Galilee, like Judea, is hilly, and perched upon one of the steep hillsides was Nazareth. This mountain village was the home of a devout young maiden, of the name of Mary, who, at this time, was betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph. We may liken Jewish betrothal to that known as an engagement today. Her future husband, Joseph, though working at a carpenter’s bench, making the rough tools, ploughs and small articles of furniture used in that land, was a man of royal descent. He could claim to be descended from Israel’s kings. He was, in fact, the heir to the throne of David. The first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew gives us the ancestry of Joseph, and shows his descent from David and Solomon. It may strike you as very strange that the heir to the throne should be found in such a humble calling as a carpenter. It is often to be found thus in history.
Mary had not yet left her father’s house to take up her abode with Joseph, when she was surprised one day by a wonderful visitor. Three times a day the Jews worshipped God in prayer, and it may have been at such a time that Mary received this visit. Her visitor was the angel who had already visited men, and delivered to them messages from God. To Daniel, ages before, Gabriel, who stood in the presence of God, had been sent to comfort him as he prayed, and to deliver that prophecy found in Daniel 9:20-27, whereby the faithful and watching ones of Israel should know when to expect their Messiah. To Zacharias also, Gabriel had spoken, and you know his message. And now again Gabriel speaks.
When Daniel and Zacharias stood face to face with an angel of God they were troubled. They feared greatly. Can we wonder then that Mary also was troubled? How startled you would be if, as you rose from your knees in the morning or evening, after praying to your Heavenly Father, a figure of a man stood beside you! You know how you have been startled if one of your own family has unexpectedly appeared by your side when you have been thinking deeply and quietly, and you have heard no sounds of approach. For a stranger to appear would be still more disquieting.
But Mary was troubled also at the angel’s words: “Hail thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
Why was she highly favoured? Why was she blessed? As she wonders, the angel answers the questions in her thoughts.
Thou shalt have a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
This was wonderful news. Her son should sit upon the throne of David. Was he, then, to be the seed promised to David? He was to reign over the house of Jacob. Was he not, then, the long looked-for Messiah? Was she the chosen of all Israel, who should be the mother of the Messiah? Ever since the promise had been given, first to Eve (Genesis 3:15), then to Abraham (Genesis 13:15), and lastly to David (2 Samuel 7:12), every generation had hoped to be the generation honoured by the birth of the Deliverer. Now it was to be accomplished in this generation, in Mary’s own family; nay more, she herself was the chosen one of God.
But still thoughts crowded upon Mary, and so the angel continues: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore thy son shall be called the Son of God.”
And did Mary understand the angel’s words now? Her answer shows that she did. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” She answered in exactly the same way as the prophet Isaiah answered God when the question went forth: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” Then said Isaiah: “Here am I, send me.”
Mary used different words, but her meaning was the same. She was willing to be the handmaid, or servant, of God, to do His will. Then the angel left her, but not before he had told her the same good news which had been told to Zacharias six months before, namely, that her relative, Elisabeth, was also to have a son.
Now it is very probable that Mary knew how ardently her aged relatives had desired a child. She would go to offer to them her congratulations. She would go also to tell them how highly favoured she herself was.
In haste, she prepared for her long journey to the hill country of Judea, a journey of some labour and difficulty when the whole of it had to be done on foot or upon an ass. The journey of eighty miles or so would probably take about four days, each night being passed in some convenient village, or inn, there being numbers of these built at intervals along the chief roads.
How pleased the aged couple were to see their kinswoman from far-off Galilee. What exchange of greeting. How much there was to tell. And when the interchange of greetings and inquiries was over, and Mary sat resting on the house-top in the cool of the evening, the wonderful visitation of the angel to Zacharias was spoken about, and the words of promise given by him repeated. But Mary also had her burden of news to tell. The visitation of Gabriel to her, and the annunciation made, were rehearsed to Elisabeth. Do they rejoice with Mary over the good tidings? “Blessed art though among women,” are the words of Elisabeth.
from The Life of Jesus Christ by W.R. Mitchell
Read what happens next in Luke 1:46-80.
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