03 December

Trusting God and the Virgin Mary’s Conception in Luke 1

Read Luke 1:26-38

A Baby Son Story

Six months behind the Zechariah and Elizabeth story about redemption, the story of redemption continues with Mary of Galilee. The stories rhyme. Same angel (Gabriel), different location (Nazareth of Galilee), and a different woman (Mary), who is engaged to a Davidic ancestor named Joseph. Same message of redemption. Mary was probably fifteen to twenty years old. The angel greets her with “Rejoice” (NIV has “Greetings”) but then affirms her with words from the deep wells of God’s grace: “you who are highly favored,” with the sense of “you have been deeply graced” because in some special sense “The Lord is with you.” Her disturbance at the appearing of an angel is like Zechariah’s. This joy, grace, and the divine presence will take on physical form when she gives “birth to a son,” and she (notice that the father is not told this) is to name him “Jesus,” which in Hebrew is either Yeshu or Yeshua, which means YHWH redeems or saves. What she learns next starts slow and builds. The son will be “great,” and he will be called “Son of the Most High God,” and he will rule on “the throne of his father David,” and his rule and kingdom will be “forever” and will “never end”! Mary knows her son will save Israel as its king, and he will rule an eternal kingdom.

A Miraculous Conception Story

Mary’s question is neither naïve nor doubting. Yes, she was disturbed by the angelical vision, but the implication of her question, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” requires that we think she perceives an imminent pregnancy before marriage and consummation. The answer to her question occurs in 1:35–37. If God can become human (John 1:1–14), God can miraculously impregnate. “The one miracle greater than that of a postmenopausal woman conceiving is that of a virgin conceiving” (Levine-Witherington, Luke, 33). Yet Mary knows her body is hers. “This is her body, and she would like to know how it is going to be used” (Spencer, Luke, 42).

The angel explains the divine impregnation of Mary as “the Holy Spirit will come upon you” and the “Most High will overshadow you.” God envelops Mary as miracle and protection (Spencer, Luke, 39–40). Mary’s pregnancy before her marriage to Joseph surely raised questions in her social circles (notice Mark 6:3’s “Mary’s son” and not Joseph’s), so this account in Luke probably counters accusations. The act of God in Mary results in “the Son of God.” Son of God was a common enough term for the Roman emperor and for a king in Israel (Psalm 2).

The angel sweeps any doubt away by revealing to Mary that she has company in the births of redemption. Her relative Elizabeth has experienced a similar miracle.

A Trust Story

Mary’s words are some of the most profound in the entire Bible. First, she identifies herself, and I translate: “Look! God’s slave.” The “I am” can be applied but she may have looked into the eyes of Gabriel to say, “Look at me. What more do you want? I’m God’s slave, and I will do what God wants.” She signs off with, and again I paraphrase, “May it be to me in a manner consistent with your word that I will conceive as a virgin by an act of God.” This is no passive surrender; this is an active acceptance of God’s redemption through her baby boy. Let us think realistically: a woman pregnant before marriage was scrutinized and judged, her engaged partner, Joseph, shamed as well. Mary will suffer for her son before her son suffers for her. She knows what her future will look like, and she accepts it because she aches for God’s holistic redemption.

Mission accomplished; the angel returns to the throne room of God.

Scott Spencer expresses this so completely I record his words here and ask you to ponder them: “Mysteriously, but materially, Mary’s entire embodied being, not least her amniotic waters, will be swept up and over in the dynamic crosswinds of trinitarian vitality” (Spencer, Luke, 40). Just wow.

These small vignettes in Luke 1–2 began as family stories. Mary was at times the only source of information for these stories. She becomes the witness behind the redeemer who informed the redeemer what the angel had revealed about the mission of Jesus to redeem Israel as its king. Galileans were known storytellers.

Mary was perhaps the best storyteller of all, that is, after her son.

Questions for Reflection and Application

  1. How does the conception announcement of Jesus “rhyme” with the conception announcement of John?
  2. What have you been taught about Mary before? How does this section challenge or confirm your prior understanding?
  3. How do you think Luke may have gathered Mary’s reminiscences in his research?
  4. How do you think Mary’s storytelling might have impacted Jesus as he was growing up?
  5. What can you learn from Mary’s example in responding to God’s invitation?

Come back next week when Scot looks at Luke 1:39-56 and Mary’s song of redemption because of the birth of her son. For the full Luke Bible study from McKnight, visit the FaithGateway store HERE.