An Angel, a Young Woman, and a Startling Prophecy

Single, young, and pregnant

God interrupted a young woman’s life in a supernatural way. Her name was Mary and she lived in a small rural town of little importance called Nazareth. Mary became the mother of Jesus — the promised Messiah of Israel. But her pregnancy and His later birth were shrouded in controversy.

Mary became pregnant as an unmarried teen. But Mary’s pregnancy was anything but ordinary. It was supernatural. This was hard to accept back then, and it still is for many people. But this extraordinary story is greater than the controversy it stirred or the opinions of people.

Married but not married

Mary was betrothed or promised in marriage, but the marriage had not been consummated. This is made clear in the gospel account of Matthew (Matt 1:18–25). In those days, the betrothal of a couple was the second step in the process of marriage.
First, there would be an engagement, usually a formal agreement, between the fathers of the two families. This could take place when both the bride and groom-to-be were quite young. Then came the betrothal.
The betrothal — an actual wedding ceremony — followed the engagement when they were of age to marry. Promises or vows were made to one another as husband and wife and could only be ended with a formal writ of divorce. The betrothal phase was typically a year long.
Finally, the bridegroom would come at an unexpected time to take his bride home to consummate the marriage. This third step had not yet taken place for Mary and her husband Joseph, when Mary was visited by Gabriel, an archangel of God.
Here’s the biblical account from the gospel of Luke —
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26–35 NKJV)

The angelic announcement

Imagine what an astonishing event this was for Mary! The angel’s announcement was startling and prophetic. It’s believed she was somewhere between twelve and sixteen, but this is an estimate based on two primary considerations. It was common for a prospective bride to be in her young teens in that day, as it is in many people groups throughout the world today.
A second thing to note is Mary’s response to Gabriel’s announcement — “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34 CEB). Mary was a virgin, not just a young woman, and she was faithful to her betrothed husband, Joseph.
Can you imagine how this angelic announcement disrupted Mary’s life? Consider the impact on her family within their small town. It would be considered shameful among the townspeople. Teen pregnancies and single moms are more accepted and common in our current culture than in ancient times. Yet even today, when a young unmarried woman in a small town becomes pregnant, it’s easy gossip fodder.
Consider all the angel told her. Mary was told to rejoice because she was highly favored and blessed among women, and the Lord was with her—a second confirmation of her favor with God. Gabriel said she would conceive and give birth to a son to be called Jesus. This son would be great and called the Son of the Highest (God)
Her son would be given the throne of His ancestor David and reign over Israel forever, and His kingdom would never end. That’s a lot to take in for a young woman who is betrothed in marriage but never was intimate with any man or her husband, Joseph.
What the angel Gabriel tells Mary is a clear, prophetic message. She would give birth to the One who would become the Messiah — the long-awaited Deliverer of Israel — promised to King David centuries before this (2 Sam 7:12–16). This angelic announcement is what every Jewish mother hoped for, but God’s favor was upon Mary—she was chosen for this special role.
But Mary had an important question, “How can this be since I do not know a man?” She had no physical or sexual relations with any man, so how could this possibly take place? Mary seemed to understand this did not include her husband, Joseph, although he played a great role in her life, as seen in the story later.
Mary’s question has continued to be a dilemma for many people. But Mary seemed to accept by faith what Gabriel explained to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
It would be a supernatural conception initiated by God. This means her son would be both divine and human in nature. This is why her son would be the Holy One, called the Son of God.
Why is it so hard for many people to accept the virgin birth? Because we try to reason it out in a natural sense. But here’s the thing: it was a supernatural event initiated by God — beyond the natural and miraculous.
Put yourself in Mary’s place when she was visited by God’s angel and heard this startling prophecy. How do you think you’d respond? Mary’s response (Luke 1:38) is, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Mary was known by God and received His favor. Gabriel affirmed this twice. God saw a young woman of faith and trustworthy character. God knew Mary would be discerning and thoughtful about all of this, as revealed in later events in the Gospel (Luke 1:46–55; 2:19, 51).
Mary might appear as an ordinary person to everyone else, but it is clear she was an extraordinary and trustworthy young woman. At least God thought so. So did her husband, who himself was a trustworthy man.
The appearance of an angel would be startling in and of itself, but Gabriel’s greeting amazes Mary. She ponders what it means and why it’s said. When the announcement of her pregnancy is given, she shows enough strength of character and integrity to ask how this would be possible.
Mary’s faith wasn’t blind. It was genuine. She already trusted in God and once she understood what Gabriel told her, she accepted it by faith. Later, hearing of her elderly cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, she goes to visit her. This was a time for Mary to process what God’s plan was for her and a further confirmation of its validity (Luke 1:39–45).

Celebrating the birth of Jesus

What is the meaning of Christmas? Opinions abound based on personal preferences. But if we want to know the true meaning of Christmas or Advent, we need to go back to its origin — the conception and birth of Jesus the Christ-child.
Christmas is a time to remember when heaven pierced the earth’s darkness with Light. The Creator of light — Jesus the Son of God — came as a human baby conceived in a supernatural way as the Savior of the world.
The question to consider is this — How has Jesus pierced the darkness of your life with His light and love? If He has, then let it shine for all to see!

Photo by Alex Gindin on Unsplash

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