“The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found
favor with God. You will be with child…'” (Luke 1:30-31a)
Imagine what it would be like to be a teenage girl who suddenly finds out she is pregnant. Although the people in her small town love her, people are people. Soon the young lady’s reputation is ruined as everyone gossips and speculates about who the father is. To make matters worse, her boyfriend decides that since he is not the father, he is going to break up with her.
So there she is, scorned, ridiculed and abandoned. All of this because Mary, the mother of Jesus, said, “I am the Lord’s servant,” when the angel appeared to her.
At first, Mary was able to visit her cousin, Elizabeth and avoid the negative attention in Nazareth. But when she was just over three months along, Mary had to return home. Of course, as the weeks went by it became more and more obvious that she was pregnant. Mary tried to explain what happened, but it comes as no surprise that no one believed her. The fact that she claimed God made her pregnant added to the scorn and ridicule she experienced.
Everyone in town, even her family members, must have been wondering what it was that sent her off the deep end. They also began to wonder about Joseph, too, when he decided to stay engaged to Mary. Was he as crazy as she was? Or was he really the father of the child?
After a few months, Joseph told Mary that they had to travel to Bethlehem. The Roman emperor required all men to go to their family’s home for the census. At first, getting out of town may have been a welcome relief. In place of the emotional struggles, though, came physical ones. Mary had to travel over sixty miles on rough paths and hills on the back of a donkey, lurching back and forth with each step – all this when she was at least eight months pregnant.
Finally in Bethlehem, Mary suffered the indignity of giving birth in an animal stall. She was inexperienced and far from home. None of her female friends and family members were there to help. Instead, Mary may have been assisted by Joseph or perhaps some of his distant relatives. There, in a barn, the ordeal of the past nine months came to an end with the birth of a baby boy!
As Mary looked into the face of this little baby, all the pain she had experienced may have melted away as a wave of deep, maternal love spread over her. A baby! What a joy to hold and cuddle this precious new life!
Perhaps, too, as she held her child, Mary also contemplated what it meant to give birth to the Son of God. But could she even begin to grasp the future that was stretching out before her? It would be an odd mixture of the typical and the heavenly. She would cook meals and care for her husband and child. She would also be visited by foreign dignitaries, hear stories from shepherds and avoid King Herod’s soldiers by fleeing to Egypt.
As the years progressed, there would be times of extraordinary joy, deep confusion and intense anguish. It would all be capped off with a resurrection – an event that probably filled Mary’s heart with great joy and wonder, but may have left her with even more questions about what in the world God was doing. The courage Mary showed before the Nativity would be needed time and time again throughout her life.
Sadly, we often lose sight of the courage of this young girl amidst the familiarity of the Christmas story. We forget all the struggles she faced and we fool ourselves into thinking that straw is a nice bed, not scratchy and uncomfortable. Mary was ridiculed, rejected, scorned and mistreated – and all of this came upon her after the angel proclaimed to her that she had found favor with God!
Mary’s experience reminds us that God’s favor does not equal our comfort. Rather, His favor results in glory. Her story also teaches us that we may be going through the most difficult time in our life and still be exactly in the center of God’s plan. The struggles we face do not mean that we have been abandoned by God or that He does not love us. God more often chooses to enable us to rise above our circumstances, not avoid them. Certainly, His love does not go away even in the midst of great difficulties.
A young peasant girl in Galilee endured shame and ridicule, was misunderstood by everyone around her, and experienced great physical discomfort. You and I experience the blessings that resulted from her faithfulness. No wonder Scripture presents Mary as a role model for us to follow.
The secret to Mary’s success, and the secret to our success, is a deep trust in what God has said to us – even when circumstances scream in our ears the opposite message. So this Christmas, let’s draw hope and strength from the Nativity. Let’s marvel together at the great courage and faith of a young lady whom God favored with a difficult life on earth and eternal honor in heaven.
“Father, thank you that Mary chose servanthood over comfort and rebuke over reputation. Thank you for her example of self-sacrifice and obedience. Lord, I pray the you would grant me the grace to walk before you as nobly and faithfully as she did. May I, too, be found faithful to you regardless of the path you call me to walk. Amen.”
Kevin Grenier is the author of several books, including Undone: The Why and How of Being in the Presence of God. Learn more at GatheringHisPeople.org.