Summary: Mary was asked to something incredible. She was highly favored by God . . but so are we.
©Copyright November 29, 2009 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
My maternal Grandmother lived with us for the last years of her life. As often happens with us as we get older, she frequently told the same story to us again and again. I’m ashamed to say that it used to really annoy me. Then one day my counseling professor suggested to me that people often recount the same story but they are doing so for a different reason . . . which means the story actually is making a different point. Sometimes a person may be sharing information, sometimes they might be trying to demonstrate their significance, and at other times they might be trying to illustrate a point from their life experience. He challenged me to look beyond the words and consider the reason she was sharing that particular memory. It was good advice.
We face a similar challenge when reading in the early chapters of the Gospel of Luke. For some, this may be new material. If that is the case, you will be blessed by the account of the birth of our Lord. It is a fascinating and even astounding story. However, for the rest of us, the challenge is great because the passage is so familiar we have a tendency to tune it out like the repeated story of our Grandparents. We may find it comforting because of tradition. However, we often overlook the divine and life-changing nature of these words. I encourage you to listen not simply to the words, but to the message behind those words.
Luke actually begins his gospel telling us the story of the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist. John was a relative of the Lord Jesus (we know this because Mary is told that her relative Elizabeth (John‘s mom) was pregnant also. Following the story of the announcements of John’s birth we read these words.
26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David
There is something startling about these words that most of us won’t see. The angel came to Nazareth, a town in Galilee. Nazareth was around 15 miles from the Sea of Galilee and was surrounded on three sides by mountains. There is discrepancy among the scholars as to how large a town it was. One source said 1500-2000 (not much bigger than LaHarpe) another said 10,000-15,000 (around the size a Macomb). Regardless, Nazareth was considered to be insignificant. Yet it was to this place the angel Gabriel came to call.
The Bible only identifies two angels in the Bible. One is Michael the archangel and the other is Gabriel. Gabriel was perhaps second in authority to Michael and may have also been considered an archangel. It was Gabriel that appeared to Daniel, to Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, and now to Mary. The angel that appeared to Joseph (in the gospel of Matthew) is not identified by name.
Try to imagine if you were Gabriel. Angels are not all-knowing. They are servants of the Lord. Can you imagine the surprise in Heaven when Gabriel was sent to announce to Elizabeth (who had already gone through menopause) that she was going to bear a son who would be named John. I wonder if the angels wondered what the Almighty was doing.
Gabriel appeared to her Elizabeth’s husband, Zachariah, and he scoffed at the idea that his wife would be pregnant. As a result, he was unable to talk until after the baby was born and given the name “John”.
Gabriel may have thought it to be one of the oddest assignments he had been given. . . . until now. Now Gabriel was being sent to tell a teenager that she was going to have a child unaided by the seed of man. This child would be God in a body! If there was an angelic news network this would have been the lead story from this day on through the pregnancy and through the life, death and resurrection of Christ! This is how significant an event was taking place.
The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
The virgin’s name was Mary who was likely somewhere around 13-15 years old which was the usual time that a woman would become engaged to a man. Mary probably looked forward to a somewhat unremarkable life (like most of us). She was not wealthy and was not marrying into money. She looked forward to giving birth to and raising a number of children. She probably would have never traveled far from her home and would be quite content in her small town life.