The Bible tells us that we can learn a lot from a child, the innocence and faith that belongs to the kingdom of heaven. What can we learn from a teenager? We can also learn something valuable from a teenager as we will see from the example of Mary.
I hope we will learn something of the simplicity of trust in God.
We will look at the so-called Annunciation, the announcement to Mary of her pregnancy with the Christ child and its lessons for us and our walk of faith.
How Old was Mary
Mary was a virgin (Luke 1:27), engaged to Joseph. It is strange to our culture that girls were betrothed at age twelve to fourteen [Philip King & Lawrence Stager. Life in Biblical Israel. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2001. 37.] and would have married about a year later. But, is our society really superior? Young males produce the most testosterone around 18. Young females reach sexual peak a few years later. Do we expect them to wait and be abstinent during their peak sexual years until they finish their education, their career is developed and they can prepare for marriage? It is a very difficult request and most young people in our culture are not able to comply. At the same time our businesses and media profit by placing sexual temptation before the young. Our culture leads the young into unwed sex and all the problems associated with that. How dare we judge their culture?
Putting Ourselves in Mary’s Shoes
Imagine being a young teenage girl, twelve or thirteen years old, engaged to be married in a year. An angel appears to you in your bedroom in your parents’ home. You are initially frightened. The angel tells you not to be afraid. He tells you that you are highly favored and will bear the Savior of the world while a virgin (Luke 1:26-38). You are young and inexperienced in life. You are unsure of yourself. You are unsure if your betrothed will still want to marry you. You are unsure if people in your village will reject you or stone you. You are unsure what your own parents will say, but you have that innocent faith that young people often exhibit, who have not yet faced life’s faith-destroying trials and disappointments. She says, let it be as you said.
What does it mean that Mary found favor with the Lord (Luke 1:30)? It was an unexpected grace from God. The word “Rejoice!” translated here as “Greetings!” was used in the prophets to the daughters of Zion. Mary represents of all the daughters of Zion. Then we have the greeting we know from our liturgy, the Lord is with you. It had a double meaning. Mary was troubled by this greeting. Like Peter recognized after the catch of fish that he was a sinner and told Jesus to go away (Luke 5:8), so too Mary recognized that she was a sinner and was afraid in the presence of a holy angel from God. The angel gave her the equivalent of an absolution from her sins telling her not to fear and that she had found favor with God.
Logos and Rhema
Some Christians make a big deal over the Greek word rhema. Some even go so far as to say that a rhema (supposedly a spoken word) is for today and that the logos (supposedly the written word) is for yesterday. This leads some to put more faith in a so-called “word of knowledge” than the Bible. The whole idea is a word of ignorance and not knowledge at all because the words rhema and logos are often used interchangeably. One such instance is in Luke 1:29, 38 where Mary was troubled at the spoken word (logos) of an angel and then after the angel finished, she expressed her faith in his spoken word (rhema). Ignorance aside, Mary has become for us the model of someone who waits for the advent of our Lord, not in fear but in faith.
How great an example of faith can a woman be? How great an example of faith can a teenager be? Imagine how the angel’s news (Luke 1:26-38) would have seemed to Mary. Here she was a virgin in her early teens. To be an unwed mother during her engagement period would have been a great scandal. What would her parents think? What would her groom think? What would the neighborhood gossip be? Would she be stoned as a sinner? Would her child forever be called a bastard? Yet, the angel reassured her that she had found favor with God. Would she believe the promises that her son would be great and his kingdom would never end? The faith of this young teenage girl is an example for all women and men as we wait for the Lord’s Coming.
Mary’s Two Choices
Mary chose faith (Luke 1:26-38) but she had another choice. She could have chosen unbelief. She could have chosen, as the Israelites did, to complain. We too have the same choices in front of us. Faith or unbelief. Complaining is one of the evidences of a lack of faith. When we complain we are looking to circumstances around us instead of God. We are looking to the visible instead of the invisible. We are really a mixture of both. Instead of letting God be in control, we want to take control. We want to hurry God and try to manipulate circumstances instead of waiting on his mighty hand. We want to call God a liar instead of waiting on him to save us in his good time. Do we complain or simply accept God at his word like Mary?
Mother of our Lord
Elizabeth called Mary the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:43). Jesus is God the Son and it was natural to call her the mother of God. However, some went further than that and elevated Mary to virtual God by claiming that she remained a perpetual virgin and never sinned, yet if Mary never sinned, why did she need to sing of her need for a Savior (vs. 47)? So, the Church has struggled with Mary. Catholics have tended to idolize her and Protestant have overreacted and ignored her. Luke 1:26-38 helps us find the balance, correcting both Catholics and Protestants. In a manner similar to the original creation story (Genesis 1:1-2), the Holy Spirit would come over Mary and the Son of God would be in her and her faith would be an example to us all.
The Most Important Thing in Life
We marvel that God chose a virgin (Luke 1:26-38) that she gave birth in a stable. We may have selected a palace. Our priorities are all wrong. We believe that homeownership is so important. King David was a nomad, but later had a palace and a house. He wanted to build God a house (2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16). God does not need one. God promised to build David a different kind of house, a dynasty which would last forever. Jesus is David’s descendant, a king whose kingdom will last forever. We are just nomads passing through. Our homes change hands. Even our bodies are only temporary homes. We await a permanent spiritual body from heaven. Buying land and owning a house is not really the most important thing in life. Having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is.
Mary’s Song of Hope for the Poor
Modern interpreters love to spread doubt, such as claiming that the Magnificat was not written by Mary. Mary’s song could have easily been written down while she spent three months at Elizabeth’s home during her pregnancy. The introduction clearly states, “And Mary said” (Luke 1:39-56) and is supported by many scholars.* It is a song of outrageous faith that dares to believe that the poor will be saved, even though they continue to be trodden down, even in our day. It is a message of hope in present and continuing oppression by the powerful. It dares to claim that the rich are in reality empty and that the humble are filled with good things. The birth of the Savior of the world in a stable to poor peasants is a continual reminder of God turning things upside down.
* Henry, Hugh. "Magnificat." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 22 Dec. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09534a.htm>.
Mary’s Song of Faith
Zechariah may have been a high priest but Gabriel said that he lacked faith, doubting the angel’s message. So, he was struck speechless until his son, John the Baptist was born. Gabriel also foretold Christ’s birth to Mary and she said, let it be according to your word. She was an ordinary peasant girl, but she believed and was blessed. This contrast of faith between those exalted in this world and those of humble backgrounds is a backdrop to the Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Faith (Luke 1:39-56). Mary sang that God is mindful of humble people. She sounded out, my soul magnifies God who favors those who honor him. She caroled that God scatters the proud and brings down rulers, but he exalts the humble. Mary sang that God fills the hungry but sends the rich away empty.
Elizabeth’s Spirit-filled Experience
Speaking in an unknown language is not necessarily the “initial evidence” of being filled with the spirit. Elizabeth’s experience contradicts that theory. She was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in a known language (Luke 1:39-56). She said what is now a famous expression repeated often as a prayer: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Others were spirit filled and evidenced craftsmanship (Exodus 31:3; 35:31), movement in a mother’s womb (Luke 1:15), prophecy (Luke 1:67-68), being led into the wilderness (Luke 4:1), known tongues (Acts 2:4), wisdom (Acts 6:3-5), saw visions (Acts 7:55), healing (Acts 9:17-20), missionary feats (Acts 11:24), insight (Acts 13:9-10) and joy (Acts 13:52). Tongues experiences exist but are not always evidence of being spirit-filled.
Conversations with Gabriel
Luke records two conversations with Gabriel the archangel, one with Zechariah the father of John the Baptist and one with Mary the mother of Jesus. Zachariah and Elizabeth were praying a long time for a child, but when Gabriel announced the answer to their prayers Zachariah did not believe. And so he was mute because of his unbelief until John was born. In Mary’s conversation with Gabriel she also had questions but responded by saying that she is the servant of God and to let it be according to His will. Like the Old Covenant old and expiring, Elizabeth bore John in her old age. Like the New Covenant, Mary was in her youth. Like ancient Israel under the Old Covenant, Zachariah approached the situation in disbelief. Like the New Covenant, Mary approached the situation in faith (Luke 1:38).
We can learn a lot from a child and we can learn a lot from the faith of a young teenage girl who bore the Christ child.