In last week’s post we learned about Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah. (Luke 1:5-25) Six months after Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, conceived the baby who would become the forerunner of Christ (Malachi 3:1), Gabriel visited a young girl named Mary. (Luke 1:26-38) We don’t know exactly how old Mary was, but we can be certain that she was very young. We know that she would have been at least 12 years old, the age at which a young woman could be betrothed, but probably not much older.
It was customary that a young woman would be promised in marriage after her twelfth birthday, according to an arrangement made between the bride’s father and a representative from the groom’s family. At the time of betrothal, a price for the bride would be agreed upon and paid, and the agreement would be binding from that point. The wedding ceremony would take place one year after the betrothal, and until then the bride would continue to live in her father’s household. During that time the bride would be expected to prove her virtue. If she did not remain pure until the wedding day (and afterwards for that matter) she would likely be stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:20,21) In any case, the only way to break the betrothal promise was through divorce. It was a much more committed stage in the marital relationship than engagements of today.
So when Gabriel visited Mary before her wedding day and told her that she was going to give birth to a son, she would very possibly have been under the age of 13, and would have, as Luke tells us, never been intimate with a man. (Luke 1:34) Naturally she would wonder how what Gabriel was predicting could happen. Although she had been frightened when the angel first appeared, she had recovered enough by this point to ask. Note that, unlike Zechariah, she did not doubt that it could happen or would happen; she was just curious about how. So Gabriel told her that the baby would be conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Now remember, Luke was writing this account after Christ had completed His ministry on Earth. It is very likely that Luke got this information from Mary herself, but he was writing to people who needed to be convinced that what they had been taught was true. And immaculate conception was out of the ordinary; it has never happened before or since. So, although Mary hadn’t asked for a sign, as Zechariah had, Gabriel gave her one, and Luke recorded it for his readers. Gabriel told Mary that her relative Elizabeth had conceived in her old age even though she had been barren. (Luke 1:36) If God could create life in someone who was too old, certainly He could create life in someone who was too young. After all, nothing is impossible with God. (Luke 1:37)
Imagine all the things that may have been going through Mary’s mind. Her people had been expecting the Messiah for centuries, but they didn’t know when He would appear, or how, and it had been four hundred years since a prophet had spoken. Now an angel (an angel!) has appeared to her, to tell her that she would be used by God to bring the Messiah into the world. Why would God choose her? I believe that God chose her because she was devoted, available and willing. Her response to Gabriel: Yes. I am here to do what God wants. Let it happen as God wishes it to. (my paraphrase of Luke 1:38) Mary knew that becoming pregnant before her wedding day was going to create problems for her with her people, but she trusted God, and God used her to bring Jesus to Earth to be the Saviour for all of us.