Mary and the sneakiness of God

Mystical Nativity : Botticelli

The Mystical Nativity / Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1500

There is nothing subtle about how the world operates. We measure power by size. Each industry has one or two dominant and large corporations.

The most powerful nations have some combination of the largest economies, international trade, military power, and diplomatic reach. Politicians vie to amass the most money so they can parlay their fundraising in to the most votes.

God doesn’t work that way.

Just look at how he prepared Mary for her role in God’s sneaky counterrevolution against the devil.

Satan appeared to win a great victory in Eden by corrupting the man and the woman God had made. God declared that the seed of the woman would ultimately defeat him. Humanity became so corrupt that God destroyed all but eight individuals in a great flood. Afterward, humanity continued with unabated wickedness.

But God had a sneaky plan.

  • He commissioned Abram, a wealthy but unremarkable man living in an important city to go to a far country and live as a nomad, with the promise that his descendants would inherit the land. Abram was childless, by the way, and didn’t have the promised son for another 25 years. Along the way, his name was changed to Abraham.
  • Neither Abraham’s son nor grandson actually occupied the promised land. The grandson and all his children moved to Egypt, where their descendants were eventually enslaved for four centuries.
  • Then one of the slave babies, Moses, was actually raised as a member of the royal family. He saw his destiny and tried to take it into his own hands, with the result that he had to flee into exile. Forty years later, God found him tending sheep and sent him back to make a great nation of that band of slaves.
  • Finally in possession of the promised land, Abraham’s offspring became plentiful, but weak because of their wickedness. God chose a king for them from an apparently prominent family, but instead of picking a kingly, impressive-looking son, chose David, the youngest. David’s father had not considered him important enough to invite to meet with the prophet. He was out on shepherd duty.
  • David built a strong kingdom and received a promise that he would never lack an heir to his throne. Eventually, however, his kingdom first split into two parts, both of which collapsed under the accumulated weight of their sin. A few generations after that, when the people were restored to their land, God ceased to speak to them through prophets.

Ready for Mary

Annunciation / Fra Angelico

Annunciation / Fra Angelico

After about four centuries of God’s stony silence, we meet a teenager named Mary, one of David’s direct descendants, in the insignificant village of Nazareth.Did she know she was descended from David?


The Jews kept careful genealogies. Did matter much to her? Probably not. David’s lineage had long been reduced to peasantry. Surely the family preserved memory of the promise to David, but it’s not like Mary was the only girl descended from David.

The life of a peasant was a hard life, and she had plenty of chores to occupy her time. Like Moses and David and other unlikely people God chose to call, Mary was probably hard at work, thinking mostly of the task at hand–or perhaps of her betrothed, Joseph–when the angel Gabriel startled her (Luke 1:26-38).

He announced that she would become pregnant and bear the king promised to David, while still a virgin. (There was too much sin in her family history for the Son of God to be born as a man in any other way.)

How like God.

He did not come into the world openly, as the son of someone the world considered important. He prepared an obscure peasant girl, descendant of a shepherd whose own family considered him insignificant, to be his human mother.

This Son, Jesus, continued the pattern. He grew up in a backwater district of a Roman province best known in Rome as a source of trouble. He began to preach in the surrounding villages, expecting people to figure out who he was from the way he spoke and acted. The leadership of his own people never caught on.

Jesus later called himself the door and declared that anyone who did not enter by the door was a thief and a robber. The door into the world as a real human being is through the womb. God wanted to sneak up on the devil and the world by becoming human legitimately, through the door.

From before he called the obscure Abram–in fact, from the time he warned the devil of his eventual defeat by the seed of the woman–God prepared Mary, in both her lineage and obscurity, to provide the necessary womb.

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