Above: The Annunciation, painted by Botticelli, 1485-92. The Angel Gabriel appears to Mary to share the good news.
At this time of the year, I love pondering over the two miracle births of baby boys to Mary and Elizabeth Luke 1:1-38. The story involves two heavenly visits from the Angel Gabriel.
Mary and her aunt Elizabeth, like so many Jewish women of their time, would probably have been searching the scriptures and absorbing the words of the psalms and prophetic Hebrew texts, which spoke of hope, and victory over evil through a Messiah who would bring a new order to the world.
People at that time were ready for the Messiah to be born – longing for him to be delivered. They would have also been aware that Elijah had prophesied that a forerunner would pave the way for the Messiah.
Then suddenly, quite unexpectedly and dramatically, things started happening. Both Mary and Elizabeth experienced astonishing prophecies of the birth of a baby boy.
The first prophecy was delivered to Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband when he had a most profound experience in the temple. The Angel Gabriel appeared to him there and prophesied that a much longed-for son would be born to the childless and ageing couple; the child was to be called John.
The angel said of this boy, ‘he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children’. Luke 1:17 (NIV). Zechariah was left completely speechless by the experience, unable to speak until he later named his son John after his birth.
Baby John was born predestined to be the forerunner for Jesus. He was to prepare the way for His ministry and was later called John the Baptist.
Mary’s Story is Even More Amazing
We know that she was betrothed to Joseph and saw herself as a servant of the Lord. She was probably going about her everyday work, preparing for her wedding, completely unaware of how her life would soon be changed unimaginably.
Then suddenly, the Angel Gabriel appears to her, saying she would soon give birth to a son called Jesus. The angel tells Mary that through Jesus, God’s promises to her ancestor, King David, would be fulfilled….
God had promised David centuries earlier that he would raise a king from among his descendants, and this king would rule over Israel forever and ever. The Jewish people had long awaited this person, also known as the Messiah.
Mary wonders how this can be – that a baby should be born to her, a virgin, and that the child will be in a special and unique relationship with God. Will the child actually be the long-awaited Messiah?
Her response was not to say, ‘this could not possibly happen’, but instead, she said, ‘how can this happen?’ leaving open the possibility of God acting in her life. She did not need the full details because she had a simple and humble faith.
Elizabeth was thought to be too old, and Mary was very young, but against the odds, God acted through them and blessed them each with a son. Likewise, we will be blessed when we allow the Holy Spirit to act in our lives.
Pondering and Treasuring
We know that Mary and Joseph then had to travel to Bethlehem because of a census, and Jesus was born there in a humble stable. But heavenly lights then flooded the earth, and a multitude of angels appeared in the sky to announce the good news, singing ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ Luke 2:14 NIV.
Shepherds left their fields and flocks to come to see the newborn baby. Kings even later travelled from faraway lands to greet Jesus into the world.
Everyone was praising God and celebrating the birth of Jesus, but Mary, we heard, watched the events and pondered them in her heart.
God called two ordinary, faithful and humble women going about their daily lives to be part of the most dramatic celestial events ever known to the world. Neither was expecting a visit from the Angel Gabriel, the angel’s extraordinary words, or the gifts of life they received. All this was part of God’s plan to bring the promised Messiah to the world.
Through Elizabeth and Mary, God put his plans into action and has plans for each of us too. As we treasure and consider what happened to these two saintly women, perhaps we can allow God to guide us to the plans he has for us?
What Does This Mean to us Today?
Through Jesus, God reconciled Heaven and Earth and revealed His true nature to us. Jesus demonstrated the authentic way of living intended for us by caring for God’s creation and, in particular, one another.
Living authentically means caring for God’s creation and living in peace and harmony with one another rather than futilely striving for prominence or seeking oblivion through modern-day excesses.
As Mary and Elizabeth shone with simple faith and acceptance into a world (not unlike the world of today) of cynicism and doubt, let us demonstrate our faith this Christmas by sharing these ancient truths with others. By somehow proclaiming the joy and hope that the birth of Christ brought to this world.
Let us ponder in our hearts this Christmas how, as Jesus was born in a humble stable to a faithful young woman, so too Christ lives on today in the hearts of the faithful and the humble.
The faithful and humble are now a third of the world’s population, almost two and a half billion people. They all believe the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, is the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people.
Isn’t that worth pondering on and sharing with those you come into contact with this Christmas?