The gospel lesson we are about to read is so important to our faith that it appears in the cycle of readings every year for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. The story of Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel has captured the imagination of artists and theologians for centuries. It’s an amazing story. It’s a story filled with mystery. You have heard it already, in the annunciation hymn of this morning’s offertory, “To A Maid Engaged to Joseph.” Hear it now, as given to us in the gospel of Luke, chapter one, beginning at the 26th verse:
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 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. 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 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. – Luke 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel doesn’t show up much in the Bible. We see Gabriel here in the first chapter of Luke, appearing first to Zechariah, who will become the father of John the Baptist, and then to Mary. Other than these two encounters, the only mention of Gabriel is when the angel appears to Daniel in a vision (Daniel 8:15-16, 9:21). This is an angel whose rare appearances always carry important news from God. So when Gabriel shows up, it’s a pretty good idea to pay attention. Gabriel is no little cherub with rosy cheeks and a sweet smile. This angel means business. Continue reading
“Hey, Mary! God thinks you’re great. God is with you.”
(What on earth …?)
“Stop being afraid. You are going to become the mother of the Son of God.”
“Okay, how are you going to do this?”
Mary didn’t blink an eye. She trusted that everything the angel had said was true. She just wondered how it was going to happen. What’s the protocol for virgin birth? How does infinite God become a finite human?
“Okay, tell me what to expect,” was all Mary wanted to know.
“How exactly is this going to work?”
“Look, your relative Elizabeth is also pregnant. She’s well beyond child-bearing years. If God can do that, God can do anything. Nothing is impossible with God.”
“Got it,” said Mary. “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”
The first sermon Jesus preached, according to Luke’s gospel (Luke 4:16-30), was in his hometown of Nazareth. It was one of those “hometown kid makes good” stories. You know the kind. Promising young man heads off to college and comes back a multi-millionaire because he invented something called Facebook while he was in school. Or, kid goes off to study engineering and a routine homework assignment becomes a cottage industry to employ homeless people in the manufacture of pop up shelters. That cute girl with the dimples and long hair who played second violin in your high school string quartet becomes chair of the FDIC. It’s that sort of thing.
So here’s Jesus, who has built a modest reputation so far as a healer and worker of miracles, come home to visit the family. And, as was his custom on the Sabbath day, he goes to the synagogue to worship. The local religious leaders approach him the minute he comes through the door. Would he be willing to read from a book of the Prophets, and perhaps share some insight into those words with the people?
Sure, he shrugs. And they bring him a large scroll, which he carefully places on the reading desk. Continue reading
Imagine you are in Palestine. War is everywhere. You are surrounded by violence. The military leader who just got promoted to imperial dictator happens to be the same general who was responsible for destroying your village last year. Friends and family have scattered, and you aren’t sure what you should do next. Someone bumps into you on the street, and presses a pamphlet into your hands. For a moment, your eyes meet, and you are struck by two things: first, the intensity of this stranger’s gaze, and second, by the fact this intensity does not seem to be rooted in anger or fear, but … joy. You glance at the pamphlet in your hand, and read the title: “Good News.” You could use some good news. Is the war over? Has the dictator been overthrown? You find a safe place to open the pages, and you begin to read…
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Continue reading