May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.
What are we supposed to think about this passage from the Gospel of Luke? What are we to get out of the story?
Only on the 4th Sunday of Advent do the readings refer to the story of Jesus’ birth as an arrival of God with us.
The Gospel of Luke was probably written between 80 and 90 CE for a Gentile audience. The Gospel proclaims God’s forgiveness and salvation made available to the whole world through the Jewish Jesus.
Tradition tells us that it was written by a man named Luke who was an associate of Paul. But in the author’s introduction he says he is a third generation believer who has researched the story of Jesus.
The infancy narratives we read in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were probably developed decades after Jesus’ death to give a fuller understanding of his person and ministry.
Our story this morning is more like the Greco Roman stories than an Old Testament reading. The Greco Romans were very familiar with tales of extraordinary births. But Luke does give us echos of the Hebrew scriptures.
When the angel Gabriel greets Mary with “the Lord is with you” this repeats Boaz’s greeting to his reapers and reminds us that Mary is tied to the story of Ruth and the line of David.
The name Jesus means “the Lord serves”.
When Gabriel tells Mary that the Spirit will “overshadow” her it is a nod to the divine cloud hovering over the temple.
And the child being called “holy” means that he will be set apart.
So what do we do with Luke’s story of the annunciation? What do we do with this story of the visit of the angel Gabriel to a young woman named Mary? Angels are divine messengers, extensions of the power and mercy of God.
Often the focus of this story has been on the virgin part. Mary says - how can this be - I am a virgin. The angel replies that nothing is impossible with God. It is important to remember that the author of Luke had no idea how sperm and eggs function! Luke is making a theological statement told in narrative form. Luke’s point is that Jesus comes from God.
After Mary’s first comment about being a virgin - or young maiden Luke does not mention anything more about her potential celibacy. In fact once we have Mary’s acceptance the birth is almost anti climatic. Luke merely says that the baby was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes and put in a manger because there was no room in the inn. The birth is as ordinary as can be.
So perhaps the most important part of this story is Mary’s belief in what the angel tells her and then in her quick acceptance.
“Here I am a servant of the Lord…”
Do you think you could or would respond so quickly and with such humility?
Luke’s point must be that we are to be like Mary and follow her example of living lives of obedient service to God.
This is a big expectation. In fact it seems overwhelming and perhaps outside of our abilities. But take heart when we hear the words of the angel Gabriel again - nothing is impossible with God.
Can we be like Mary and embrace wherever God is leading us - to whatever comes next?