“How will this be” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 NIV).
This is a perfectly natural question. Mary is betrothed but not formally married. She has never had sexual relations with any man. How then can she become pregnant and bear a son?
It is instructive to note that Mary does not doubt the angel’s word, even though it must have sounded incredible. She believed what the angel said. Her only question had to do with how it would happen.
In essence she says to Gabriel, “All right. I’m willing to do my part, but you need to explain how we’ll handle this one little problem.” That’s real faith. That’s believing the impossible. That’s trusting God when the “facts” argue against it.
In the history of the church Mary has often been portrayed as a kind of misty, other-worldly figure. If you look at some of the great paintings of Mary, they make her look so peaceful that you almost forget she was a real person. That’s a shame because Luke makes it clear that she was very real, with very real doubts, very real questions and very real faith. Nowhere is this seen with more clarity than in verse 38:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Without exaggeration, we may call this one of the greatest statements of faith in all the Bible. We read it so often that we forget how great it really is. But remember, it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, you’re 16 years old and very much in love. Your mom asks you go fetch some water to do the laundry and on your way to the well, you run into a man you’ve never seen before. He tells you that A. You’re going to get pregnant B. You’re going to give birth to a son C. He’s going to be the Son of God. When you ask how, he says, “Don’t worry about it. The Holy Spirit will cover you like a cloud and you’ll end up pregnant. That’s all there is to it.” What do you say to that?
Mary said yes. Yes to God, yes to the impossible, yes to the plan of God.
Did her heart skip a beat when she said yes? There she is, teen head tilted high, her hands trembling just a bit, wide-eyed, nervous, open-mouthed, questioning but not afraid, wondering but not terrified, unsure but not uncertain. When the angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God,” Mary took a deep breath and said, “Be it unto me as you have said.” And with those words Christmas came to the world.
Our Father, we do not pray for more faith; we pray rather for courage to exercise the faith we already have. Make us like Mary, willing to believe in spite of our doubts. Amen.