The Virgin Birth and the Cost of Mary’s Faithfulness

Nativity scene

Faithfulness to God can disrupt your life and defame your reputation. That’s our Christmas story today.

Heaven’s chosen virgin told the announcing angel: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). But Mary’s legendary submission to God’s will for her life did not spare her the pain or shame associated with radical faithfulness.

The cost of obedience

Matthew 1:18

Mary’s fiancé doubted she was telling the truth. Imagine her impassioned appeal to the man she loved: “I wasn’t unfaithful to you or to God—please believe me!” Joseph didn’t. He decided to get rid of her, according to Matthew 1:19: “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”

So Joseph was a decent man who didn’t wish to humiliate Mary publicly; he just needed to get her out of his life. So he “resolved” to abandon his beloved to the minimum consequences of adultery. It took a dramatic visit from an angel to convince Joseph that Mary was telling the truth. Gabriel defended Mary’s faith and faithfulness: “That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:20).

We don’t know how long Mary was in limbo with Joseph. The Bible just says, “As he considered these things” (Matt 1:20)—that is, he was considering how to implement his resolution to put her away.

Another miraculous pregnancy

Meanwhile, Mary’s neighbors in Nazareth may have noticed her swelling abdomen. Sly looks and whispers of gossip would not have encouraged the young mother-to-be. Apparently desperate, “Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to a town in Judah” (Luke 1:39). This was not a shopping trip to find cute outfits for the new baby. Mary got out of town “with haste” and traveled on a lonely journey of 90 miles to find shelter with the only couple in Israel who knew firsthand about angels announcing miracle pregnancies.

Imagine Mary’s relief upon finally arriving at the home of Elizabeth, who greeted her with a Spirit-inspired affirmation: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). So this young mother was blessed by God, not deserving of rejection by the man she loved. And her Baby was blessed too—not a son of shame, but Immanuel, God with us.

Immanuel, God with us

Mary stayed several months at Elizabeth’s crisis pregnancy shelter before returning to Nazareth’s suspicions and gossip. Ultimately Joseph did believe her—after that personal visit from an angel to persuade him about Mary’s moral integrity.

Matthew 1:21

Learning from Mary’s faithfulness

What can we learn this Christmas season from Mary’s time of trouble? Many things, including Paul’s assessment of the good life that comes from the obedience of faith: “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). So whatever may be our own suffering this season, we may echo Mary’s courageous commitment: “Behold the servant of the Lord, do with my life whatever you will.”

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  1. John says

    The reason there was no room for Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem, where Joseph probably had relatives, was because Joseph and Mary were seen as sinners to be disassociated with by righteous Jews.

  2. John says

    It would seem unlikely that Mary was “showing” much when she went to Elizabeth’s home. Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant when the angel visited Mary and after the angel departed, verse 39 says “Now at this time” (NASB)
    Mary hurried to the hill country. Elizabeth’s prophetic blessing was a confirmation to Mary that she was pregnant, however far along she was. She stayed 3 months, which would have been till the birth of John or shortly thereafter. The reproach was probably after returning home and facing friends, family, and Joseph. Joseph may not have known before Mary went away. This in no way reduces the reproach she bore! Only the silent struggle she bore and conquered with her God given faith! Note the joy she expresses in her Magnificat that proves it is worth it all.
    Just my thoughts.

    • Dave Gilmore says

      After Gabriel’s departure, it is likely that Mary was more than a bit overwhelmed, possibly even to the point of wondering if what she experienced was real or imagined. Yet there was an element of the message she had received that was immediately verifiable and tangible – your cousin Elizabeth is now in her sixth month. The Lord was gracious to point Mary to Elizabeth. With haste Mary sought her and received an incredible confirmation from Elizabeth and even the yet unborn herald, John. Doubtless all these things built her up, strengthening her to continue her walk of faith toward a certain and yet unclear future. Thus encouraged, she returned to Nazareth to face Joseph, her family, and her neighbors. And, in the fullness of time, to bring forth her and our Savior.
      Glory to God in the Highest!!

  3. Jack Davenport says

    While I appreciate your treatment of Mary’s faithfulness – which was amazing – there’s a tone in your article regarding Joseph that borders on distain. While Mary had to endure the brunt of her “Yes,” to imply that Joseph was anything but a righteous man trying as best anyone could to grasp what had happened, is to do damage to what Scripture says about him. Of course, he needed an angel to tell him to retain Mary. Do you think ANYONE in the world would have responded to Mary readily accepting her explanation of her pregnancy? Mary is certainly THE example of faith; but Joseph is a true example of faithful submission to God’s way. It cost him something, too, to take Mary as his wife.

  4. says

    Yes Martin, hit the nail on the head I think…I also love the contrast of Zacharias' doubt to Mary's obedience and Faith. She had much more to lose, but he made a come back at the end when he affirmed to the other priests who were circumsizing the baby that his name was John. I think at that moment the Holy Spirit gave him the gift of understanding of John's mission, one that he probably never saw.

  5. says

    I recognize therse are shallow side issues, but it says Joseph took Mary to be his wife. I don't think she got the wedding she had dreamed of. Instead he just took her to be his wife. Girl dream number 1 dismissed. There were no wedding or baby showers for her. Most girls want their moms near when they have a baby, but Mary had to travel to Bethlehem. Then she might have imagined God would have planned a nice place for her to deliver her baby. Did she wonder what God was thinking to put her in a stable? She could see no family waiting to hear the baby was born. She had no friends to rush in and congratulate her. What she couldn't see was the family of heaven waiting expectantly and celebrating. God even threw a light show in honor of His baby's birth with His own star. She heard later about the the angel celebration from shepherds. On the surface, it would seem terribly unfair, yet it was filled with wonder. We do learn from this that even when we serve the Lord, circumstances come about. What may seem downright unfair and awful, is actually awesome, amazing, and a blessing.

  6. Olayinka Sola says

    I love this article and responses from readers. God is great and whenever he interrupted or distort our plans for his purposes and glory there is the assurance that something greater is in the making. Added to all that was said about Mary, may I add that Mary did not just mortgaged her life, she also willing submitted her womb to be opened by somebody else baby and not Joseph’s. Also, the hurried journey to Egypt can not be overlooked. It takes commitment to embark on such trip unless there is war or something deadly and life threatening. Consequences of Mary’s obedience cannot be overemphasised as she forget about whatever personal plan and desires for herself or marriage to follow God’s commandments. Christmas celebration is incomplete without obedience. Hence, everyone of must learn obedience to God and become heroes eternally.

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