A Provocation: Fourth Sunday of Advent: December 24, 2017: Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26-38
1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,

1:27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

1:29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

1:30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

1:31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

1:32 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.

1:33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

1:34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

1:35 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.

1:36 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.

1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”

1:38 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.

A Question or Two:

  • Why does Mary take this moment to give the angel a biology lesson?
  • Why does Mary choose to be part of God’s project?

Some Longer Reflections:

This is an angelophany.  All that means is that this is an angel-appearance story.

No kidding.

But there are rules that govern these things.  An angel doesn’t just show up.  They (apparently) have to play it by the book: the angel shows up, the person to whom the angel appears is afraid, the angel says, “Be not afraid.”  And then the angel delivers the message they were sent to deliver.

Read a bunch of angel-appearance stories.  You will see that they follow this pattern.

And that is what makes this scene in Luke so interesting.

Most of the elements are there: the appearance is typical, Gabriel gets his line right and says, “Be not afraid,” and he delivers his message successfully.  Most interpreters don’t notice that there is something missing.  But there is.  And I think it matters.

The storyteller never tells us that Mary is afraid.  Sure, the angel tells her not to be afraid, but we are NOT told that Mary was afraid.  When Gabriel appears to Zechariah earlier in the story, Zechariah is afraid.  The storyteller says so.

But the storyteller, this time, does not say that Mary is afraid.

Stop and think about that.

On cultural averages, Mary is likely to have been 12 or 13 years old.  Even in a world that required young people to grow up in a hurry she is still a young girl.  And she is not afraid, not even in the face of an angel who stands in the presence of God.

In fact, in the face of an angel, Mary “ponders.”  The word might be better translated as “debated,” or “dialogued.”  It is a verb that is used to reveal intellectual analysis.  And then, in the face of a biological impossibility (which angels might not exactly understand, after all, since they do not procreate), she asks a direct question without hesitating.  And the angel responds.

At the end of all of this, Mary chooses to act as the servant of the LORD and as the mother of the Messiah.  She does not submit, she chooses and she acts.  This matters.

It also matters that when she explains the situation to her auntie, Elizabeth, she goes well beyond what Gabriel has said to her in this brief conversation.  Mary chooses to be the mother of the Messiah on the grounds that this will result in the toppling of the proud and pointlessly powerful.  Mary acts so that the poor might be raised up.  She chooses to join the effort to turn the world right-side-up.

Jesus comes from a strong family.  He has a courageous mother.  This also matters. 

The world will not be turned right-side-up by submitting.  It will take real courage, durable commitment, and the kind of creative stubbornness that real accomplishment always requires.  The repairing of the world is, of course, a gift from God, but this gift requires the kind of strength Mary displays in this scene.  It requires persistence.  Mary persisted.

May we also persist.  


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