In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
It’s familiar, isn’t it? It makes me think of ‘Carols by Candlelight’ services. And the Christmas feeling does hover there…soft lights, warm carols…but of course there is no indication in the text of what the lighting was like! Maybe Mary was sweeping the floor. Or daydreaming. Or helping her mother with the washing. Who knows?
What we do know is the Gabriel was sent – by God, duly emphasised – to a virgin (made clear from the first).
Mary is highly favoured. Well she would have to be, wouldn’t she? She has found favour with God. She must have had qualities that were pleasing to her heavenly father. ‘The Lord is with you’ says the angel, which reminds me of other moments in other places, where those words are used as ultimate reassurance. It will be all right – because he is with you.
Mary raised her eyebrows and fiddled nervously with her skirt (perhaps). What on earth was this leading to? Interestingly the text says she was troubled at his words, but not petrified like Zechariah at his mere presence. It is because of her anxiety that angel tells Mary ‘Do not be afraid, Mary…’ Just as with Zechariah, he addresses her by name. Then he tells her what is going to happen to her. Wow! This is bigger than John the Baptist. This is something – someone- else. HE WILL REIGN. He will be king. He will be given the throne of David – heavy stuff for any Jew (or Jewess) to hear. David? Will Israel have a king, a true king, at last?
Mary doesn’t say ‘how will I know?’ like Zechariah. She asks, puzzled – ‘how can this BE?’ She obviously knows something of the facts of life. Babies have to come from somewhere. Which needs certain things to happen. But, no. It will be the Holy Spirit coming upon her, and the power of God overshadow her, and she will become pregnant, with no help from an earthly husband. And her son will be called Son of GOD.
Oh, and by the way, have you heard about Elizabeth? She’s had a miracle too.
FOR NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.
Mary accepts the angel’s words. She does not doubt. She offers herself willingly for the task.
‘I am the Lord’s servant – may it be to me as you have said’.
She does not argue or doubt. There is a strong contrast between her reaction and that of Zechariah. Her attitude is different. This teenage girl does better that an aging, experienced priest.
She must have realised it wouldn’t be easy. That instead of disgrace being taken away, as it was for Elizabeth, she would become the subject of gossip and rumour. But what the angel has said to her has eclipsed her doubts and worries. She accepts. What else can she do?
Her son will be king. And he will be called Jesus.
Meaning ‘The LORD saves’.
And that is no coincidence.