I WAS THE HANDMAID OF THE LORD (Luke 1: 26-38).
One day, in the winter of the year, I was interrupted doing my household chores. I had many things to do. My parents had made arrangements for me to marry Joseph, the carpenter. He was quite a bid older than I. He was mature, well established and liked. His wheels, carts and wagons were in great demand. I was considered very fortunate. In my young head, I did not realize how valuable Joseph was until strange things began to happen to me. These things were difficult to explain because I could do nothing to encourage or prevent them. I had been chosen of the Lord for a very special purpose. It was a task that lay outside the realm of human possibility. I was not imagining this. It came right out of the mouth of a being that called himself Gabriel, angel of the Lord Most High. Who would believe me that he said I was to be a mother without a husband? My greatest fear was, “How would Joseph take the news?” I did not have to explain to him, the Lord did that for me. He, too, was chosen to be a father to my Son.
Here I was with Gabriel in our kitchen all alone trembling with fear. Before he announced the reason for his appearance, a thousand thoughts flashed my mind. What did the Lord want with me or what had I done that He took notice of? And when the angel opened his mouth and called me, “Hail, you favored one, the Lord is with you!” I became even more afraid. He noticed how troubled I was with his greeting and quickly added, “Be not afraid, Mary, God has taken a liking to you. You will become a mother and you will name your son, Jesus.” If the angel tried to boost my spirit, the opposite was true. I was in total disbelief. But Gabriel did not give me any time to object. He just went on about the Son I was to have. Only, He was to be God’s Son and not mine. He was to sit on David’s throne and rule over Israel (Jacob) and there would be no end to His reign. This sounded great but it came at a time when Rome ruled the world, not just our tiny Judah. In addition to Rome we had the murderous king Herod, a descendent of Jacob’s brother Esau that killed any one that pretended to be of the house of David.
I threw up my arms in despair and interrupted, “Wait a minute, Mr. Angel! In case you have not noticed. I am not married. I am a virgin. I do not intend to be with anyone else but my husband to be when we are married.” Gabriel was fully aware of my apprehension. He went on to tell me that the Holy Spirit would be doing the fathering and the Most High the overshadowing. I was not at all certain what it meant and my face must have registered more questions than Gabriel had time to answer. He dismissed himself by telling me to see my cousin Elizabeth who was far beyond the age of child bearing and that with God all things were possible. I, too, dismissed Gabriel with words that were not at all what I would have said to anyone else, “I’ll be a handmaid to the Lord and may your words come through.”
While the Lord dealt with my future husband, my curiosity took me to Elizabeth. There was no doubt the Lord had been busy. But what startled me was how she greeted me, “You are blessed among all women. Why has the Lord favored me with a visit of the mother of my Lord? My baby leaped for joy in my womb when you entered my house.” Now I was already being called the mother of the Lord. While I spent time with my cousin, the fruit in my womb prospered. Joseph had come to terms with my condition and prepared to take me to Bethlehem where I would deliver the Son of God to the world. It would not take place in David’s palace, but in one of his stables in a manger. There was no royalty to welcome my son but shepherds reminiscent of the days when David himself was a shepherd. No leaders of Israel were present, but wise men from the East paid homage with substance that would sustain us on our flight to Egypt and our return to Nazareth, after the death of the child-killer Herod.
While we dedicated our son to the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem and offered up two young pigeons, Herod had decided to exterminate all male children under two in Bethlehem. The Lord informed my husband in a dream to stay one step ahead of those that were after the life of our son. In the Temple we met Simeon who had more puzzling predictions. He called our Son the, “Glory of Israel and a light for the Gentiles.” Now that Simeon had seen the Lord’s salvation, he was ready to die. But he had words for us that were even more puzzling. The Child would become a blessing for some and a stumbling block for others. People will be against Him because He will disclose their secretes. Then Simeon turned to me and told me that I, too, would feel pain like the piercing of a sword. How could I know that the pain would not be caused by a sword but by a cross? I kept all the things that were said about our Son in my heart and wondered what our life would be like, safekeeping the identity of the Son of God, our Messiah.
When we returned to Nazareth, we continued living inconspicuously as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened to us. We left it up to Jesus to disclose His identity and mission. He almost did at the age of twelve, but then remained a good and obedient son. The way He grew in wisdom and behavior endeared him to God and people. Even as a youngster, Jesus made us feel better about ourselves.