When you’re interrupted by something completely unexpected, what do you do? How do you respond? Mary shows us that knowing the Scriptures is the most practical way to prepare for interruptions of every kind.
Her answer to the angel’s startling visit was the fruit of many years of sowing the good seed into her heart. This series of character studies is designed to connect the dots between our intake of Scripture and our obedience of faith.
Imagine such an interruption! Before Mary became the mother of Jesus, she was simply a teenager, engaged to an older man named Joseph according to the custom of her day. Matthew gives us Joseph’s story highlighting his honorable treatment of Mary from the moment he learned the shocking news. But it’s Luke who tells Mary’s version, emphasizing the moment when her life was interrupted by the astonishing visitor.
One scholar notices specifically how God honors Mary in the details of the angel’s visit. “The angel Gabrielle is given all the specifics: her region, her city, her family, her marital status. The divine messenger comes to meet her in her mundane space. This is an act of honoring her.” The angel’s message is a long one, full of reassurance, explanation, and even answers to her questions. But even taking into account the extended conversation, her response is still astonishing.
Try to imagine it. Your life is proceeding according to plan. It’s a good plan, a godly plan, too. You’ve not only waited for the right guy, you waited for him to propose. Suddenly, without warning, your plans are interrupted, even co-opted, by orders from his boss. He is being transferred suddenly overseas. What do you do? How do you deal with it, the shock, the disappointment?
Is there any way to prepare for such a thing?
Interrupted but not Unprepared
Mary’s story is so familiar to us that it sounds inevitable. But she wasn’t sitting around in her parents’ house waiting for an angel to appear. She was probably engaged in any number of household tasks, perhaps even sewing linens for her future home.
Whatever she was doing or saying or thinking in that moment was interrupted by an angel. He appeared! And his glorious appearance was accompanied by an unexpected greeting, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! (Luke 1:26).
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”Luke 1:26
“O favored one”? How would Mary understand those angelic greetings? From her background in the Scriptures. Imagine her listening to the reading of Exodus 34:6, perhaps at home or at the synagogue. Firsthand she heard the amazing grace of God ringing through his revelation to Moses, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious….” But it’s one thing to understand the concept, it’s quite another to hear that word applied to you by an angel!
What about “The Lord is with you”? Why certainly from her yearly pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem, she would have heard the words of Aaron’s blessing. Perhaps she even held up her empty hands to receive the wonderful words, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).” She knew that “the Lord is with you,” in general, but how could she have imagined an angel telling her this truth in person?
You see, the Scriptures had prepared Mary to understand the angel’s greeting. But what would prepare her for his astonishing announcement?
Prepared by Sarah and Hannah
Her first response to the angel doesn’t surprise us, “But how can it be?” Being a virgin whose wedding date hadn’t yet arrived, she couldn’t conceive of how she could conceive! Her question, “but how,” was met with a full answer, which concluded, “For nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).”
For nothing will be impossible with God.Luke 1:37
We might hear those words and think, of course, we all know that truth in a generic way, but how, specifically, does that comfort Mary right now? We might try to put ourselves in Mary’s place and ponder our own response. But remember, Mary knew the Scriptures. She would have recognized the words, so similar to another impossible pregnancy, when God reassured Sarah, “Is anything too hard for the LORD (Genesis 18:14)?”
As Mary prepared to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the Scriptures prepared her. It seems that she remembered another impossible pregnancy, Hannah’s, whose story was relevant to them both. She may have meditated on this “clear parallel between the two (of them) as both recipients of God’s grace to the lowly, both in different ways compared with Hannah.” Hannah’s story and her outburst of praise must have filled her thoughts.
If Mary was wondering how Elizabeth would respond to her news, that question was answered immediately. She burst into praise for the baby in Mary’s womb! Then Elizabeth blessed her cousin with a 3 fold blessing: Blessed are you…blessed is the fruit of your womb…blessed is she who believed. Mary’s yes had come from believing the Scriptures, so that in that moment when she needed faith, she was able to trust the God of the Scriptures.
What happened next proves it. Mary broke out in her own song of praise, an exact quotation of Hannah’s words, flowing from her heart in song (Luke 1:46-53 and 1 Samuel 2:1-10). The Scriptures had taken root in her heart, ready to give her both the assurance of God’s promises and her response of praise.
Mary is often cited as an example of faith. But I would like to propose that hers is also a powerful example of what it looks like to know God through the Scriptures.
Do you struggle with motivation to read your Bible? Do you sometimes wonder if it’s worth interrupting what you’re doing to spend time knowing God’s word just a little better today than yesterday? Then take heart from Mary’s example. Seeds of truth planted one day at a time will slowly ripen into faith for the day you need it, not just faith in faith, but faith in the living God.
Has your life been interrupted by this pandemic and its after effects? Do you wonder what next? We don’t know what crisis will interrupt us next, but we do have the Scriptures just like Mary did. It’s there that we will come face to face with our faithful God and our magnificent Savior. And our “yes” will enable us to do his work.