Imagine … for just a few minutes, lay aside the many things that are keeping your mind from being present right now. All of those things – the gifts that still have to be purchased, the lunch you have in the crock pot, the relatives coming into town … all of those things. Lay them aside, and for a little moment in time, just shut your eyes and imagine.
Imagine living during a time in history where there is no running water, where you have to go to a well to get the day’s ration for your family. For some of you that won’t be too hard, as you were raised on a farm and this is how you grew up.
Imagine living during a time when there was no electricity, where you rose before the sun in order to get your chores done and when darkness came the family settled for the night. For some of you, this is how your Amish neighbors still live today.
Imagine living in a time when there was no social welfare system, no Salvation Army, no local Associated Charities. If you were poor, you were on your own, depending on the kindness of farmers to leave grain in their fields for you to glean after the harvest.
Imagine being born a female. For some of you, this may be a stretch, but give it your best shot. For just a few minutes, try and imagine seeing the world through the eyes of a woman.
Imagine living in a time where being born female was more of a curse than a blessing. Many women, especially those in the work force, have tasted a little of this as we have hit glass ceilings. For millions of women in the world today, however, this is an incredibly harsh daily reality. You don’t have to travel far … just to China or India … to see that being born female can mean your family grieves at your birth as you are not the longed for son. They may give you up for adoption or, worse still, abandon you on a hillside for the elements to take you. For all too many women in the Middle East, being born female means you are considered less than a second class citizen. Many women are still not given the privilege to vote. Imagine not having any say in whom you marry – this is a decision made for you by your male relatives. This still happens today.
Imagine being a little girl, standing to the side, watching your brothers, your favored brothers, going to school every morning, coming home and telling you about learning to read, talking about what they are going to do when they grow up. Imagine being that little girl and knowing that you will never be allowed to go to school, never learn how to read, or have a decision in your own future. With no education, there is no job you can do but the one your mother had … to marry, raise the children & keep the home. When you give birth to children, your husband will name them as he pleases.
Imagine knowing that you could be traded, just like any piece of property – land, money, or cattle – traded at any time in order to procure a good financial deal for your family. This still happens in the Middle East.
Imagine being a little girl, knowing that if, for any reason, you were considered flawed and unmarriageable, your only future would be to live with one of your brothers or a male relative, for the rest of your life. You would live in the shadows, in disgrace, because no man wanted you.
Imagine knowing that the one thing you had of value, the one thing you always had to protect until your wedding day, was your virginity. If you lost that, no man would ever want to take you as his wife, or even one of his wives, polygamy still being the custom in many parts of the world, as you would be considered worthless.
I tell my clients that virginity is not something that is taken from you; it is something you give away. However, that’s not how the world sees it, especially in the Middle East:
If you were sexually abused as a child, you were not considered a virgin.
If you were raped as a young woman, you were not considered a virgin. The only man who you might have the option of marrying was your rapist!
If you had sex before marriage with the man you thought loved you, the man who had taken your virginity could then toss you aside as “spoiled goods” … this double standard still survives in the Middle East.
So, imagine living in the Middle East, over 2,000 years ago, and being a young woman, a very young woman. You are probably very poor, and have no identity other than the fact you are your father’s daughter. You have no say in whom you are going to marry, knowing that your sole value is your virginity … and the unthinkable happens.
Mary …. We know so little about her. Biblical scholars are torn even to her tribal lineage. Was she from the tribe of Judah, so that her children could claim being descendants of King David or, more likely, was she descended from the priestly line of Aaron, as was her cousin, Elizabeth?
We know she was young, very young, most probably between the ages of 12 and 14, as that was the common age when a young woman would be betrothed. We know she was from Nazareth, a little back woods town in Galilee. We know she was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, whose claim to King David’s lineage is very clear from two different books of the Bible. We know that Joseph was a carpenter, which probably meant that he had spent some years learning a trade. A humble trade. Joseph was not a wealthy man. He was most probably quite a bit older than Mary.
We know that, absolutely without any doubt, Mary’s greatest value was her virginity. It was the key to rest of her future.
So, imagine being a very naïve young woman, already assigned a life’s partner, knowing what your future in life is going to be, just going about your normal daily business and then being confronted … by an angel. Not just any angel, mind you, but THE MESSENGER angel, Gabriel.
Gabriel said to her, “Greetings, favored woman. The Lord is with you.” Scripture tells us that Mary was confused and frightened. Well, wouldn’t you be?
Gabriel goes on to tell her that God has a better plan than the one her father had chosen for her life. He was going to make her pregnant with HIS son, and SHE was going to name him – don’t miss this … yes, Mary, a woman, was going to give her baby a name – Jesus, meaning “Emmanuel, God with Us.”
This baby was going to be very great and would be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord would give him the throne of his ancestor, David … but wait a minute, wasn’t she related to Aaron? And her son would reign over Israel forever. Wait a minute … forever? He wouldn’t die? His kingdom wouldn’t end? So many questions she must have had. But Mary’s first response was … “how can this be. I am a VIRGIN.” That was so important to her. It was her only value, the key to the rest of her life.
Gabriel explains it all to Mary, how she will be overshadowed by God’s power, how her child would be born holy, and called the Son of God. He tells her about her much older cousin, Elizabeth, barren for so long who is now pregnant, “for nothing is impossible with God.” Trust HIM.
And Mary, young, poor, confused, terrified, and clinging to her virginity … her response? “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.”
Wow. Imagine getting news like that, but even more, responding the way she did. Who could she tell? Did she have a mother to run to and share this news? Was her father still alive? Was he the kind of dad a daughter felt safe with? Safe enough to tell this kind of news?
Scripture tells us that Mary journeyed to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant. She would understand. And God prepared the way. When Elizabeth stood in the doorway and saw Mary coming down the road, she didn’t call out “Mary, how good to see you. Have you heard MY wonderful news?” No, what happened when Elizabeth first saw Mary was that Elizabeth’s baby “leaped” in her womb, and when her six month baby did that, Elizabeth probably did what every pregnant woman in the world would have done and held her stomach. The Gospel of Luke tells us that she cried out loud the words, “You are blessed by God, and your child is blessed. What an honor for me that the mother of my Lord should visit me.” Elizabeth knew before Mary even told her. “With God, nothing is impossible.”
And then we come to the passage in Luke chapter 3, entitled “The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise,” Mary’s response to Elizabeth:
“Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed.
For he, the Mighty One, is holy,
And he has done great things to me.
His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him.
His mighty arm does tremendous things!
How he scatters the proud and haughty ones!
He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
He has satisfied the hungry with good things
And sent the rich away with empty hands.
And how he has helped his servant Israel!
He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful.
For he promised our ancestors – Abraham and his children –
To be merciful to them forever.”
How did Mary know all these things? Was she, like most other girls in her day, uneducated and kept in the background, or did her earthly dad love his daughter enough to quietly teach her Scripture? Was she his only child, treasured and loved, quietly given the educational privileges of a son?
Mary … the mother of Jesus. An educated 1st century pregnant virgin, who said “yes” to God, willing to face a very uncertain future and the jeers of the world, all because God had asked her to be obedient. “With God, nothing is impossible.” A role model for all of us.
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