Gabriel had just delivered the first part of his message-sent-from-heaven to a young, poor virgin from a shoot-of-a-town called Nazareth. And when he finished, Mary had the opportunity to speak. She couldn’t possibly have known that Zacharias had recently had a similar encounter with Gabriel. And that his response… sort of fell flat. Because when he asked the angel in the temple that day how he should know the things that had been told to him, he was really saying “According to what?!” Although the NKJV translates both his and Mary’s responses as beginning with “how”, the KJV actually quotes Zacharias a little differently. Instead of starting with how he says whereby. And with that whereby, he was almost… scornful. They had waited so long and likely worked so hard to put all those years of infertility behind them. And to hear that, after all this time, his prayer had been answered? He needed a sign. And, unfortunately, that sign left him speechless.
Mary answered differently. “How can this be,” she asked Gabriel, “since I do not know a man?” It was an honest question from a woman truly seeking information and desiring to be taught. And it’s the same language that Nicodemus used when his curiosity was piqued as Jesus taught him about being reborn. Something had tickled his brain, and yet the words that were unprecedented and difficult to understand were spoken with so much authority that it was impossible for him to doubt. So he sought to understand.
“Well,” Mary said factually and respectfully. “I’ve never been with a man. So how… exactly… will this happen?”
And because Gabriel saw that she truly desired to know (and wasn’t trying to gather more information in order decide if she would believe him), he answered her question with the same overarching answer that typically comes from God in regards to how He will do something:
by the Holy Spirit
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” he said. “Descending upon and operating within to create a Babe of heavenly genes. By His creative power. And that creative power of the Highest? The kind that performs miracles and comes straight from the-highest-top-of-a-tree-Immanuel, the most high God? It will overshadow you. But not with a shadow of darkness. Because He is light, and in Him is no darkness. At all. Ever. Rather, He will overshadow you with a shining cloud of Shekinah-glory. Circling round about and enveloping you with brightness while He exerts His creative energy within your womb. Weaving. And working. And creating in secret a Babe Who won’t be secret for long.”
“Therefore,” he continued. “Wherefore. By that account and through that one thing, the Babe you are going to birth will be called the Son of God.”
Zacharias had asked Gabriel whereby rooted in unbelief. And Gabriel answered the one question that Mary did not ask. Mary had chosen the good part of her response, much like another Mary from another story. God is always faithful to fill in the blanks if, and when, we need it.
And then, the angel-sent-from-heaven continued talking. No longer indulging in the how of it all, but sharing a small detail with Mary for one purpose only:
to encourage her faith
Because isn’t that how He works? When He uses people to boldly speak into our lives (angels or otherwise), doesn’t it also always serve as a means to encourage our faith?
“Your cousin, Elizabeth. The one that’s much older than you and has been barren all these years. She has also conceived a son. And she’s six months pregnant.” The woman who had only previously borne the title of “barren” as a red letter stamped on her like those nagging monthly periods that just wouldn’t stop coming? She’s about to bear a new title.
for with God, nothing will be impossible
Gabriel spoke a similar phrase that another angel spoke to another man. A conversation that the man’s barren wife would overhear and stifle down laughter from.
Nothing is impossible for Him.
Nothing is beyond His power.
Nothing is too difficult.
And then the Hebrew text adds a little extra sweetness to an already overwhelmingly sweet promise:
Nothing is too wonderful for Him. Even the things that seem too good to be true. Like a woman trading in a nearly lifelong “barren” title for a “momma” one.
And then, when Gabriel was finished speaking, Mary gathered her thoughts. And judged his words to be truth. And replied in the way that we all should when God speaks overwhelmingly good and sometimes too-good-to-be-true promises of truth and of life.
Behold! This thing seems impossible. And yet, I know it will happen. To me. A handmaid of the LORD. Daily seeking to serve Him. And to worship Him. And to submit to Him.
let it be to me according to your word
Just as you say. Every single word of it. Perform Your miracle, she prayed.
And then, just as quickly as he came, the angel departed. He had delivered his message. And it was now up to Mary to cling to those words. And believe the words of an angel that would only be confirmed in the event of their fulfillment .
And, until then? She simply had to wait.