Read Luke 1:26-38
Do you ever wonder what Mary was doing when the angel came to tell her she was pregnant with Jesus? Artists, especially during the Renaissance, depict Mary dressed in ornate, flowing robes, with detailed fancy sewing on the sleeve cuffs and hem. Angels with large wings rest beside her.
The cover of the November/December, 2014, issue of The Upper Room shows Mary wearing a white t-shirt, blue jumper, white socks and saddle shoes. Her medium-length brown hair was pulled into a ponytail. She held a book, while an angel was next to her.
I have always envisioned Mary wearing a patched robe, a long braid down her back, her hands covered with dough as she made bread. She might have been thinking about tending sheep later in the day or going to the market while the dough rose, when an angel interrupted.
When Gabriel gave Mary the news about her pregnancy, she did not reply, "Oh, I am so happy. I've always wanted to be a mother." Instead she said to the angel, "I am a virgin. How, then, can this be?"
Despite her astonishment and surprise, Gabriel gave Mary encouragement by saying that the Holy Spirit will come and God's power will rest upon her (Luke 1:35). These are words of God's provision for Mary and hope for the days ahead.
Even though Mary experienced strong emotions (verse 29, 34) during the angel's visit - she's surprised, troubled and fearful - Mary has the assurance of God's companionship. She will not go through these days of unexpected pregnancy alone (verse 35). Comments about her condition may come, but that doesn't shake her because she finally realizes God is with her.
Often viewed as a model of obedience, Mary's question indicated uncertainty and confusion. The angel gave Mary more information about how the pregnancy would occur (verse 35) even sharing details about her cousin, Elizabeth's, pregnancy in advanced age as an additional example of what God can accomplish (verses 36 and 37).
Mary consents by saying, "I am the Lord's servant, may it happen to me as you have said" (verse 38).
We don't know how much time passed between Mary being deeply troubled by the angel's news (verse 29), her question (verse 34), and finally her acceptance (verse 38). Despite the shocking news she received, she was able to sense God's presence as she realized in these moments the mission God gave her.
We may often feel like Mary when Gabriel told her she was pregnant, as unexpected circumstances come our way. When serious illness comes to a seemingly healthy person, when relationships are impaired, when a beloved family member or friend dies, when a job loss or relocation happens, we can be troubled and question, "How can this be?"
I remember two different occasions when Mike received word that he was being assigned to another church and I received desirable part-time job offers. One job was with preschool children, the other at the county hospital. I waited several years for both positions. When Mike told me we were moving, I had to decline the opportunity with preschool children, and hand in my resignation at the hospital after working five months.
I cried out, "How can this be? I've waited patiently for these positions, and now we have to move? Seeking God daily through prayer and reading eventually enabled me to give God my disappointment and receive peace. God's generosity was evident because after both moves, I was able to find employment in our new city.
Through prayer, we offer ourselves to God, acknowledging we need God's help to grow through the many challenges life brings, prompting the question, "How can this be?"
Eventually, with God's companionship, we can join Mary with acceptance and say, "I am yours, God. You are with me all of the time and through whatever I am experiencing."
For Your Reflection
1. When in your life have you said to God, "How can this be?"
2. How did you respond?
3. What was the outcome?
Prayer: God, how many times do we cry out, "How can this be?" when we struggle or when we receive unexpected challenges. Help us trust your constant companionship for all parts of life. Amen.