You are the most blessed of all women.
Luke 1:42 GNB
Women didn’t occupy a very powerful place in first century Palestine, it’s fair to say. They were expected to marry early, and from then on they belonged to their husband. Married women wore a veil and were not permitted to talk to men in the street. Their life would revolve around housekeeping and caring for children. They weren’t educated, and didn’t hold positions of authority or take part in public life.
If a woman’s place was in the home with her husband, you can imagine how people viewed single mothers. There was just no place for them in society, no way to shape an independent identity. They became a burden on the wider family, and both mother and child would be shunned in polite company.
So when the angel appears to Mary and says that she’s going to have a child before she’s married, it’s something of a disaster. That’s her life and reputation down the drain, along with any chance of happiness. He’s basically telling her that she can look forward to a life of public disgrace. And the angel has the nerve to say that Mary is ‘the most blessed of all women’?
It’s the first of many such reversals in the Christmas story, and it highlights the differences between the way that we see things, and the way that God sees them. This is how God chooses to enter our world. God sees Mary’s worth, and it’s got nothing to do with whether she is married or not. Whatever the culture might think, God considers Mary to be a person in her own right. She is seen. She is valued. She is chosen.
Whatever the traditions of the time might have been, whatever gender equality might be like where you are today, the Christmas story tells us that there’s no hierarchy of male and female as far as God is concerned. Women are central to God’s presence and purpose in the world.