Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” Luke 1:34-36
Now, I very much appreciate the angel Gabriel’s attempt at helping Mary get through this bizarre situation. He tries. But let’s be honest… his words aren’t really the most helpful. At least, they wouldn’t have been for me. I mean, if I’m Mary, I’ve got a few more things to say to this angel. Not the least of which is, “But, you didn’t answer my question!” Clearly, this just confirms how heroic Mary’s faith was (and maybe how fainthearted mine is), because she doesn’t even question him. After his attempt at an answer, Gabe tries his hand at being reassuring by giving her a sign. He tells Mary that “Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived …”
Now, this is very nice of Gabe, but once again, I have to point out that it can’t be that helpful. Because what is happening to Mary is nothing like what happened to Elizabeth.
You see, the birth of a child from a barren womb is a sign that the Hebrew people were very familiar with. It was an amazing miracle, but it was one that had been done before… quite a few times. The very first Hebrew child, Isaac, was born out of the barren womb of Sarah. Then Jacob was born out of Rebekah’s barren womb. Then Joseph from Rachel’s. Samson and Samuel also had similar stories. So while what happened to Elizabeth is amazing, it was a miracle that had been seen before. I don’t want to minimize the miracle, but I need to point out that each of these children, including John, were still conceived the same way you or I were, it just happened to a couple who didn’t think that a child was possible. God used this kind of birth, out of barrenness as a distinctly Old Covenant miracle. It was the first miracle of the Old Covenant with Isaac, and now it would be the last of the Old Covenant with John. I think Luke would want us to notice this beautiful bookend to God’s work in the Hebrew people before Jesus, but he would also want us to see that what happens to Mary is a completely new category of miracle!
We forget that Mary lived in a world that didn’t believe in virgin births. It wasn’t a thing. It had never been done before. She was born in a pre-virgin-birth world. Therefore, if we hear anything from Gabriel’s words to Mary, we should hear God saying, “And now for something completely different.” Jesus is the New!
Pastor Josh Rose