39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
39 そのころ、マリヤは立って、山地にあるユダの町に急いだ。 40 そしてザカリヤの家に行って、エリサベツにあいさつした。 41 エリサベツがマリヤのあいさつを聞いたとき、子が胎内でおどり、エリサベツは聖霊に満たされた。 42 そして大声をあげて言った。「あなたは女の中の祝福された方。あなたの胎の実も祝福されています。 43 私の主の母が私のところに来られるとは、何ということでしょう。 44 ほんとうに、あなたのあいさつの声が私の耳にはいったとき、私の胎内で子どもが喜んでおどりました。 45 主によって語られたことは必ず実現すると信じきった人は、何と幸いなことでしょう。」
Mary, now pregnant, as the angel Gabriel told her she would be, visits her cousin, Elizabeth, in an unnamed town in the hills of Judea. Elizabeth is old and Mary is young, but they now have things in common. Both are miraculously pregnant with sons who are special. Elizabeth’s son will close out an era and pave the way for a new one, while Mary’s son will usher in the new era.
The fact that the elderly Elizabeth is pregnant is significant to Mary, since the angel Gabriel had used Elizabeth’s impossible pregnancy as a sign that what he was telling Mary was true. This was the sign that Mary’s child, Jesus, “. . . will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
When Mary enters the house and greets Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s son leaps in her womb. The Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth and reveals to her that her son leaped in joy in reaction to the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb. Elizabeth now knows that Mary is carrying the messiah and declares that Mary is blessed since she believed what Gabriel had told her.
What hopes did Mary have before the visitation from Gabriel that turned her life in a whole different direction? Probably not too different than most young women of that time and place.
Nazareth was a small town of 120 to 400 people, a quiet farming community on a hill, far away from any major trading routes. Many would be related to each other.
Mary was betrothed to Joseph. These things were usually arranged by the respective families, so Mary probably didn’t have a choice in this. Even if she had, in such a small community, the choices would be very limited. So she probably hoped that Joseph would be a kind and dependable husband, devoted to God. She probably hoped for a good number of children and they would have a quiet happy life and grow old together.
As soon as Mary realized that she would become miraculously pregnant, she was in a predicament. Would Joseph believe her – that she had not been unfaithful? And even if he did believe her, what would Joseph decide to do with the fact that she was carrying a child that was not his? Beyond the relationship with Joseph, how was she supposed to deal with the fact that she was carrying the hopes of Israel in her womb? She had no experience being a mother, but she was going to be the mother of the messiah.
God intervened on her behalf with Joseph, and he accepts Mary as his wife. He apparently died before Jesus started His ministry. Considering that Jesus was known in Nazareth as a carpenter, and sons usually start getting ready to pick up their father’s trade around the age of 20, Joseph probably died when Jesus was in his 20s. We also know that Mary and Joseph had other sons and daughters.
Mary’s predicaments would continue, especially once Jesus started His ministry. He would become famous as a healer and preacher, but others, especially from Nazareth would start to consider Him crazy. And the religious leaders would start to think of Jesus as a dangerous heretic. Mary would experience the arrest, trial and a very public execution of her special son. On the surface, her life was not what we would consider “blessed”.
Looking at her life, we realize that she sincerely meant what she said to Gabriel on that fateful day – “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” No matter what happened, she knew she had a role to play in the Kingdom of God. There was something larger than just her life or circumstances that was playing out, and she had a role to play.
Even though Protestants do not put much emphasis on Mary, it is easy to see that she is the picture of a good servant of God. And she was blessed to play the role she was given. Over two thousand years later, the world knows who Mary is and her likeness is put up all over the world come Christmas time. More importantly, by her faithfulness, the Messiah came and offered salvation to all who would believe.
What about us? With the start of the pandemic in 2020, did some of our hopes go up in smoke? With the political and social strife that is part of our lives, did some relationships with friends and acquaintances change for the worse? In this era of misinformation, is it harder and harder to determine what is truth? Does it feel like we are living in a world full of predicaments?
Then let Mary remind us of some important things. Jesus is the Son of God and the savior of the world. Anyone who accepts Him as Lord and Savior will be given forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, and a vocation of serving Him. Through us, the world is supposed to be blessed. Our eternity is set, for the good, but there are many who still are headed for destruction. We have a role to play, just like Mary had a role to play. Our attitude should be the same as hers, when it feels like our hopes are in a crisis – Here am I, the servant of the Lord – Command me.
(the above is a summary of the message shared in worship by Shun Takano on December 12, 2021.)