4 April 2016

Luke 1:26-38

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth ... 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.” (vv. 26, 38)

Psalm: Psalm 40


I can never read this passage without thinking of helicopters! I know that sounds strange but a hymn by Thomas Troeger (it didn't make it intoSinging the Faith, but I wish it had) begins, "Startled by a holy humming drumming in her heart and ear". I imagine the throb of rotor blades. Troeger continues, "Mary heard an angel coming, Gabriel was drawing near". I love the rhythm of the words. It catches my imagination. Angels and imagination seem to go together, as so many Victorian paintings can testify. But that leads us away from, rather than to, the core to this passage. At least Troeger gives us a different image, brings us up short. And this passage should startle.

To begin with angels, biblically, are simply messengers. Perhaps the idea of them coming from God, causes us to adorn them with wings. I figure that we are reading a story of something recounted much later, of Mary having been visited by someone - perhaps dreamt, in imagination, or actual - who spoke words she believed to be of God. That earths the story. We can read how it unfolds. It is not the angel that should startle but Mary's response - Charles Wesley echoes it, "Behold the servant of the Lord, I wait thy guiding eye to feel".

There are two responses to this.

Firstly, that of amazement, that a young girl should be willing to respond so absolutely, again as Wesley put it "mold as thou wilt thy passive clay" - this sense of total submission to God's will.

The second response is abhorrence. A colleague viewed that sense of passivity in a very negative light and I can see her point. This story, in a world where women are abused by men, where this reading has a woman becoming passive at male 'hands', for God is perceived as male, is at the least unhelpful. The story is more down to earth than we sometimes make it. It is also a product of its time. To understand it we need to take that into account.

To Ponder

  • How have you sensed God speaking to you?
  • Can you make sense of this passage in a way which would affirm someone who had been abused? How might this be?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Pratt

Andrew is a Methodist supernumerary presbyter, Honorary Research Fellow at Luther King House, Manchester, and author. He has written over 1,300 hymns.