“Your going to have a baby!”
The angel Gabriel gave Mary a sign by which she could verify the outlandish claim. He told her that her aged relative Elizabeth “who was called barren” had also miraculously conceived and was already entering the last trimester. He alluded to Genesis 18:14, where the LORD explained how Sarah will conceive a son in her old age: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:13-14)
What’s the point of the virgin conception and birth? In the Bible, the story of a miraculous conception signals the divine destiny of the child. Take a look at the story. Gabriel compares the miracle of the virgin conception with the miracle of Elizabeth conceiving a son. The two miraculous conceptions balance one another. Barren and well-beyond the years of childbearing, Elizabeth conceived only through miraculous intervention. Mary, on the other hand, was young, virgin, and fertile, the very opposite of Elizabeth. In her case the miracle rested in the complete absence of sexual genesis. The two miraculous conceptions indicated the divine call on the two children. Their conceptions and births were not happenstance; they resulted only from direct and divine intervention.
Children born of such miraculous circumstances can only be supernaturally ordained from birth. John’s conception can be compared to other similar biblical stories, but the conception of Jesus, free of conventional agency, was the greater miracle—a direct sign from heaven. The significance was that the conception of Jesus surpassed the ordinary, biblical motif of barren-woman stories. The miracle of Messiah’s conception had to surpass that of other miraculous conceptions. What could be more amazing than an infertile elderly woman conceiving a child? How about a virgin?
Mary left Nazareth and traveled for three or four days to reach Ein Karem in the hill country of Judea where her relative Elizabeth lived. She did not tell Joseph, or anyone else for that matter, about the appearance of the angel and the strange message from heaven. Who would believe her? Instead, she set out alone to verify the matter herself.
As Mary entered the home, she called out the greeting, “Shalom.” One look at elderly Elizabeth, who was now in her sixth month, confirmed the angelic message. At that moment, Mary realized that the message from the angel was true. She realized that she carried within her the promised Messiah. At the same moment, the unborn forerunner of the Messiah leapt for joy within Elizabeth’s womb.