Blessed She Is
The woman who would be the Mother of God lived in a small town called Nazareth. Nazareth was part of a small, relatively unimportant district known to the Romans simply as “the Circuit,” a word that, through the Hebrew language, comes to us as “Galilee.” I grew up in North West Texas, also an unimportant district with lots of tiny towns. Some of these only have one traffic light or one restaurant (often a Dairy Queen). These towns are little more than wide spots in the road where a few shops and houses have been built near each other. We call them “one horse towns.” That’s what Nazareth was, a one horse town, a rest stop between other places. An insignificant place inside a larger insignificant place.
We know that Mary was unmarried and a virgin. Scholars agree that she was likely quite young, around the age of 14. It is most likely that her engagement with Joseph was arranged by her parents. There would have been a combination of political, social, and economic reasons why he was chosen above other possible suitors. In their culture, Mary would be given over to Joseph along with some of her father’s possessions (a dowry) and she would become his wife. Being a wife was a great deal like being a piece of property, and Mary would be expected to have children, care for her family, and engage in the life of the village as she had been trained and taught since childhood. There was no reason for Mary to believe her life would be any different from all the other women she saw around her and knew so well.
Mary’s life took an unexpected turn when an Angel came to her home. We don’t know where this encounter happened, what time of day or night. We have no description of Gabriel or of Mary. We do know that this visit made a profound impact on the girl. In just a few sentences, she reveals her distress, her fear, her astonishment, and her curiosity. She is a person just like us. When an angel from God tells her that she will give birth to a king who will reign forever, she focuses not on the brilliant future but the practical reality staring her in the face: she isn’t pregnant. Gabriel’s explanation could not have been that helpful. After all, every person who lives around animals (like girls in ancient small towns) knows exactly where babies come from. They don’t come from the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, though, Mary also shows us her utter trust in God. She accepts that she will become pregnant without sex, and that this is the divine will.
I went to school in a small, religious town. In my high school we had a couple of girls who got pregnant and carried the baby to term. I saw how those girls suffered. The stares, the gossip, and the abandonment they must have experienced from former friends. As their pregnancies progressed, our public school wouldn’t even let them come to class. (I suppose we had to be protected from these bad examples.) Instead, they received “tutoring” in their homes. I don’t believe any of these girls graduated.
That in mind, consider Mary’s situation. She lived in a society that was much more sexually conservative than ours. She lived in a tiny, close knit community. In our society, we have credit scores and reputations and social standing acquired through education or wealth. These things tell other people who we are and what we are worth. In Mary’s society, they had “honor.” By being unmarried and pregnant, Mary had dishonored herself, her father, her family, and, ultimately, Joseph. She was in danger of losing everything. There was a very real possibility that Mary would be driven out of her father’s house, out of her home town, and left to wander. She could possibly end up in slavery or prostitution or both.
Mary accepted the angel’s message and took an enormous risk. She did this for her people and for us as well. As Advent begins to draw to a close and Christmas comes ever closer, I give thanks to God for the gift of Christ. I also give him thanks for the grace he gave that little Palestinian girl. She inspires me today to trust the Lord and let him take care of the outcomes.
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