Mary Christmas

December 18th, 2017

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How can this be? Mary’s response to learning she’d soon be pregnant (yet remain a virgin) typifies the faith that every believer ought to have.

Next Monday is Christmas Day. This day began for Mary when the angel Gabriel greeted her as favored one. It perplexed her. Why was she favored among women?

Mary was about to find out. Betrothed and a virgin, she was about to become pregnant. How can this be? Mary’s question comes from the faith we all ought to have. Louise Cowan, a University of Dallas Professor of English, defines faith as “a widening of the imagination.”[1] Mary is not distraught. She is asking Gabriel to widen her imagination.

Mary is an exemplar. The Oxford Dictionary defines exemplar as a person or thing serving as a typical example or appropriate model. Mary is an appropriate model, which is why she’s favored. Allow me to widen your imagination to help you appreciate this.

Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Believers are the bride of Christ, betrothed to Jesus (Hos. 2:19, II Cor. 11:12). Joseph was a righteous man. Jesus is righteous.

Betrothal was part of the Jewish wedding, which had three parts. First, the parents of the bride and bridegroom signed a wedding contract, which involved a dowry. The bridegroom named a price or ransom (“mohar”) to the father of the bride (Gen. 24:12; Ex. 22:17) while the woman brought a dowry to her husband. God named a ransom for us and then paid it, having his son die for us, his bride. A priceless dowry. Our dowry is what we make of the life that Jesus gives us (I Cor. 3:10-15).

The wedding contract began the betrothal period, similar to present-day engagement except that it was essentially a marriage contract that could be dissolved only in the case of infidelity. At the betrothal the woman was legally married, although she still remained in her father’s house. We are betrothed “to one husband,” married to Christ so that to we might be presented to him as a pure virgin (II Cor. 11:3).

The second part of the betrothal period was the courting process, where the bridegroom prepared a new addition to the parent’s home, which would become their marital residence. Jesus is preparing a place for us in his Father’s home (Jn. 14:2).

The third and final stage in the Jewish wedding occurred a year later, when the bridegroom came to the house of the bride at midnight with his male friends, creating a torch-lit procession through the streets with the whole village joining in. The bride would know in advance that this was going to take place. She would be ready with her maidens and they would join the parade, which would eventually arrive at the groom’s house. They would be wed and go to their new home to enjoy nuptial union.

Jesus told parables about being ready. Ten virgins were awaiting the bridegroom’s arrival (Mt. 25:1-13). Five were prepared; five were not. In another parable, many arrive at the groom’s wedding banquet. Some are prepared; some are not (Luke 14:15-24). The prepared are invited into the wedding banquet.

This is the gospel of love, where the Father, Son, and Spirit decide to expand the circle of love by having the son marry a bride. Mary embodies this love. We, the bride of Christ, appreciate her as an exemplar. She embodies the faith we ought to embody every day, including Christmas. And so, in appreciation of our exemplar, I wish you a Mary Christmas.


[1] Louise Cowan, “How Classics Address Our Imaginations” Mars Hill Audio Journal 1998. Vol. 34.

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