By Stephen Leonard
“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.’ “ Luke 1:46-50
Numerous preachers are giving many Christmas sermons again this Advent Season. Invariably, nearly all of them speak of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a very young teenager. In fact, only in her first teenage year: 13. How do they know this?
Simply by averages from what they believe they know of the culture then. They have chosen the youngest age in a middle eastern culture of that time in which young girls were directed into marriage. Or so the culture-historians tell us.
They assume Mary’s and Joseph’s families are “average” in this culture, without any specific knowledge of who or what they truly were. No one knows anything about Joseph’s or Mary’s parents or families. Were they average or devout and deeply committed to the God they worshipped and adored? Did this change their approach to marriage in any unusual manner?
“Average” does not cover everyone, only most. There are always some exceptions to “average.” Were Joseph and Mary from “average” families, and were they themselves “average” individuals? One of the facts we know of them is that both Mary and Joseph were obviously spiritually committed individuals. And they were not suddenly so. The Scriptures describe them as such, which most likely means they were probably reared by devout, spiritually mature parents.
You can see this, as well, in the way Joseph and Mary respond to God’s messengers: the announcing angels. You can see it in the integrity and moral standards observed in both Joseph, a godly man, and Mary, a Godly woman.
The magnificent content of the song of Mary and her response to God’s startling message to her through Gabriel and the Holy Spirit speaks of a spiritually mature soul conversant with the Scriptures. Not the norm of a typical young teenager of any culture.
She was inspired by the Holy Spirit, true, but the normal way in which the Spirit of God works is with someone whose mind and soul have been receptive to the truth of God prior to His direct inspirations. Mary’s capability to deeply ponder important matters speaks of a person with more wisdom and habitual devotion than the young age of 13 usually affords. Though such an assumption is not necessarily absolute, it is more circumspect.
Joseph disappears from the earth before Jesus’ public ministry begins, for he is never mentioned at all by the Gospel writers after the time Jesus was 12. Of course, there were 18 more years of Bible silence after Jesus’ time in the temple among “the teachers.” Yet from the time Jesus is about 30, nothing is heard again of Joseph, only of Mary and Jesus’ half-siblings from Mary’s union with Joseph.
Was Joseph then older already when he married Mary? Did he suffer an accident or a fatal disease? Or die because he was older? Was he truly only about 18 when he married, or, more likely, was Joseph older when marrying Mary.
Was Mary more interested in seeking God at the age of 13 than she was in marriage? And were her parents more committed to honoring those admirable wishes? Was she more concerned with spiritual growth and the seeking of her soul after God? Did her parents, knowing this about her, not seek to push her into marriage at the earliest age? All of this is conjecture, of course, but conjecture more attuned to who Mary was than the other, without real evidence of Mary other than what is based on “averages.”
Too many facts mitigate against Mary being but 13 and Joseph 18. I instead think Mary was at least 18 herself, maybe even 20, and Joseph, very possibly 28 or 30. They were indeed not the “average” of their culture. We know this from the type of individuals we observe them to be as they respond to life and to God.
The conjectures of those who find Joseph and Mary as typically average folk of their culture does not seem to fit these two. They are anything but ordinary. They knew and loved God. And they obeyed the God they knew. Their response was one of fear, reverence, and humility to Him
and His messengers. There was nothing common about them.
Mary and Joseph were more prepared to rear the Son of God than the average individual. Jesus was not relegated to average hands. His mother was as unusual and godly a new parent as was Joseph.
The conjectures of the “experts” seem to fit neither one, but instead, these “experts” should have relied on the few but pertinent things of Scripture that describe who these two most likely were. God chose them specifically to parent His only Son, midst the dangers of the earth and Satan. This is truly worth your thought.
“To Beth-l’hem straight the happy shepherds ran, to see the wonder God had wrought for man; and found Joseph and the blessed maid, her son, the Savior, in a manger laid; amazed, the wondrous story they proclaim, the earliest heralds of the Savior’s name.”
(4th verse of John Byrom’s hymn, “Christians, Awake, Salute the Happy Morn,” 1749)