21 December 2012Luke 1:26-38
"[The angel] came to her and said, 'Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.'" (v.28)
Another day, another angelic visitation. Luke's Gospel takes us away from the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth (verses 5-25) to a town in Galilee and a young woman who is engaged to be married. The circumstances of the visitation are different from that to Zechariah, but many of the details are similar. The same angel (Gabriel) is the messenger. Gabriel greets by name his addressee and tells them not to be afraid. The news is that a child is to be conceived. The child, who is destined for greatness, is given a name. There appear to be good reasons why this pregnancy might not happen (at least not immediately in Mary's case) and Gabriel is questioned. Gabriel responds with an assurance of his authority.
Unlike Zechariah, Mary is not left speechless and is able to articulate her assent to this surprising news. There are other significant differences between the two stories. It is clear that John is the lesser figure. Jesus is to be called "Son of the Most High" (v. 32), is to ascend to the throne of David, and is to enjoy an unending reign (v. 33). These ideas are reminiscent of psalms 72 and 132 which exalt the Davidic ruler. Luke's Gospel does not need to spell out that this means that Jesus is the Messiah. We have already been told that the man to whom Mary is engaged is a descendant of David (verse 27).
It is not Davidic descent but Jesus' extraordinary conception that will fit him for this role. Mary will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Throughout this passage, the emphasis is on the divine action. Mary is greeted as "favoured one"; the root of the Greek word is 'charis' which is often translated as 'grace' (hence, 'Hail Mary, full of grace'). Mary is told that she has found favour ('charis') with God. So any questions that Mary might have are subsumed into the declaration that all this is divine initiative. 'Nothing will be impossible with God' (verse 37).
- Presumably, Mary and Joseph would have expected to be parents in due course. How do you respond if God's timescale for your life turns out to be different from yours?
- Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are clear that Jesus' birth was miraculous. How important is the idea of the virginal conception to your faith?