage.
TWO TEENS, BETROTHED
One family had a daughter, Mary, and the other had a son, Joseph. At the time the families entered into this arrangement, this daughter and son were probably in their early teens. That was the common age for young people to be brought together into marriage.
Mary and Joseph were now in their betrothal period and they would’ve been considered to be “technically” married. However, Joseph and Mary did not live together during this time. Their visits with one another were supervised and as this betrothal period moved along the families were working out the formal arrangements of marriage.
The only thing that could end this betrothal was a divorce or the death of the young man or woman. A pregnancy during the betrothal period would have brought great shame to the young woman. The young man would have had grounds for a divorce and could have moved on (even if it was his own child).
TIED TO SCRIPTURE
So this provides the background as our story begins.
- A small town where two families have come together to arrange a marriage.
- A teen girl and a teen boy who are now in their betrothal period.
And so far, everything seems to be going as expected. It is, by all descriptions, a common, ordinary experience. At least it is until Christmas shows up.
And the unexpected, the improbable, the absolutely impossible was about to change the life of this young girl named Mary forever. We meet Mary in Luke 1:26-38:
26 When Elizabeth was six months pregnant
Elizabeth is Mary’s cousin and she is married to Zechariah, a priest. Elizabeth and Zechariah were both very mature – beyond the child-bearing years. (In other words, they were very, very old.) So, the first miracle of the Christmas story is that Elizabeth becomes pregnant with a child who will be called John – as in John the Baptist. And so our frame of reference is that Elizabeth is six months pregnant.
26 When Elizabeth was six months pregnant God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, 27 to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house.
Something happens when angels appear. Here are a couple other accounts:
- The angel appears to Zechariah: When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah.”
- The angel appears to the shepherds after the birth of Jesus: Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them and they were terrified.
Mary has a different response. She’s not terrified. She’s confused. Maybe it’s just more proof that she’s a teenager and seeing the world through that perspective. However, the angel’s message is that Mary is favored by God.
30 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. 31 Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33 He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”
In the time in which Mary lives, this statement is a loaded statement. The people have been looking for a promised Messiah – this goes back to the prophets in the Old Testament. They’ve been looking for someone from the family of David. And there’s a promise that, unlike the kingdom of David, this is going to be a kingdom that goes on and on.
And Mary’s response isn’t, “Wow, really?” Listen to what she says.
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. 36 Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant.
Here are some more loaded words.
- The Holy Spirit will work in you.
- This child is going to be holy.
- This is God’s son.
- And Mary, don’t get wrapped up in figuring out why. Even your cousin Elizabeth is having a child.
Maybe the warning is for us to stop getting wrapped up in the details as well. Scripture’s purpose is not to be a biological textbook. Instead, Scripture is God’s love letter to us and shows to us the great lengths God will go to in his efforts to rescue undeserving people.
37 Nothing is impossible for God.”
Maybe this is a way to sum up the entire history of salvation – Nothing is impossible with God. It is certainly a statement that sums up the improbability of the Christmas story.
38 Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
Sometimes, in reading that, it feels as if we miss some of the conversation or the response. Mary moves quickly from why me and how to I’m God’s servant. At the end of the day, at the end of the conversation, Mary comes to a place where so many others have been before in God’s story. Some have asked many questions. Some have argued with God about what it is they are called to do. Some have asked God for proof; they’ve needed a sign.
Zechariah, the priest, the husband of Mary’s relative Elizabeth, asked for a sign. He asked, “How am I supposed to believe this?” The sign he received? Zechariah didn’t speak until John is born.
Mary doesn’t do that. Mary responds by saying, “I am God’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”
Mary’s faith is stronger than her fear. Her belief and love of God moves her beyond being trapped in this moment to seeing the possibilities.
That is probably one of the greatest statements of belief and faith in the Bible. The call of God is a call of love, but it’s also a call of sacrifice and surrender.
God doesn’t ask Mary to do something and then, angels singing in the background, the road is perfectly cleared for her to stroll through. In fact, what Mary is asked to do is going to be one of the most difficult things that she’s ever done.
- She’s going to have to tell people she’s pregnant and the questions are going to come. Well, who’s the father?
- She lives in the world where someone in her current predicament – a pregnant teen who is not yet officially married – could be publicly shamed and potentially executed.
- She has to tell Joseph. Only two things end the betrothal between Mary and Joseph. Divorce or death. And this is grounds for Joseph to seek divorce. He can move on in his life, but she would potentially never be married.
- At the time in which Mary lived there was an extremely high rate of mothers dying during childbirth. What we see today as tragic, yet infrequent, was in the time of Mary both tragic and commonplace.
When you add up everything that Mary is facing, she seems to be handed a virtually impossible task. Yet, we return to that verse, that reminder: Nothing is impossible for God.
Faced with a seemingly impossible task, Mary makes a choice to believe in God for whom nothing is impossible.
So what does Mary, in her story, say to us in our story?
Let’s not discount that Mary has a reason to be fearful. The angel even tells her not to be afraid. Up-close and personal calls with God can be frightening and life-changing. They are unpredictable and scary. So we don’t have to sanitize this so much that we fail to acknowledge that Mary is going to be afraid. Fear is a natural, God-given reaction and it is, to some degree, a part of how any living, breathing person would react.
In the end though, Mary’s faith is stronger than her fear. Her belief and love of God moves her beyond being trapped in this moment to seeing the possibilities.
In one of the Mission: Impossible movies, the leader is speaking to Ethan Hunt, the character played by Tom Cruise. Hunt is complaining that there’s no way this mission can work. And the leader says, “Mr. Hunt that’s why we don’t call it Mission Difficult, we call it Mission Impossible.”
When we look at Mary, we see someone who strongly and quietly in front of a seemingly impossible task and believed in a God for whom nothing is impossible.
God is still calling us, just as he called Mary, to incredible tasks. We’re called to live lives that have eternal importance. God is calling us despite how overwhelming our situations and conditions might seem.
Why? Because nothing is impossible with God.
God invites us to take part in the same call to self-sacrifice and surrender to which he called Mary.
- Do we in the face of sometimes mild inconvenience, say, “Uh, no thanks, not today?” Or do we like Mary say, “I am God’s servant.”
- Do we in fear of losing something – our place, our privilege, even our dignity – say, “No thank you God, find someone else.” Or do we like Mary say, “I am God’s Servant.”
- Do we struggle to see that God is working in the toughest, roughest moments of life? For nothing is impossible with God.
The Christmas story begins with Mary receiving the invitation to do something that seems improbable and impossible — being the mother of Jesus. She makes an epic decision and commits her entire life to seeing it through.
In our stories, we have the same opportunities.
- We have been invited to be a part of something epic.
- We are called to lives of eternal importance.
- We have fears and doubts, but we also have faith.
- We can face ridicule, shame, pain, grief, etc., and still have a place in God’s rescue mission of the world.
- Mary’s life changed when she said, “I am the Lord’s Servant. Here I am.”
Image much life can change today, how much better the story becomes, when we can say, “In spite of everything I’m feeling, experiencing and going through, God, here I am.”
ReigniteMyStory.com is based on the idea that every life story can be reignited when we reset it, renew it and redeem it. You can contact me with ideas, questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or by following me on Twitter at @reignitemystory.