25 March 2015

Luke 1:26-38

“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.’” (vv. 30-32)

Psalm: Psalm 40


The flow of the texts this week towards the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is, it seems, interrupted by the visit of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. He announces that she will conceive and bear a son. Is it really an interruption? Is it simply the practical noting of the day nine months in advance of Christmas? Perhaps we could think of the annunciation as a disruptive moment that points us to prior events at the beginning of the story now nearing its conclusion. We are reminded that there would be no passion week, no Holy Week, no Good Friday, nor any celebration of the resurrection were it not for this moment when Mary offers herself to be the mother of the Son of God.

There are several points in the text that one might pick up for further reflection. The text describes Mary with the Greek word 'parthenos', which means an unmarried girl. The implication of the term is that she is a virgin; she is not only unmarried, but has also not been with a man. The Old Testament reference here to Isaiah 7:14 would be obvious to those who knew the prophetic texts of the Jewish tradition. Thus, Mary's acceptance of her divine call to bear the Son of God is a fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy that a young woman will conceive and bear a son. The implication is that God has chosen Mary, whose name means 'exalted one', for this role. To be Jesus' mother is her vocation - her divine calling. Although her calling is difficult to understand or accept, she will be blessed for doing so. In any instance, Mary is not incidental to the narrative of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

Luke, like Matthew, goes to some lengths to connect the child to the line of David through Joseph, the man to whom Mary is engaged. Although some of the early Church commentators, such as Origen of Alexandria, attempted to argue that Mary herself was a descendent of David, this isn't really indicated in the text. Instead, Luke sees standing in the line of David in legal terms. Jesus will be born into Joseph's household; therefore, he is of the household of David and receives all of the legal rights of inheritance that an "adopted" child would receive.

Although the name Jesus (Yeshua) was quite common in the first century, the text makes the point that the child Mary bears will be different. He will be called "holy" and "the Son of God" (v. 35). The sense here is not that he will become holy or that he will at some point in his life become the Son of God. Instead, the implication is that the Holy Spirit uniquely dwells in him. He comes into the world through the action of the Holy Spirit in order to be the Saviour.

To Ponder

  • How do you view the roles of Mary and Joseph in the life of Jesus?
  • How does the story of the annunciation affect you when you read it so close to Holy Week and the events of Jesus' death?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Cindy Wesley

Cindy Wesley is the director of studies at Wesley House in Cambridge. She is responsible for the life of the chapel and for advising students about their courses and modules.