34 ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.’ 38 ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:34-38)
As amazing as all the promises concerning the birth of Jesus and his eternal kingdom sound, there is a problem: Mary is a virgin (v.34). The literal translation of this phrase is: “since I have not known a man”, a standard euphemism to avoid mentioning intercourse. Again, Gabriel offers a fuller explanation: Mary’s becoming pregnant will be the work of the Holy Spirit and God in his power. Gabriel explains that God “will overshadow” her. Here there is no euphemism; instead, Mary will be under the Lord’s protection, watched over by God. This is reminiscent of the Psalms which often talk about shelter and resting “in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). The Lord is also reordering and renaming. Jesus will be called the “Son of God”. This would have had other connotations for readers at the time – the emperor Augustus was often called divi filius (Son of God), because of his adoption by Julius Caesar. Gabriel also explains that wonderful things are happening not only for Mary, but for Elizabeth too (v.36). A more literal translation here could be: “this is the sixth month for the same woman who was called barren”. Elizabeth is no longer to be called barren.
It is hard to know at what point Mary fully believes Gabriel, but mentioning Elizabeth would have reassured her. Verse 37 might also have been a clincher: literally, “every word from God will not be impossible”. This is practically a direct quotation of Genesis 18:14 where God says to Abraham and Sarah: “Surely a word from God is not impossible?” Whether Mary knew the scriptural significance of these words or not, she submits with remarkable faith to these plans, calling herself the Lord’s servant and willing: “let it be for me according to your word” (v.38). This is courageous trust that God’s way is the surest way. God can work in seemingly impossible situations. One song offers these words: “No work too hard for him, in faith receive from him, be still for the power of the Lord is moving in this place.” Often, it helps to be still.