18 December 2011

Luke 1:26-38

"Then Mary said, 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.'" (v. 38a)


For many of us, it is hard to read these words without having them filtered by childhood and more recent memories of nativity plays with angels hovering beneath wobbly tinsel halos. Here, at the beginning of Luke's account of the story of Jesus, he provides a unique account not present in the other Gospels, of an appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary, telling her that she will become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God.

Mary, understandably, is "much perplexed" (v. 29) by the angel's arrival and questions the very possibility of the events that the angel has foretold (verse 34). The angel justifies what seems improbable by giving Mary new information that her childless and elderly relative Elizabeth is already six months pregnant (verse 36). Gabriel has already been busy with Zechariah and Elizabeth in the passage preceding this one (Luke 1:5-25). "For nothing will be impossible with God," the angel assures Mary (v. 37).

Amidst this great drama, with angelic special effects, Mary's response is striking in its simplicity: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word". Though probably no older than a young teenager, Mary has quickly come to terms with Gabriel's message, following her initial confusion and questioning. More than that, she shows remarkable courage, faith and obedience. She takes the step of trusting what Gabriel tells her, and is immediately resolute in being ready to play her part in this divine plan. Whatever follows - and as readers we know much that is painful to this mother will follow - Mary is ready to live out the role God has given her. Take a look at her great speech later in the chapter (verses 46-55), which has become known as the 'Magnificat', to get a still clearer sense of Mary's clarity of vision.

To Ponder

How might you have responded to an angel delivering a similar shock to you?

When have you witnessed examples of trust and faithful action, such as Mary shows here? What happened?

Have you ever seen a nativity play where Mary is portrayed as a person of real courage and faith, as this passage suggests? If so, what was it like and what effect did it have on you? If not, how might a nativity play present Mary as having real courage and faith?

Bible notes author

David Clough

David Clough is Professor of Theological Ethics in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Chester. He is a Methodist local preacher, a member of the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment and the Faith and Order Network and drafted recent reports on peacemaking and climate change on behalf of the Methodist Church.