Manger Scene: Mary

Luke 1:26-38

Today we continue building our manger scene with Mary… the one who found herself unexpectedly pregnant and had faith enough to accept it.

Manger Scene Mary

I have to believe that finding out you’re pregnant is always kind of shocking.  When I discovered I was pregnant with Eleanor, our oldest, it was very much planned for – Alan and I had been married a couple years and wanted to have a little Alan or Mary Jr.

But it’s funny, seeing the positive result on that pregnancy test still took us off-guard.  I used my shaky hands to call Alan at work, hoping he could come home for lunch.  “No, I’m tied up today,” he said, not realizing the mind-blowing news I wanted to deliver.

So I just blurted it out:  “Well then… I’m pregnant!”  When he finally came home and we got to talk it over together, we just laughed in a kind of hysterical disbelief.  We were trying and hoping for this end result… but now that it had worked, it felt a lot like our bluff had been called.

And that’s with an expected pregnancy.

So how much more shocking was Mary’s pregnancy?  No at-home test, no “trying,” even.  Just an angel showing up and saying, “Hello, Mary – God’s favored one!  God is with you!”

Mary was likely just a girl (women got engaged around the age of 12), but she shows a mature intuition with this glowing greeting.  Luke 1:29 tells us she was “greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (1:29).

Here’s how I interpret that verse:  “Why is this angel buttering me up?  What does he really want?”

The angel goes on to say that this “favor” from God translates into an unplanned pregnancy… out of wedlock… with God’s Son.  Let’s not forget what the stakes are here.  This isn’t just public shame; it’s mortal danger.  Deuteronomy 22 says unfaithful women can end up stoned to death.

“How can this be?” Mary asks, and it sounds at first like a biological question, like Mary needs “the talk.”  But that’s not it; she knows how this normally happens.  “I have no husband,” she protests to the angel.  In the angel’s explanation, I see a repetition that suggests the angel himself wasn’t so sure how this was all going to work:

“‘The Holy Spirit will come over you…’  Yeah, that’s confusing.  Let me try that again.  Um, ‘God will overshadow you…’  That still doesn’t make a lot of sense.  But I’m sure on this part:  the child you’ll have is going to be holy – more than holy, the Son of God” (see Luke 1:35).

The angel is asking Mary to believe something unbelievable.  No, more than that – the angel asks Mary to believe this and then bet her whole life on it.  Mary is putting her marriage, her reputation, her whole life at risk by accepting this.

“I’m God’s servant,” she says.  “Let it be to me as you said” (see Luke 1:38).

Mary believed it… and gave her whole life for it.

This is where we all should want to be like Mary.

Being a Christian starts with accepting incredible, kind-of-unbelievable news from God:  Jesus died and rose again to give you forgiveness of sin and eternal life!  As if believing that weren’t enough, then we’re supposed to reorient our whole lives around it, risking reputation and wealth and everything for the sake of our faith in Christ.

But it’s hard – hard to believe, and hard to give our whole lives to that belief.

There’s something that appears to have made it easier for Mary, something that can make it easier for us, too.

The angel’s news includes a report about Mary’s relative:  “Your cousin Elizabeth – the one who’s been barren her whole life, the one who’s long past menopause?  She’s pregnant, too.  Six months pregnant, even!  After all, nothing is impossible with God” (see Luke 1:36).

Right after the angel visits Mary, Mary visits Elizabeth.  I imagine her rushing to her cousin, eager to see if it’s true.  At the sight of Elizabeth’s old-and-strangely-swollen tummy, Mary’s first-trimester baby jumped.

There it was:  proof.  Mary wasn’t crazy and she wasn’t a cheater.  Someone else had experienced this, too – someone she knew and trusted.  Someone else had believed and given their life to that belief.  Although Mary had already said “yes” to the angel’s news, I have to think it was in this moment that Mary’s heart really said “yes” to it all – to being the mother of the Son of God.

Believing the good news and then living our lives for it takes a leap of faith, a leap made easier when we see others do it, too.

Kind of like… parenthood.

I remember in September of 2008 I stood in Alan’s great-aunt’s hallway, looking at family pictures.  We had been married almost a year.  I had turned thirty.  I thought about all those generations hanging there in frames, and something stirred inside me… this idea about a next generation coming with Alan and I having a baby.

“I don’t think we’re ready for that,” Alan said.

(My husband is often wiser than me.)

A year later the conversation came around again, and we both agreed.  I felt scared because I knew parenthood would change us.  Probably we would go out with our friends a little less, I guessed.  But I looked at all the other people who had done this – my parents, for starters – and they all seemed to be happy with the decision.

How hard could it be, anyway?

And then came the amazing, magical, incredible moment when Alan and I became parents.  I would never, ever do it differently – all the money in the world couldn’t get me to do it again and decide not to have kids.  But I’ll be the first to admit:  parenthood is crazy hard.  It has changed our lives so much more than I originally expected.

At about the one-year mark I had a little breakdown.  Eleanor was walking but not under verbal control.  It seemed like we couldn’t go anywhere; the world was full of hazards and my daughter loved to explore them.  Meanwhile, the house was a constant mess in a way we had not yet experienced.  The world was chaos; my home was chaos.  “What have I gotten myself into?” I wondered.  “Will we ever have a normal life again?”

“No, you won’t,” more experienced parents told me.  “But it’s all worth it.”

Deciding to be a follower of Jesus Christ isn’t so different than deciding to be parents.  We accept the amazing news that Jesus was the Son of God, and then we slowly start to change our whole lives for Christ.  Some of it is as magical as hearing the first word out of a child’s mouth.  Other parts are as insane as going without a full night’s sleep for years at a time.  Sometimes we can stand strong like Mary and say, “Let it be as you have said.”  Other times we need a cousin Elizabeth to show us that we’re not crazy – that this is real and this is worth it.

Maybe I can be that person for you today.  After growing up in the church, after transitioning from childhood to youth, I had a hard time accepting the incredible “good news” of Jesus Christ.  I had a hard time believing in a death and resurrection that sounded unbelievable.  At the age of fourteen I realized that, despite a lot of lingering questions, I did believe.  Ever since then this belief has been changing my life in unexpected ways that are sometimes unnerving.  It has me giving at least 10% of my income to God.  It has me turning down chances to retaliate and accepting every opportunity to forgive.  It has me speaking in front of people every week.

It is hard, but you couldn’t pay me all the money in the world to do it any other way.

If you’re considering believing the unbelievable… if you’re thinking of changing your whole life for Jesus… then let me tell you:  you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone.

Accept this news… and change your life forever.

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