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Oh, she might have been a young woman in her teen years, but she was not the modern phenomenon of a teenager. The phrase "Mary was only a teenager" is often exclaimed by those who want to emphasize the youthfulness of the mother of the Messiah. However, whenever it is uttered, not only does the speaker give information about the young age of Mary, but also a whole set of cultural assumptions about who they believe Mary was. And frankly, in my book, the traits which are implied in "teenager" are neither accurate nor altogether positive.
I know I sound like a broken record about this, but really, what leaps to your mind when you hear the word, "teenager"? This term is not a neutral description of someone's age; it carries a whole lot of cultural baggage. "Teenager" forces a set of characteristics onto young people that they don't deserve, but which they often feel obligated to live down to. For me the term produces images of sullen youth who do not have any patience with adults of their parent's generation and even less for those parents themselves. I see self-absorption and entitlement coupled with a weariness with the world that belies their youth. I see young people who would like to have a purpose but are denied any greater purpose other than going to school and getting into the right college.
I am not saying that all young people are like this. In fact, I know quite a few who are not. Which is why I am careful to use different terms for the two types of youth: "teenager" for the sullen, aimless ones and "young adult" for those who have taken responsibility for their own lives and who see themselves as having purpose and meaning on a greater scale.
But back to Mary. In looking at the Biblical record, we don't know much about her. We know she was old enough to be betrothed and was getting ready to be married. This would imply that not only was she old enough for this to happen, she was also capable enough. She most likely knew how to manage a household, how to provide food and clothing, how to care for children, and how to function in her society. Luke tells us that she found favor with God and that is why she was chosen to bear His son. This would imply that she was devout, a young woman who loved God to the best of her ability. To love God in this way gives a greater purpose to any life. This picture of a young woman is certainly not that of a modern teenager.
As you ponder Mary this Advent, don't fall into the trap of seeing her as she would be if she were living here in this time. See a competent young woman, in love with God, who was granted a unique gift of being used by God. Not a teenager.
I have a new article about family meals here. Visit and be amazed that I was able to squeeze into 400 words a topic on which I give hour-long presentations... before questions!