“How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Those words, famously sung in The Sound of Music, could have been the theme song of Glorious Films’ writers and artists as we tackled the difficult task of bringing to life the figure of Mary, the mother of Christ.
Portraying a person who is as well-known and beloved as Mary presents loads of challenges. First, we had to find the real Mary of history. To do that we had to get beyond the clichéd version of Mary from popular culture – you know, that super-spiritual saint with the angelic demeanor who lived above the problems and pains experienced by “real” people. So we dug into the Gospels. There, we found little attention given to the personal details of Mary’s life. When you come to the Gospels, you are dealing with a unique form of ancient historical biography that is not the same as modern biographies or historical novels that delve deep into the psyches of each character and describe every facet of their life in minute detail. The Gospels were designed to tell people essential information about the life and work of Jesus the Messiah — not details about his mother’s personality, age or appearance – or what dress she wore at Passover celebrations!
Piecing Together the Puzzle
Our team had to piece together the bits of information we did find in the Gospels about Mary in order to construct a sketch of her that was as accurate as possible. Scripture tells us that Mary was a righteous peasant girl from the obscure village of Nazareth. We know that she caught the eye of “a righteous man,” Joseph, a poor carpenter, and was pledged to be his wife. History tells us that Jewish brides of the period were often young by today’s standards — with some marrying as early as 13 years old –so Mary was very likely this side of 20 years old when she was engaged to Joseph.
Mary was clearly a person of great faith and devotion to God. When Gabriel told her she would bear the promised Messiah, she didn’t doubt that God could cause such a thing to happen, but she simply asked how she was going to have the baby — since she was a virgin and had kept herself pure before marriage. Compared to biblical figures like Zechariah, Sarah, and Hannah who doubted God when they were told they would have a miracle child (and were reproved by God for their lack of faith), Mary believed God immediately. Because of her faith, Gabriel was happy to tell her how it would happen – “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Mary also showed enormous humility as she accepted the task God had given her, saying, “Let it be as you have said. I am a servant of the Lord.” Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46ff) also showed a serious and careful devotion to the Word of God (listen to our version entitled “I Will Magnify” on the music page). In this song of spontaneous worship, Mary draws on deep theological themes and ancient prophecy to extol the grace and mercy of God for sending the Messiah to save His people. Clearly, Mary knew God and knew much of His Word by heart.
Faithful, not Flat
It was this kind of faith that served Mary well as she faced the questions – and scorn – of parents, family, and her community, who could hardly be blamed for doubting her story. The hardest thing of all was telling her fiancé Joseph, who must have been crushed when he learned that she was pregnant. Joseph doubted Mary, but God did for Mary what He does for all His servants – He provided for her needs. For Mary’s need, God sent Gabriel to Joseph to confirm her story in a dream. As for her parents, God through Gabriel gave Mary a message that her elderly cousin Elizabeth was miraculously pregnant – something that her parents did not yet know – and the Lord used this to validate her story and vindicate Mary to them.
The NT also portrays Mary as a normal person with all the attendant issues of human frailty and emotion. Stories such as the one found in John 2 where she seems to use her motherly authority to persuade Jesus to help a young couple in a tight spot at their wedding ceremony suggest that Mary was a formidable and confident figure who used her influence to help others. Luke 2:51 says she “treasured up” Jesus’ character in her heart. Mary also made mistakes. She misunderstood Jesus and even doubted His sanity at one point (Mark 3:21,31)! And, as Simeon prophesied, “a sword pierced her soul” at Jesus’ crucifixion
In the end, “the problem” of Mary was not as difficult to solve as it at first seemed it would be. When the Glorious Films team gathered all the facts about Mary, we found a portrait of a real person. We concluded there was no way she was the flat, boring, Victorian-esque prude we’ve seen portrayed in film and print. Mary was a real human being spiritually, physically and emotionally. She surely had a vibrant but humble personality to match her infectious faith. Hers was a big faith in an even bigger God that she knew personally. She was just the kind of person who God would assign to raise His Son. That’s the Mary we developed for The Promise: Birth of the Messiah. I think you’ll enjoy meeting her this Christmas.