Blessed art thou among women
‘Greetings!’ said the angel Gabriel one day to a young girl from the undistinguished Israeli town of Nazareth. We know nothing about her earlier life or personality: not her age, not her appearance, not her habits, not her domestic circumstances. But one thing we do know. She was greatly honoured, as no other human being had been before or has been ever since.
Mother to the Incarnate Son
But what was the honour? Not that in herself she was full of grace and able to dispense that grace to others, but that God had favoured her above all the women in the world. He had chosen her to be mother to his incarnate Son. In her womb he would be conceived; in her womb he would grow, warm and secure; and from her womb, and through her labour-pains, he would be born. She would hold him, God’s Son, in her arms, she would nurse him at her breast, and she would have the honour of washing him and clothing him. She would see some of her own features in his face, and some of her wider family’s; she would be his first teacher; and she would be the one who panicked when he went missing (Lk. 2:48)
What did she know when she held him for the first time? She knew he was a miracle: an absolute, utter, total miracle, because she had never been with a man. She was a virgin.
But that didn’t mean that his birth was inexplicable. She knew how it had come about, because she had asked the Angel and he had given her a perfectly straightforward explanation. The power of God had made her pregnant: the very same power as on the Day of Creation had made the heavens and the earth. That far-away day, he had spoken a word, and by it created a world. Now he had spoken another word, and by that word she had conceived a son.
But she also had another secret. The baby, her baby, was the Son of God. No Jewish boy had ever been called that before, and it was scary, but it was what the Angel had said. It was a lot for a girl to get her head round, but it fitted in with the wonderful way he had been conceived.
Still, what could it mean? What sort of great things would he do? What sort of wise things would he say? What sort of feelings would he have? She would have to wait and see.
Later generations would call her blessed, but they too would have lots of questions, and centuries would pass before they could sing:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail, the Incarnate Deity,
Pleased as Man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel!
But the Angel had also told her baby would inherit the Throne of David and reign for ever and ever. Every well brought-up Jewish girl knew what that meant. Her baby was the Messiah. Wow! No wonder the Angel had said she was highly favoured.
But then, that’s exactly what it was, she thought: a favour. It wasn’t as if she had obeyed a command, or done her duty, or been wonderfully humble and submissive. It wasn’t even that she had ‘let’ God do something to her; and it certainly wasn’t something she had wrestled with before making a decision and giving her consent. Her consent had nothing to do with it, although, after the Angel had told her, she was over the moon about it. After all, he hadn’t asked her if she would like to be pregnant. He had simply told her that she was.
It didn’t occur to her that she was doing something heroic, or that men would appeal to her as a model of what all women should be: meek and submissive. It was an honour, pure and simple. Her Son would be full of grace, and would dispense it freely. Her part was only to receive it.
Yet, not in any ordinary measure. After all, had not Cousin Elizabeth called her ‘the mother of her Lord’ and told her what an honour it was to have her come and visit?
But the real honour was hers, to be the Mother; to rock his cradle: she, a young Jewish girl from, of all places, Nazareth.
Anyway, as I sit here scribbling these words in December 2020, the two of them, Mother and Son, are probably talking. ‘Tell me more about yourself,’ she had asked; and he will still be telling her.
Then I wonder whether he in turn asks her things as well, like what it’s like being a woman and a mother.
He chose her to be his Mother; and he still loves her as his Mother.