The Story in the Bible
Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Having come in, the angel said to her, “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.”
But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And look, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’ He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his kingdom.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?”
The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born will be called the Son of God.
And look, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible."
And Mary said, “See, the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word.” The angel departed from her.
The History behind an Angel visiting Mary in the Christmas Story
Mary was probably about 14 to 16 years of age when she gave birth to Jesus. This was a very common age for young women to be engaged and marry in biblical times. So the son of God was the son of a teenage mother. Joseph was probably slightly older, around 30.
Joseph and Mary were a very average couple in Israel at that time. They would have probably been quite poor. Joseph was a carpenter and this job was seen by some religious leaders as a religious duty rather than a profession. Both Joseph and Mary were descendants of King David of Israel, but at this time his family was in the poorest state it had ever been. Mary was also related to the traditional Priest families of Israel through her cousin Elizabeth.
Nazareth, the town where they both lived, was a small hill town on a caravan route through the country. It also had a center for the temple priests, in which they could come and pray and fast when they were not on duty at the temple. So a wide range of people would travel and visit a town like Nazareth.
Under Jewish law, an engagement like Joseph and Mary's was treated almost like a marriage and could only be broken by an official divorce.
The angel Gabriel, who visited Mary, is God's chief messenger angel and only appears to very important people in the Bible. The first words that Gabriel spoke to Mary 'Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.' are very important words. 'Highly favoured' means 'God's holy grace is upon you' and is a divine blessing from God - something that would have never normally been said to a peasant girl like Mary! She would have been very scared by this and that is why Gabriel said 'Do not be afraid'.
If you'd like to know more about Gabriel, go to the section on whychristmas?com's sister site whyangels?com about Gabriel.
The name Jesus (or Jeshua as it would have been said then) was a very common name in Israel at that time. If you had gone down a normal street and called 'JESHUA' to some children playing, it is more than likely that a couple of them would be called Jeshua! The name Jesus means 'Saviour' and has a very important meaning in the story.
Mary would have been very surprised with the Gabriel saying that the Holy Spirit would be in her, because in the old Jewish stories, only very important people had the Holy Spirit come into them. She might not have even believed that it is was going to happen, so she went to see her cousin Elizabeth, who Gabriel said would have a baby, to see if it was really true. She did this even before she told Joseph about Gabriel and Jesus.