Then, in the tiny fifth-rate hill village of Nazareth, in the third-rate land of the Jews, the curtain went up on a scene that changed the course of history and the lives of millions of men and women. It is the familiar story we find in Luke 1:26–38:
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Imagine Mary’s shock and wonder. For thousands of years the Jews had talked about God’s promised Redeemer. They had the words of the prophets and knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem. They knew he would be born to a woman who was a virgin. They knew he would be born to a descendant of the great King David. Someday he would come. But now? And through a simple peasant girl who lived several days’ journey north of Bethlehem in a Galilean town called Nazareth?
Mary knew the promises, as all Jews knew them. She might even have nurtured the secret hope, as many women must have nurtured it, that God would choose her to bear the Redeemer. But when the angel appeared to her that day, her shock must have been enormous. Can you imagine what she felt?
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, she was clearly troubled. She needed the word of comfort that followed: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God” (luke 1:30). After this came the announcement that she would become the mother of God’s promised Redeemer, who was to be called Jesus, the hope of the ages.
Note Mary’s first reaction in verse 34: “How will this be since I am a virgin?” She did not contradict Gabriel’s message by saying, “Impossible!” She merely wondered how it was possible.
The answer came: God, by the Holy Spirit, would father the child. “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (luke 1:35). Proof that God could do the impossible lay in the fact that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth had become pregnant in her old age.
Before Mary lay a choice. She could say, “No, sorry Gabriel. Joseph would never understand such an arrangement. The people in this small town would gossip. That would create too many problems for the child as well as for us. I don’t think I really want the troubles this would create.”
Mary could have said all that. But she didn’t. We hear her acceptance of God’s plan in verse 38: “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’” End of conversation. Gabriel left.