“And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
We often hear Mary’s story here told and think, “Wow, how amazing would it be to have God think so highly of us?” And certainly Mary has occupied a large place in the story of humanity because of what God had planned for her. But before we stop at this thought of how great it would have been to be Mary, let’s back up just a bit. Mary was surely blessed by God, but walking in her shoes would have been a bit more complicated than the neat and tidy version of the story lets on.
For starters, getting pregnant out of wedlock then was not the culturally acceptable and even fashionable thing it is now. Women then protected their virginity at all costs because it was their badge of honor and guarantee of a happy life. What made matters even worse for Mary was that she was betrothed. Betrothal then was kind of like engagement is for us, but even stronger. It was a legally binding contract that could only be broken by a certificate of divorce. Imagine how you would react if your fiancée suddenly and mysteriously turned up pregnant before the wedding and you hadn’t had anything to do with it. Then, it was a sign she had broken the contract and was an adulteress. That was an offense punishable by death.
For Mary, God’s “blessing” was not one that was going to make her life any easier. It was going to make it exponentially harder. She was going to endure cultural scorn, the mistrust of her husband, the skeptical looks of her family, and that was just the beginning.
Indeed, we think of God’s blessing as something that is immediately and unquestionably good. Any time something unexpectedly good happens we say, “What a blessing!” We don’t say the same thing when something hard happens that results in good later on or that moves us closer to God. We might later, but certainly not until hindsight clears the picture for us.
But, throughout the Scriptures, when God chooses someone for a special task, their life tends to get a lot harder. We should pray for God’s blessing, but we should understand that what He sees as blessing may not look the same as what we would identify as blessing.
For God, blessing is us moving more firmly and fully in His direction. It is us learning to trust Him more and the things in our life less. It is our coming to see more fully how much we can rely on Him. It is us being used powerfully to advance His kingdom even in the face of fierce opposition.
Those don’t sound like quite as much fun as unexpected gifts of money or restored relationships or dramatic healings. But they are blessings all the same. And they are the kinds of blessings that reflect God’s trust that we are ready to go further and deeper in His kingdom service than we have before.
Mary was blessed. We can see and celebrate that now with ease. Her life was far from easy for it. Ours won’t be either. But blessing is always better than not.