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WORLDVIEW: The faith of a small-town girl

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — It must have been a fearful moment for this small-town girl when the mysterious visitor showed up out of nowhere — looking for her.

Mary probably was all of 12 or 13 years old, the common age of betrothal for Jewish girls in those days, when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. (Read the account in Luke 1:26-38). Engaged to Joseph, a carpenter, Mary was looking forward to the quiet life of a wife and mother in the small market town of Nazareth.

Suddenly, here was a supernatural being before her, declaring, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28, NASB).

Luke says she was “greatly troubled” by this statement (v. 29). Confused, anxious and terrified might also describe her reaction. The angel’s appearance must have been overwhelming for Mary, his words even more so.

Gabriel saw her anxiety and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end” (vv. 30-33).

Mary didn’t comprehend what he was saying. How could she become the mother of this great king? She was a virgin, for one thing. For another, Gabriel was speaking of mysteries far beyond her understanding, beyond the understanding even of the great teachers of Israel. The angel revealed a bit more, telling her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, that the power of God would overshadow her, that her holy child would be called the Son of God.

Mary’s response echoes through the ages: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (v. 38).

We should neither idealize nor idolize Mary. She was as human and fallible as the rest of us. Even after Gabriel’s explanations, she probably suffered doubts and fears about what he was telling her. It had likely begun to dawn on her what the potential consequences might be if her unmarried pregnancy became public. Scandal and family shame? Rejection by Joseph? Death by stoning? She had nothing whatsoever to rely on — except God’s promise through His messenger.

Yet without fully understanding what was unfolding, without being sure of what was expected of her, without knowing what would happen to her, Mary submitted herself to God’s will. When she was told by God to leave the safety of the familiar and launch into the unknown, she obeyed.

“There is very little unusual about the outward life of [Mary], or at least the Gospels do not record it,” wrote Jeanne-Pierre de Caussade, author of “Abandonment to Divine Providence,” an 18th-century spiritual classic. “They show her life as very simple and ordinary. What she did and endured might have been done and endured by anyone in her station in life. She visited her cousin Elizabeth just as her other relatives did…. [S]he went to Bethlehem to be registered. Because she was poor she sheltered in a stable. The persecution of Herod drove her from Nazareth, but she returned and lived there with Jesus and Joseph, who worked to earn their daily bread.

“But what was the bread which nourished the faith of Mary and Joseph? It was the sacrament of the moment.”

The moment. When her moment came, young Mary was ready. Not because of her education, talent or insight, but because of her quiet obedience. Faith is actually believing what God says, no matter how illogical or mysterious it might seem, and obeying it out of love for Him. Moment by moment.

What is God saying to you at this moment? Maybe something that strikes you as rash or risky. Maybe something that seems small, but will require you to move a few steps beyond the familiar and the comfortable. Maybe something that He will use to change missions history — if you obey Him.

When you celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas, think about the faith of the small-town girl who brought Him into the world.

Learn more about how you can give to send and support missionaries at imb.org.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges