December 18, 2005 - Year B - Advent 4
• 26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. He was sent 27 to a young virgin who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 The angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was troubled at these words, wondering what this greeting could mean.
30 But the angel said, “Do not fear, Mary, for God has looked kindly on you. 31 You shall conceive and bear a son and you shall call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and shall rightly be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the kingdom of David, his ancestor; he will rule over the people of Jacob forever 33 and his reign shall have no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be if I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the holy child to be born shall be called Son of God. 36 Even your relative Elizabeth is expecting a son in her old age, although she was unable to have a child, and she is now in her sixth month. 37 With God nothing is impossible.”
38 Then Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.
= = =
• 26. The first two chapters of this Gospel are, like the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, an account of the infancy of Jesus. The spirit, however, is entirely different. Matthew uses without scruple stories that were not authenticated, but were in the tradition of “infancies of saints” that circulated among Jews and he used them to show what the mission of Jesus would be. Luke also gives us an account that is first of all theological but based on facts. In doing that he uses a very ancient document familiar to the Christian communities of Palestine. We find seven tableaux in the first two chapters:
The account of the annunciation of Jesus marks the difference from John in his person and in his mission.
How considerate God is toward humans! He does not save them without their consent. The Savior is expected and welcomed by a mother: a young girl accepts to be the servant of the Lord and becomes the mother of God.
The virgin’s name was Mary (v. 27). Luke uses the word virgin. Why did he not say a young girl or a woman? Simply because he was referring to the words of the prophets stating that God would be received by the virgin of Israel. For centuries God endured thousands of infidelities from his people, and had forgiven their sins. At his coming, the Savior was to be welcomed by a “virgin” people, that is, a people fully consecrated to him. In Jesus’ time many people concluded that the Messiah would be born of a virgin mother when they read the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Now then, the Gospel says: Mary is The Virgin.
The one who, from the beginning, was chosen by God to welcome his only Son through an act of perfect faith, had to be a virgin. She, who was to give Jesus his blood, his hereditary traits, his character, his first education, must have grown under the shadow of the Almighty like a secret flower belonging to no one else, who had made of her whole life a gift to God.
How can this be? (v. 34). The angel states that the baby will be born of Mary without Joseph’s intervention. The one to be born of Mary in time is the same one who exists in God, born of God, Son of the Father (see Jn 1:1).
The power of the Most High will overshadow you. The sacred books spoke of a cloud or shadow filling the temple (1 K 8:10) as a sign of the divine presence over the holy city, protecting it (Sir 24:4). By using this image the Gospel conveys that Mary becomes God’s dwelling place, through whom he works out his mysteries. The Holy Spirit comes, not over the Son first, but over Mary so that she may conceive through the power of the Spirit, since a man’s intervention is excluded. The conception of Jesus in Mary is the result and the biological expression of her total surrender to the unique and eternal Word of the Father.
It is thus that the Alliance between God and humankind is finally realized. It will not only be the “work” of Jesus. He, himself, is already the eternal Alliance. A child born into a family belongs entirely to the family of its father and to that of its mother: he is the alliance between two families until then strangers to one another. So it is that Jesus, born of the Father and of Mary, is the Alliance between God and the human family, and it is there that the faith of the Church is rooted: Jesus is truly God and truly man.
Before the angel came, had Mary thought of consecrating her virginity to God? The Gospel gives no indication to this effect other than Mary’s word: I do not know man. Let us recall that Mary was about to be married and was engaged to Joseph, which, according to Jewish law, gave them the rights of marriage (Mt 1:20). It is possible that this question is merely meant to invite a response from the angel on the intervention of the Spirit. The whole text however becomes more transparent if Mary had already kept herself for God alone.
“Mary ever-virgin” affirms the Christian tradition that never fails to expand the scriptural statement. As for Mary having thought of virginity before the angel’s visit, that is a different matter. Such a decision was foreign to Jewish mentality, but it is also certain that the Gospel becomes alive with new and surprising decisions. Such an unusual decision born of an unusual relationship with God is not surprising for those who have an inner experience of the Spirit.
= = = = = = =
1. As Messengers of GOD, whether in the Johanine or Angelic modes, it would be interesting for us to practice responding to the people we meet in the language given here. Suppose your standard greeting were to become, "Rejoice, full of grace, GOD is with you." How might that shift your relationship with that other person, whether they be dear friend or casual acquaintance? This shift is likely to me more on our part as we view the other person in a different than usual light. This shift might raise a question on the part of the other about our sanity or their relationship with GOD and you. Either way it can be valuable.
Yes, its a neat idea. But, will it be tried for a month to have it settle in?
2. Once that greeting is in place we may want to spend another month adding some content to it, "Do not fear, Friend, GOD looks kindly upon you."
Between these two statements we open up new vistas for conversation and collaboration in shifting the impossibilities to the possible and the actual. This is revolutionary territory.3. Some questions will arise about how it is possible that rejoicing beyond fear and receiving a grace of kindness can take place in our virginal/sinful life. Here the Holy Child to be born is none other than ourself. Our prayer here is the same a Mary's, "Let it be done to me. May the Holy Child that is me, be born this day."
Sermon Index | wesleyspace Home