The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a virgin named Mary. Luke 1:26-38
Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been honored by the church for so long, with layers and layers of titles and honors that sometimes we forget what she was really like when she lived here on this earth.
Her Jewish name was Miriam, named after the sister of Moses. She spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent, a few words in Latin, the language of the occupying Roman soldiers, a few words in Greek, the language of business and the educated classes and Hebrew, the language used in the synagogue.
She belonged to the peasant class who squeezed out a living from farming or small trades like carpentry. Mary would have been among the poorest of the poor. Life was grinding enough as it was, but they had to pay taxes to Rome, Herod and the Temple, their version of federal, state and local taxes.
Mary probably lived in a two-room house in a family compound shared by cousins, uncles, aunts and parents. Mary would have worked, on average, ten hours a day carrying water, gathering wood, cooking, washing dishes and doing laundry.
Mary was probably about 13 when she got married. They did this for two reasons: to protect her virginity and to have as many babies as possible. Having lots of children was something people were very proud of. Having children was thought of as a blessing from God. Not to have children was a disgrace.
Her marriage would have been nothing like our American marriages. Mary and Joseph would have been engaged while they were children.
Their marriage would have been arranged by their parents, often with the help of a professional match-maker, maybe without Mary and Joseph ever having met each other.
Mary and Joseph would have been betrothed and their betrothal would last for a year. It was during this period that Mary got pregnant. Joseph, knowing that he was not the father, decided to divorce her quietly.
If he had gone public, Mary would have been stoned to death for adultery. Joseph, because of a dream, decided to go ahead and take the final step of marrying her.
Mary was a tough peasant woman, capable of giving birth in a stable, walking to Jerusalem once or twice a year, sleeping in the open country and doing long hours of hard work. She was nothing like most holy cards. She had dark skin, dark eyes and dark hair. She, most probably, could not read or write.
Mary was probably nearly 50 years old when Jesus was crucified, well beyond the age when most women of her time died. In Scripture, she was there at Pentecost, but then disappears.
What is so amazing about Mary is the fact that God chose someone so ordinary to be the mother of the Savior. What was most extraordinary about her was her amazing openness to whatever God wanted from her.
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