A reflection on Luke 1:26-45 for November 29, 2020 at Mosaic Baptist Church
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
Luke 1:26-45 (NRSVA)
Gabriel’s visit is vital.
Mary’s coming pregnancy is, to say the least, unexpected. She does not have a husband. A growing child in her womb Looks impossible – and difficult to explain.
Perhaps this is why the archangel opens with a greeting that assures Mary of God’s ‘favour’ and presence. The message about to be delivered is likely to cause this teenager concern. It is, however, a blessing.
Luke tells us Mary is somewhat ‘perplexed’ by it all and immediately begins to ruminate over the significance heaven’s visit. It reads – along with much of this story – like an insight only Mary herself could have given.
‘Do not be afraid’ seems timely.
Admirably, Mary listens. The promise is extraordinary: ‘…you have found favour with God…you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’
Mary, however, asks only one question: ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’
Gabriel’s answer is full and deliberately faith-inspiring. God has a plan. God recently achieved something similar in Elizabeth. The argument climaxes with the angel’s final, memorable words: ‘For nothing will be impossible with God.’
Gabriel should know!
These words, however, do not seem to be the pinnacle of our text. That title rightly belongs to this teenage girl. Mary responds with a faith decades beyond both her experience and years: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’
She cannot possibly know what she is saying.
But she does know who she says it to. Gabriel is just a messenger. Mary is knowingly giving herself to the ‘Lord’.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is, I suspect, as vital as the angel’s. To be fair it is secondary and functions in Luke’s account as a sought out confirmation of the angel’s message. Make no mistake, Mary makes this visit at Gabriel’s prompting.
After all, it is a needed step in establishing and strengthening Mary. The angel revealed echoes of what is happening in Elizabeth consolidate the rest of the heavenly message. Elizabeth’s acceptance of Mary – and her unborn child’s spontaneous response to the presence – not of Jesus – but of Mary – must have significantly bolstered her faith.
I guess there are times even the words of heaven need to be confirmed by the community God puts around us.
Throughout this text the word ‘hope’ is never used. Our story, however, is saturated in it!
Hope, throughout the Bible expresses a confidence in the promises of YHWH. Here hope is not merely a vague wish or desire. It is, rather, a moving forward in confidence. Our word confidence comes from the Latin con fide. It is literally translated ‘with faith’.
Hope is the expression of faith in God.
Mary’s faith – and her resulting hope – is rightly celebrated. A young girl from a nowhere town. Not even married. Yet Gabriel is standing before her with a message from the very mouth of God.
And Mary believes. Indeed, she believes so completely that she hopefully moves into a future she has only begun to imagine.
Perhaps it is Elizabeth’s words that are confirmed in Mary’s initial steps of faith and hope: ‘...blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
What makes you truly engage with heaven and earth in a hopeful way?
Have you ever experienced a moment when the voice of heaven – and the voices of earth – point in the same direction? Did this inspire hope in you?
Gabriel’s description of God’s call to Mary does not include every detail of what will come. What do you think is missing? Do you think the angel’s words would be enough to inspire hope in you?