The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He 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 for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary is young, and she is poor, and female, and unmarried, all of which render her so insignificant and vulnerable in her provincial, narrow world. Daily Mary faces religious intolerance, male suppression, and Rome’s occupying troops. The few coins that ever pass through Mary’s fingers bear the image of Caesar Augustus proclaiming him to be “our God”, “Savior”, and “Bringer of peace to the world”. Mary inhabits a seething cauldron of conflicting beliefs and political powers.
But now an angel from heaven tells her that she will give birth to the true Savior of the world. In just a few seconds Mary must grapple with this revelation that will take centuries for theologians and church councils to begin to understand and articulate. Right under the nose of King Herod she learns that her Son will topple kings and kingdoms.
The mystery of the Incarnation, or God taking human form to Himself, is beyond Mary’s ability, or anyone’s ability to understand. Throughout Jesus’ life Mary will not be able to piece together what it means that Jesus is her son, but at the same time God’s Son (Luke 2:49-51; Mark 3:21, 31). But Mary is an example of faith, believing without understanding, and without knowing where her obedience will lead.
In Mary’s Hebrew culture the father chose the name of his children. So Gabriel announces the Heavenly Father’s chosen name for her Child: “You will name him Jesus”. The name “Jesus” would have had special meaning for Mary, and for all her people. Jesus translates to mean, “Yahweh is Salvation”, and was a common name in Old Testament times in its Hebrew form, “Joshua”. The Hebrew people had come to know the Lord as the God of their salvation.
So Mary’s Son will be called “Jesus” because He will deliver His people from the tyranny of sin and death. Thus, on a later occasion, an angel will instruct Joseph: “Mary will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
One can only imagine what Mary must have thought when told that her Son would be called “Son of the Most High”! From her earliest childhood prayers Mary would have known “the Most High”, or El Elyon, as a familiar name for God. El Elyon was God’s revered name as “Maker of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:19, 22). “The Most High” is God’s name denoting sovereign lordship, His powerful rule over all. He is God “Most High”, as there is none higher or greater. Mary would have had no mental concepts for grappling with the thought that she as a virgin would give birth to the “Son of the Most High”.
But then Mary must connect all this to Gabriel’s promise that the Lord God will give to her Son “the throne of his ancestor David”! When we come to Mary’s Song we will see that her young mind is steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures. And as a descendant herself of David (Luke 3:23-38), Mary must have known by heart God’s promise to David: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (II Samuel 7:12-13).
All of Gabriel’s words to Mary meant that her Son would be the fulfillment of prophecies from long ago. It would be just as Isaiah had foretold about Messiah: “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore” (Isaiah 9:7).
Mary’s heart must have burst with joy to hear the angel’s words. But Mary must also have been afraid for what it would mean for her, because Gabriel told her: “Do not be afraid”. Surely Mary feared for what her pregnancy would mean for her, for Joseph, her family, and for the elders of her village. And she had to know how subversive to Rome and King Herod the angel’s words would be about a new King and His new Kingdom.
But did Mary understand that the powers of the world would seek to destroy her Son at His birth, and at His death? And did Mary know that she would be the only one to stand with her Son both at His crib, and at His cross?
- What stands out to you in the various titles given to Mary’s Son?
- Why was Mary’s Son viewed as such a threat to the powers of His day? Why is Mary’s Son viewed as such a threat to the powers of our day?
- When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple for circumcision, the elderly Simeon blessed them and said to Mary:
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).
How do you think Mary’s soul will be pierced?