The Word Magazine, January 1974 – Page 4

Some Thoughts Concerning Mary


IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE a young Jewish girl growing up in the days before Christ. You are aware that for centuries the coming of the Savior has been foretold by the Hebrew prophets, and all around you in peopie’s hearts springs the hope that he will soon appear. Well known to you is the saying of Isaiah VII: 14: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Doubtless you share with your girl companions the reflection that the young woman chosen to be Messiah’s mother will be one incomparably blessed.

Your uncle, however, is a theologian, and thinks it more probable that Messiah will appear in some such fashion as Elijah in his chariot from the sky. You hesitate to open to your uncle your personal wonder and enthusiasm.

Ordinarily we think of Mary in connection with her son, who is the son of God. Here let us consider her as she was before she gave birth to him, that we may better realize the strength and depth of her character, and see her as a person. That she should be the one to carry out the ancient prophecy is of course essentially part of Mary’s character. But it is easy for us who think of ourselves as Christians to forget how far back in Biblical history the part the Virgin plays in it extends. We know that the Jews were the chosen people; they were the people chosen to bring into the world the spiritual Mother to whom all people who believed in her might appeal.

In the prophetic mind of the Hebrews there was knowledge of Mary long before she was born. Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, refers to her in 111:15 where it speaks of the woman bruising the head of the serpent, who is the devil. Indeed it is rewarding to search the Old Testament for figures of the Virgin; they are plentiful.

Since in actuality you are not a young Jewish girl alive in a past age, but a twentieth century follower of Christ, the verse of Isaiah is familiar to you also from Matthew and Luke, who quoted it directly, roughly 800 years after the prophet uttered it. So you may realize how right were those who, despite absence of evidence since Mary had not vet come, still trusted it.

Others took it and similar prophecies more as figures of speech. Yes, Messiah would come, and his coming would be unlike anything that had ever happened in the world before; Messiah would reveal himself in some extraordinary way — only not in this extraordinary way —they could not believe that he would arrive literally through the channel of a woman.

How indispensable the feminine vessel was, is made emphatically, indubitably clear by the New Testatment. Matthew’s gospel opens with the words: The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. These words head the list of the paternal ancestors of Joseph for thrice fourteen generations. Then at verse 18 we are told: Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, Before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Here for the first time the woman, the mother who instead of begetting gives birth, is considered.

Joseph himself did not quite believe that Mary was carrying a child conceived by the Holy Spirit until convinced of it by the angel of the Lord in a dream.

Luke has more to say about Mary. The angel Gabriel came to her from God with the message that his son was to be born of her. For a brief moment she was puzzled, she was troubled, but that moment sufficed for her to understand fully what she was agreeing to, before she answered: Be it unto me according to thy word. If we suppose she was merely obedient, we fail to do justice to her exercise of free will. Her being taken unawares by Gabriel provided the test of her willingness, and proved it. Had she turned away, one dreads to think what the course of history would have been. It was inevitable that the divine love should find the expression it sought and the Word be made flesh in one too humble not too astonished that she herself was the favored young girl. And it was inevitable that Mary should say yes.

How highly Mary valued the favor of God is shown by her song of praise to Elizabeth, her cousin, in Luke I:46ff.

Scripture tells us that Mary’ belonged to the tribe of Judah like Joseph and was descended from David as Joseph was also. But aside from these few facts we have little historic information about Mary. On the other hand the legends which have sprung from people’s devotion to her are plentiful. For instance the traditional belief that her parents, Joachim and Anna, went without offspring for a long period during which they prayed earnestly for a child. Once Anna was walking in the garden when she espied a nest of baby starlings and burst into tears to think of the mother bird’s good fortune to have her young in contrast with the reproach of childlessness suffered by Anna.

Joachim and Anna promised the Lord that if a child were born to them, the child should be dedicated to the service of the Lord in the temple. So when Mary was three years old her parents brought her to the priest to receive instruction. The small girl walked up the temple steps all by herself. In the temple she learned to lead a life of prayer. She was also taught how to weave and dye cloth, and she helped in making the curtains for the temple.

These legends of Mary’s parentage and early years contain a psychological insight we would do well to ponder. It will help us to fulfill the personal realization of her presence which is so necessary in the practise of our faith.