Imagine a contemporary teenage girl who becomes convinced, without a doubt, that God especially favors her. She knows God will bless her richly, beyond what any other woman ever has known. What does she expect that to mean? Surely God will provide romance for her, followed by a happily-ever-after marriage. There will be several healthy children, who will grow to successful adulthood and provide her with grandchildren some day. She will surely have all she needs of material possessions, and probably a little more — most likely, she’ll be able to do some traveling. Of course, since she is so favored by God, she will have the good health needed to enjoy all these things. Aren’t these the kinds of things we of the twenty-first century mean when we say, “We’ve been so blessed”?
What would our young lady think of God’s blessing if it caused heartache and misunderstanding with her fiancé and ended in a broken engagement? How much would she want to be especially favored by God if it required a long, arduous trip, on foot or on the uncomfortable back of a donkey, while pregnant with her first child? Would it seem that God was blessing her, when she lay in the straw on a barn’s floor, giving birth with the stench of manure strong in her nostrils? What if God’s blessing meant laying her first fragile little baby in a cow’s feeding trough because that was the best she had? When this young woman, eager to go home and show her newborn to her family, found herself fleeing to a foreign country instead, her heart in her throat with fear for her baby because soldiers were on the way to kill Him, would she feel particularly blessed? Would she still want God’s favor if she knew that, because of it, she would feel a mother’s anxiety when public opinion turned against her adult child? How desirable would she find God’s blessing when it included a night filled with the crowd’s screams for the death of her son? How can a mother enjoy God’s favor as she watches her child slowly being tortured to death?
It is the time of Roman rule. An angel comes to a Jewish teenager and assures her that she is richly blessed. He does not mean that she will be happy, healthy, and rich, nor does the girl seem to expect that. We have no record of her ever complaining or protesting her lot as she wended her painful way through all the experiences mentioned above. What, then? If God’s blessing and favor don’t guarantee happiness and peace, what do they give? What does the angel (and later Elizabeth) mean by calling Mary blessed? God has planned for Mary a chance to serve. He has designed for her an enormous role in His plan to redeem a people for Himself. He is about to give the Savior He has been promising since the Garden of Eden, and Mary is part of His plan. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” the angel tells her. “You have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30 NASB). She is to be an instrument in God’s hand as He accomplishes the world’s salvation, like Noah, who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” and whom God also used when He saved the world (Gen. 6:8 NASB).
Gabriel promises Mary a son, who will be great, who will be a king to rule forever, who will be the very Son of God. Gabriel never mentions the cross, nor (as Simeon points out later) the sword that will pierce Mary’s own soul. Surely Mary has some idea of her personal danger if she is found pregnant before marriage. Women are stoned for such an offense. That she understands this will be her situation is evident from her one question to the angel: “How can this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 NASB). Gabriel gives Mary an answer that does not really answer much (how does one conceive a baby by being overshadowed by the power of God?), but it is enough of an answer for Mary. Whatever it means, however great the cost to her personally, she willingly accepts the role of a servant. She will be a tool in the hands of God to accomplish His purposes — and consider herself blessed for the opportunity. But why doesn’t the angel warn her of the potential for pain? Is he trying to deceive her into only seeing the blessing? Of course not, for, as he had told Zacharias earlier when Zacharias had questioned the veracity of his message: “I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19 NASB); how, then, could he deceive? Rather, as one who stands in God’s presence, Gabriel has the perspective of God on the sufferings of this life. They are, as Paul will write later, “not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed” (Rom. 8:18 NASB). Mary’s pain, as well as the greater pain of her son, will be “momentary, light affliction” while the result will be “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17 NASB).
So Mary’s blessedness will not be in experiencing peace and prosperity, but in having a chance to serve, a chance to die. Her willingness to die to self will make a way for the Messiah to die for the salvation of His people. She doesn’t know that yet, of course. She knows only that she, a virgin, will have a son whom she’ll name “Jehovah Saves” and who will rule forever. She is sure of these things and herein lies the other component of her blessedness. “Blessed is she,” her cousin Elizabeth greets her, “who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord” (Luke 1:45 nasb). How can she have a baby when she has never been with a man? Yet God has said it will be, so it will. How can her son rule on the throne of David and that without end? The Romans rule Israel as they rule all the world, with a grip of iron. A king on David’s throne is impossible. Yet God has said it will be, so it will.
It must be that Mary has a great vision of the greatness of God. This is how she can accept a role that is sure to cost her something — and how she can go on in faithfulness as she learns just how great is that cost. This is how she can trust God to do what He has said when she can see no possible way. This is how she can find blessing in serving and in suffering. She is content, based on what she knows of God, to let Him be God. She does not need to know how or why; she knows Him. She can trust Him to do the impossible. She can trust Him while she suffers, while their son suffers. She is content to serve, to suffer, to trust while He works through her to accomplish His will.