• Diana Dodd

A Simple Jewish Girl

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” Luke 1:26,27

For just a moment, I want you to forget every picture you ever saw of Mary. Forget every stained-glass church window depicting her in a brightly colored dress with a halo over her head and a baby on her knee. Instead, I want you to imagine a young woman of about 16. She has a dark complexion, and her dress is a simple, shapeless shift of white or maybe brown. She has a thin strip of cloth tied around her waist as a belt. Her hair is completely covered by a white cloth wound tightly around her head meant to keep her hair clean and hidden. Her feet are in sandals or possibly bare. This is the Mary who Gabriel visited in Luke 1:26-38.

Last weekend our family participated in a massive living Nativity event at our church, called "Walk Through Bethlehem." Over the course of the last month, we built an entire Jewish village in the fellowship hall. There was a census taker, a tax collector, Roman guards, a marketplace full of vendors and craftsmen, a Jewish family home, a synagogue, and the inn and stable, of course. Over three nights, about 1,000 people walked through our Bethlehem.

Church members volunteered to play the roles of the vendors, villagers, guards, rabbis, and innkeeper, as well as guides who led the visitors through the village, and along the way they were counted in the census, accosted by the guards, paid their taxes, and heard about ancient Jewish life, the Nativity Story, and the Gospel.

The first night my family played the role of the Jewish family. My children pretended to make flutes. I swept the floor, and my husband welcomed our guests. There were household props, straw on the floor, and live animals in wooden crates - all there to make the experience as realistic as possible. As the visitors came through, we discussed the baby boy in the stable and speculated about whether the mother could truly be a virgin. The guide replied by pointing to the prophecy of the virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14.

Then on Sunday evening, we were the innkeepers, turning the visitors away, telling them the inn was full to the rafters. I had only one line. I looked at my husband sadly and with a touch of recrimination and said, “Yes, just last night he sent a young couple to sleep in our stable, and the woman was heavy with child.”

Most of the visitors looked appropriately shocked at the idea that anyone would treat a pregnant woman in such a way, and I must admit I felt a new level of empathy for Mary. Being a part of such an immersive event brought a new reality to the Nativity Story.

Generally, scholars agree that Mary and Joseph were both quite young, somewhere between 14 and 20 years old, with Joseph being a couple of years older than his bride. So, these were very young people, and when I imagine the 16-year-old Mary being told she’s about to have a baby, I can’t help but picture my own 16-year-old daughter.

While it’s obvious that God guided and protected Mary, I’m sure she still faced some criticism. Although Luke makes no mention of it, you can easily imagine that her parents at least asked some very pointed questions, and I’ve no doubt that there was plenty of gossip about her in Nazareth.

All of that is why I think the most remarkable thing about Mary is her faith. She simply trusted God. She’s visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her she’ll have a baby. She asks how it will happen. He answers, and she replies, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). With no equivocation or doubt, she displays just simple obedience and trust.

At a time when an unmarried woman who became pregnant would face harsh consequences, the first of which might be the loss of her betrothal to Joseph, she seems to have put herself entirely in God’s hands. She didn’t ask Gabriel if Joseph would still marry her or what her parents would do. She had no idea how it would all work out, and Gabriel offered no reassurance by saying, “Don’t worry. Joseph will still marry you. Your parents won’t kick you out. You won’t be run out of your village and forced to beg for bread.” Regardless of what consequences might come, she accepted her commission from God. I wonder if I have faith that strong.

Scripture implies that Mary didn’t fully comprehend just how special her Son was. After the shepherds visited the stable and told of the message from the angels (Luke 2:8-17), Luke 2:19 says, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Later, when His parents presented Him at the Temple, a “righteous and devout” man named Simeon held Jesus and proclaimed Him to be God’s “salvation,” and “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:22-32). Then, verse 33 says, “And his father and mother marveled at what was said about him.”

Obviously, Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus was special, but just how special and in what way seems to have been a mystery to them. Each was chosen to be the earthly parent of Jesus because God approved of them. Gabriel simply told Mary she had “found favor with God.” She was a simple girl, with a simple, pure faith who God knew would do as He asked without question.

At some point, Mary must come to know of Jesus’ Divine supernatural power because His first earthly miracle is performed at her request at the wedding in Canaan where He turns water into wine. (Luke 2:1-11) We aren’t told how she knows, perhaps she was simply led by the Holy Spirit to seek His help, but my maternal instinct says that she had paid close attention to her son and knew He had Divine gifts, even if she didn’t quite understand who He truly was or His purpose on Earth.

Mary isn’t mentioned in the Gospels after the wedding in Canaan until she reappears at the foot of Jesus’ cross on the day of His crucifixion. Then, she’s listed, along with his brothers, among those who are praying in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension. (See Acts 1:14.) So, at some point she must have come to understand and believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Savior sent as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Mary and Joseph’s significance in the Nativity Story is in the fulfillment of prophecy. Mary is the virgin foretold in Isaiah, and Joseph fulfills the prophecy regarding the Messiah being born in the line of David, Jeremiah 23:5. They were both humble, faithful Jewish youths who found favor with God and were chosen by Him to serve and protect His Son as His earthly parents because God knew they would follow His commands without question and bring His Son safely into the world that so desperately needed Him.

Father God, we thank You for the wonderful example of faith and unquestioning obedience we have in Mary. We pray that we will display such trust in all You ask of us. In Jesus Christ’s most precious name. Amen.

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