Summary: How did Mary know she was encountering an angel. How do we know if we have an angelic encounter?
In the spring of 1982 Kenneth Nordvall was the speaker at a Morning Prayer group that meets in a town near Springfield Illinois. Before he spoke, a neighboring pastor shared about a recent mission trip to Mexico. While his group was returning, their van developed mechanical problems. After jacking up the van, the pastor crawled underneath to check out the problem. You can know it wasn’t your pastor. I know nothing of the underneath side of a vehicle. Any way, back to the story, the jack collapsed, and he suddenly felt the crushing weight of the van on his chest. His companions quickly grabbed the bumper to lift the van in an effort to free the pastor. They weren’t able to budge the vehicle. He cried out, “Jesus! Jesus!” Within a few seconds a youthful-looking Mexican came by. As he reached the van, he grabbed it, and lifted it. The others, joined in and it lifted like a feather. As he was freed, the pastor quickly crawled from under the van. The visitor then lowered the van, waved to them, and ran in the direction from which he had come, then at the horizon, disappeared. No one in that party knew the mysterious visitor, where he had come from, or where he had gone.
Who was that young man? Obviously, if those who were there can’t answer the question neither can we. Was he an angel, a heavenly being? That might be the case, or it might be that he was an angel, but not a heavenly being. He might have been the kind of angel we are talking about when we say things like “You are an angel” or “She has the voice of an angel” or any other clichés that seem to follow that line of thinking.
If we were to follow the question, “was the young man an angel?” to its next question then we would have to ask, “What is an angel?” or “What does an angel look like?”
Hollywood has given us its opinion of how an angel might look. There is the one look in the movie from a few years ago titled Michael. The old CBS show Touched by an Angel gives us another look.
The Bible has still other ideas. In Judges 13 we can read a passage that indicates that there could be difficulty in knowing when we see an angel. This passage is the story of the birth of Samson. In the story an angel appears to Samson’s mother and tells her that she is to have a child and gives her some specific instructions. Then, in verse six, as she is recounting the story to her husband she calls the angel “A man of God.”
In Hebrews 13 we see a similar angle, as it is equally unclear. The writer instructs us to take care of strangers for in doing so, “Some have entertained angels unaware.
While there are these two passages and others that seem to make angels look like normal everyday human beings like you and me, there are also other passages that refer to angels as large creatures dressed in white with misty halos. In Revelation we can read passages where the beings can best be described as heavenly warriors.
That makes me want to ask the question, “How did Mary know that this being she was facing was an angel?” When I think about how could people know, “I can’t help but be amused by Touched by an Angel. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful show that I always enjoyed watching. But I found it amusing because almost all of the show would pass and then Tess and Monica and all their heavenly companions would look just like any ordinary everyday human, like any of us. Then, at the most dramatic moment they would reveal themselves as heavenly messengers and would become clothed in bright white light. Was that what Mary saw? While I would doubt it, it is possible. Scripture does say that God did do something like that on the Mountain of Transfiguration. The truth is, we don’t know how, but Mary knew that she had encountered an angel.
Because she knew, now Mary knew that she had a problem. The angel told her that she was pregnant with God’s baby. Who would believe such a crazy story? If she went and told her parents would they believe her? If she told Joseph would he believe her? It was a real concern. If you were Joseph or Mary’s parents, would you believe her?
Mary probably knew that no one would believe her. In fact, it been that Mary was starting to question herself by this point.
Still, one might ask, why would this be such a problem? Mary’s life was in very real danger. If she were labeled an adulteress she could be stoned. She knew that. It is safe to assume that this young girl was confused and scared. She didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Yet she submitted to the will of God.