Please read the short Introduction first.

Mary was a young woman, probably in her early or mid teens,[1] when the angel Gabriel visited her and brought this message from God:

Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you! . . . Don’t be afraid, Mary . . . for you have found favour with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.

He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end! . . .

The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will over-shadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God  (Luke 2:28-35).

Just as Gabriel had said, Mary miraculously conceived God’s son, Jesus, even though she was a virgin and not yet married. (See Luke 1:26-38 cf. Matthew 1:18, 20).

Mary had calmly and obediently acquiesced to God’s plan to make her the mother of the Messiah, and yet there can be little doubt that Mary would have suffered scandal and disgrace for becoming pregnant before marriage. There was also the risk that Mary could have been publicly accused of sexual immorality and even stoned to death (the penalty for such a crime in those days.) Perhaps Mary hurried to stay with Elizabeth (who was 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist at the time) to receive some moral support before facing the gossip and censure of the neighbours.[2] (Luke 1:39-45.)

Mary was betrothed to Joseph.[3] Betrothal was the first stage of marriage, and the contract of betrothal was bound by Jewish Law. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he initially planned to break off the betrothal. Joseph suspected Mary of impropriety (which can’t have been pleasant for Mary); however, after having the situation explained to him by an angel in a dream, Joseph straight away took Mary home as his wife. But they did not consummate the marriage, have sex, until after Jesus was born. (See Matthew 1:18-25.)

In contrast to many Christmas card illustrations which depict scenes of snug security and domestic comfort, Mary’s situation was full of uncertainty and risk. Both Mary and Joseph were probably the subject of gossip and may well have been hurt by being misunderstood and maligned. They may even have been ostracised and shunned by family and neighbours. Apart from Elizabeth’s enthusiastic response in Luke 1:41-45, and Joseph’s initial concern, the scriptures are silent about how others took the news of Mary’s pregnancy.[4]

Mary's Scandal and Favour

There was little domestic comfort in Mary’s Christmas, which has nothing in common with the scene depicted in Christmas Eve by Carl Larsson, 1904. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Both Mary and Joseph were people of great faith and obedience (Luke 1:45-55; Matthew 1:24). It has sometimes been noted that when people are obediently following God, they may experience situations and trials that look difficult and unpleasant to onlookers, yet are experienced as gracious blessings by those who are actually going through them. Mary was conscious of being favoured by God (Luke 1:28 & 30). This knowledge of being favoured must have been a tremendous blessing which buoyed her through difficult days.

Mary also pondered the amazing events that surrounded the birth of Jesus. She treasured their memory  (Luke 2:19 & 51). These memories would have been another source of reassurance, strength and comfort.

If there had been some sense of scandal and disgrace over the holy family, it did not last. Luke states that the boy Jesus grew in favour with God and with people (Luke 2:52).   Part 3 »


[1] I have personally baulked at the young age scholars have given to Mary, but the more I study about first century Jewish (and Roman) woman, the more I have come to see that it was common for girls to be married by 14 or 15 years of age in the first century.

[2] Why did both Mary and Elizabeth stay in seclusion during the early months of their pregnancies and not during the later months when their pregnancies were most obvious?

[3] The Protoevangelium of James (also known as the Infancy Gospel of James) claims that Joseph was an older man, a widower with children, when he married Mary.

[4] Perhaps there was no proper accommodation made available to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem because of the scandal (Luke 2:6-7).

© 8th of December 2010, Margaret Mowczko

Christmas Cardology Series: 

(1) Introduction
(3) Nazareth to Bethlehem
(4) Was Jesus born in a barn?
(5) When was Jesus born?
(6) The Virgin Mary
(7) The Wise Men from the East

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