3rd April 2016
Luke chapter 1 verses 26 – 38
Maggie Cogan – Reader
Tomorrow is the date in our Lectionary of the annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary
This evening as we do at all Evensongs, we have sung the Magnificat. The beautiful words that Mary said to her cousin Elizabeth – “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”
There are many viewpoints from which we could study the story of the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth. For example, we could examine what it tells us about Jesus: that he will be the Messiah, the heir of David’s ancient throne, that he is of both divine and human origin, and is both figuratively and literally God’s Son. But I’d like to examine it as a lesson in discipleship, as a window into Mary’s soul. She was Jesus’ first disciple, if you think about it. What motivates her response to God? What is our response as disciples when God asks something difficult of us?
The passage tells us four things about Mary: The facts of Mary’s life, the fear in Mary’s heart, the wonder in Mary’s mind, and the submission in Mary’s spirit.
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.
The Angel’s announcement takes place six months after Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist. Mary lived in the village of Nazareth, in the hilly area southwest of the Sea of Galilee. We’re also told that Mary was a virgin, betrothed but not yet married. This gives us some clues about her age, since we know from contemporary sources that young women often were betrothed for a full year before the actual marriage ceremony took place, and that she was probably a very young teenager.
Her husband-to-be is Joseph, who is a descendant of Israel’s greatest king, David. Mary’s ancestry is more complex. We know that Mary’s relative Elizabeth was a descendant of the original high priest, Aaron, of the tribe of Levi. But Mary also may be a descendant herself of David of the tribe of Judah on her father’s side, and Luke’s genealogy may actually trace Mary’s lineage, though this is disputed. What fascinates me, however, is Mary’s interior life.
“Mary was greatly troubled at the angel’s words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.’
As a teenager, Mary is quite taken aback by the Angel Gabriel’s words: “Greetings, you have found favour! The Lord is with you.” Luke says that Mary was greatly troubled.
Was Mary afraid? Whenever we meet something new and strange, we get confused and sometimes frightened. But while this alarm system that Mary felt is normal and healthy, there is a dangerous — and sinful — kind of fear that can grip and control us. People often live in fear of death, fear of sickness – fear that we won’t be able to pay our bills. When fear lives in us, as opposed to being a momentary reaction to something new, we become warped. We respond to situations out of fear rather than out of faith and make pretty poor disciples. We must resist entrenched fear for it is the breeding ground for unbelief; it must not control us. When we study our passage, we see that Mary accepted the angel’s “Fear not” at face value.
“And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.’
‘How can this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’
Gabriel explains that Mary will become pregnant and give birth to Jesus, the Messiah. Consider her question: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary’s words in Greek don’t use the word for “virgin” parthenos, but translated literally are: “… seeing I know (ginosko) not a man”. What does she mean? This couldn’t happen because I’m not intimate with a man; or how will God accomplish this, since the normal means of pregnancy isn’t available? What the Angel announced was a supernatural miracle. The response can be either miracles just don’t happen, so prove it to me, the response of unbelief, or wow! That’s amazing! How will it happen- the response of wonder and faith
Some people say we shouldn’t question God, but Mary did. She asked “How?” Questions cause us to grow and learn. Questions stretch our minds and hearts and increase our understanding. Questions and the exploration for their answers contribute to our faith, even if the questions themselves may ultimately go unanswered. Mary’s question arose from faith, not doubt. What would your response to the Angel be? faith or unbelief?
“The angel answered, ‘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 the Son of God. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.’
‘Here I am the servant of the Lord,’ Mary answered. ‘Let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed.”
Every time I read Mary’s response to the Angel’s announcement and explanation, I am amazed: “Here I am the servant of the Lord.” Here is a teenager facing misunderstanding and rejection from her family, her beloved Joseph, and her townspeople. And yet she agrees. Mary affirms the bedrock truth that under girds our discipleship: “I am the servant of the Lord.” After all is said and done, after we have explored all the possibilities, we still must decide: are we a servant or a master? Is our allegiance to the Lord or to our own desires?
Sometimes it takes great turmoil in our souls to come to the place of submission, but come to it we must. Even before Jesus was conceived, Mary was faced with the decision: Will I obey and make way for this King? Or will I take the easy way that avoids difficulty and pain? To her everlasting credit, Mary’s response of faith is what our response must be: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be according to your word.”
“For he that is mighty hath magnified me: and holy is his name