Photo and Commentary ©2017 by Bev Riter
Sunday, December 3, 2017
The above photo of mosaic artwork by Pietro Cavallini (13th c) shows the angel Gabriel appearing before Mary. I took it at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. According to Hebrew custom, it is likely that Mary was between twelve and thirteen years of age when she was betrothed (engaged) to Joseph. Both families were in agreement of this contract, which was as binding as the wedding that would follow in about a year. In Galilee, where Mary and Joseph lived, couples maintained sexual purity until after the wedding. Within this setting, you can probably imagine Mary’s surprise when the angel Gabriel appeared before her, a virgin, telling her that she will conceive and have a son. He was to be great and was to be called Jesus, the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-36) The angel also told Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, in her old age, was with child and that nothing was impossible with God! Then Mary went to stay with Elizabeth for about three months and both recognized that their children had an important part in God’s plan. After that, Mary returned home to Nazareth.
What did Joseph think? Undoubtedly, he thought that Mary had an affair with another man, but how could his beloved Mary do this? If she was found to be with child and he wasn’t the father, she would be judged to be an adulteress and the penalty was stoning…and he definitely wouldn’t want that to happen. Joseph worried about what he should do. He could marry her and live with the gossip. He could divorce her (a broken betrothal was classified as a divorce) in which case he would have to tell the officials why. He could also pay to have her sent away to have the baby and not return to Nazareth. His heart was broken. After careful consideration, he decided to put her away privately. Then, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him to not be afraid, to take Mary home to be his wife! The child, to be named Jesus, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and He will save His people from their sins. And Joseph took Mary to be his wife! (Mathew 1:18-25) Yes! Jesus came to save us – you and me!
(Parts of this were previously shared on November 2, 2014)