Welcome to the ninth week of our Summer Bible journaling challenge, Women of Valor. Today, we will be studying and journaling the first of our New Testament women, and what a place to start! We begin our journey through the New Testament with Mary of Nazareth.
This week’s reading: Luke 1:26-56, John 2:1-John 2:11, John 19:25
This week’s journaling focus: Luke 1:28-30
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Few women are as remembered and revered as Mary, mother of Jesus. Some traditions see her as an intercessor; others, as an inspiring example of heart and humility. Though the popularity of a name can’t tell us of the importance of its namesake, the fact that Mary in all its forms — Maria, Marilyn, Marie, and others — is one of the most popular names in the Western world, should tell us something about just what a grip Mary of Nazareth has on our culture. And of course this is the case, because Mary is not just known for who she was, but for who she brought into the world: Jesus, the way, the truth, and the light. In being his mother, Mary experienced love, joy, pain, and devastation, and earned herself a place in history. All this from a young girl living in an ordinary town, who just happened to be favored by an extraordinary God.
Join and journal with us as we study Mary, mother of Jesus.
Mary’s Story (in Two Parts)
Part One: Visitation
In the region of Galilee is a small town called Nazareth; so small and inconsequential that in John 1:46, Nathanael says of it, “Can anything good come out of [there]?” In this town lives a young girl named Mary, engaged to a man named Joseph.1 Many have tried to estimate Mary’s age, and ideas have ranged anywhere from 13 to 19, but 15 seems to be a popular guess.
As a teenage girl living in a small community in Galilee, Mary probably did not have high aspirations for herself or her life. But that understanding changes with one visit, when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary one day and said,
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
Mary is troubled by this, but the angel tells her not to be afraid, “for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). Next, he says words that would likely terrify and overwhelm most of us:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary’s response doesn’t indicate that she is overwhelmed or afraid. Instead, she just seems perplexed, asking, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Gabriel explains that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). He explains that her cousin, Elizabeth, is also pregnant despite her old age, adding “For nothing is impossible with the Lord” (Luke 1:38). Those of us who remember Sarah’s story may smile at these words.
Mary’s response may surprise some of us. We might expect her to have more questions; to protest, like Moses did, when God interrupts life with His plans. But Mary doesn’t ask. She doesn’t protest. She doesn’t turn the angel away. Instead, she accepts, saying,
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
And the angel leaves her.
Despite Mary’s humility and acceptance of her fate, however, she is still a young girl in a difficult situation. There are many parts of her story that might be troubling to her. Perhaps Joseph will leave her, or the people of Nazareth will judge her, making assumptions that aren’t true. At around only fifteen, she is still young and inexperienced, and likely knew very little about pregnancy. So Mary turns to someone who she knew could help her: her cousin Elizabeth. When Mary greets Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s baby leaps in her womb, and she cries,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
This is how Elizabeth becomes the first person to recognize Jesus. We will explore her story next week. Today, we focus on Mary’s response, a song which has been put to music for centuries.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Mary weaves together verses and structures from the Old Testament scriptures, using them to proclaim her son’s and her own place in the telling of God’s story.
Part Two: Departing
Not much is known of Jesus’ childhood, but in what we do hear of it, from his birth, his presentation in the Temple, and the early flight to Egypt, Mary is always there. In Jesus’ ministries, she is sometimes mentioned, either as being there or being honored by members of the crowd. But we don’t truly meet and hear from Mary again until John 19, at the scene of Christ’s crucifixion:
“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.“
Mary’s pain standing at the foot of the cross is unimaginable. When we focus on Mary, we often focus on the early parts of her story: the joy and overwhelm at bearing the Son of God. But we shouldn’t forget this portion of her life. Though it is marked by grief and pain, this is the chapter of her life in which her role in God’s story is fulfilled. The pain we feel at Jesus’ crucifixion is changed when we remember that it is the very story that gives us life and freedom.
Mary witnesses, first-hand, the fulfillment of God’s promise. She brings Jesus into the world and witnesses him being taken from it. And we, with her, are ushered into the blessing that the fulfillment of that promise brings.
Time and time again in this study, we have encountered women who waited for many years to have children. Often, the delay that led up to a child coming into the world only served to show the importance of that child in the story of God: Isaac, Jacob, and Samuel are examples of this. But Mary’s story defies that convention. She was not married, like Rachel or Hannah; she did not pray for children, like Sarah did, or receive a child in her old age, like Elizabeth. She was young, unwed, and a virgin. And God used that very part of her story to usher into the world the most important figure in God’s story: Jesus of Nazareth. In light of the many stories about motherhood we’ve seen, how does Mary’s story stand out? Does this show us anything important about who Mary was, or why God might have chosen her?
Questions for Contemplation
- Unlike other mothers in the Women of Valor series, Mary did not want or pray for a child. Still, God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. What about Mary or her heart may have made her the right choice to be the mother of Jesus?
- Mary has been remembered and honored for generations by people of all backgrounds and denominations. Do you think this is because of her appointment as the mother of Jesus, or also because of her own character? What about Mary makes her stand out to you?
Today we examined two parts of Mary’s story. The first was the visitation of the angel to Mary, when Mary first finds out that she will be the bearer of God’s son. You may choose to illustrate this exchange, showing Gabriel and Mary or lettering the words from their exchange that stand out to you. Or, you may choose to journal the latter part of Mary’s story, when she witnesses her son on the cross, drawing the moment or lettering the words “Woman, behold your son.” Whichever story strikes you, let that inspiration guide you as you journal in your Bible today.
If you’d like to read more about Mary and her story, please feel free to check out these resources. All links to Amazon throughout this post are affiliate links:
- “Mary, in Life and Legend” in Strong Was Her Faith by J. Ellsworth Kalas, pages 117. This book is the New Testament counterpart to A Faith of Her Own. I love Kalas’ writing and his insights, which always offer me a new perspective that is both academically-based and faithfully focused.
- The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs. This book is an annual bestseller for a reason. Is it well-written and truly digs into the gospels to tell the story of the women involved in Christ’s birth and early life. This book is more faith-focused than academic.
- The customs of engagement were quite different in that time than they are today; in The Women of Christmas, Liz Curtis Higgins asserts that Mary and Joseph were as good as married in the eyes of their community. Though they were not living together as husband and wife, their arrangement was legally binding. ↩