Thought for the day
The season of preparation is drawing to a close. Like Mary, our getting ready involves deep listening to what God is asking of me now and an interior willingness to say “let what you have said be done to me.” What is God asking of me now, as a person, in the family, at work, and indeed within the faith community of the Church? Have I noticed a pattern of “nudges” from God calling me to a deeper, perhaps different engagement as a disciple? Are my gifts—tokens of God’s grace—fully at the service of my neighbour?
Great and loving God, open my ear to your word, open my heart to your call, open my life to your service. Give us all the strength to live according to the Good News of your Son, Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Luke 1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. 30 So the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! 31 Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to 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 him the throne of his father David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?” 35 The angel replied, “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.
Luke 1:36 “And look, your relative Elizabeth has also become pregnant with a son in her old age—although she was called barren, she is now in her sixth month! 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 So Mary said, “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The Annunciation to Mary is unique to Luke’s gospel. Three of the Gospels enjoy an extended prologue, Luke 1-2, Matthew 1-2 and John 1. All three are explorations of the identity of Jesus before the Gospel narrative proper begins. The exploration is always in dialogue with Old Testament patterns and precedents.
Kind of writing
An annunciation type-scene follows a predictable pattern. The basic pattern is well-recognised:
1. Appearance of an angel
2. Fear / prostration
The Future of Accomplishments of the Child
2 Samuel 7:9, 13-14, 16. Cf. also Psalms 2:7 and 89:29; Isaiah 11:1-2; 4:2-3; 2 Samuel 7:14
The Portrait of Mary
Compare Mark 3:20-21 with Luke 11:14-16; and Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21. Compare Mark 6:4 and Luke 4:24. Mary is a figure of faith after the model of Abraham.
Old Testament background
First of all, the story belongs to a type of story familiar from elsewhere in the Bible—Ishmael, Isaac, Samson, John the Baptist and even Jesus again in Matthew are all born as a result of a special intervention from on high. The pattern of these tales is noticed below. Whenever you have a pattern like this, the thing to look out for is how the pattern is being used in this concrete instance—where is it predictable and familiar? Where is it new and different?
New Testament foreground
We explore within Luke-Acts echoes of themes enunciated here. The abundance of cross references—verging on the pedantic—serves to makes the point.
The joy of salvation is a large theme in Luke-Acts (Luke 1:14, 28; 2:10; 6:23; 8:13; 10:17, 20; 13:17; 15:5, 7, 10, 32; 19:6, 37; 22:5; 23:8; 24:41, 52; Acts 5:41; 8:8, 39; 11:23; 12:14; 13:48, 52; 15:3, 23, 31; 23:26).
Grace and being graced (Luke 1:28, 30; 2:40, 52; 4:22; 6:32-34; 17:9; Acts 2:47; 4:33; 6:8; 7:10, 46; 11:23; 13:43; 14:3, 26; 15:11, 40; 18:27; 20:24, 32; 24:27; 25:3, 9).
David is frequently evoked (Luke 1:27, 32, 69; 2:4, 11; 3:31; 6:3; 18:38-39; 20:41-42, 44; Acts 1:16; 2:25, 29, 34; 4:25; 7:45; 13:22, 34, 36; 15:16
Jacob too is recalled in the Gospel and Acts (Luke 1:33; 3:34; 13:28; 20:37; Acts 3:13; 7:8, 12, 14-15, 32, 46).
Do not be afraid (Luke 1:13, 30; 2:10; 5:10; 8:50; 12:7, 32; Acts 18:9; 27:24)
The Holy Spirit has a vast presence in Luke-Acts (Luke 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-26; 3:16, 22; 4:1; 10:21; 11:13; 12:10, 12; Acts 1:2, 5, 8, 16; 2:4, 33, 38; 4:8, 25, 31; 5:3, 32; 6:5; 7:51, 55; 8:15, 17, 19; 9:17, 31; 10:38, 44-45, 47; 11:15-16, 24; 13:2, 4, 9, 52; 15:8, 28; 16:6; 19:2, 6; 20:23, 28; 21:11; 28:25).
Servant—male or female—is an important image across Luke-Acts (Luke 1:38, 48 [from the Magnificat]; 2:29; 7:2-3, 8, 10; 12:37, 43, 45-47; 14:17, 21-23; 15:22; 17:7, 9-10; 19:13, 15, 17, 22; 20:10-11; 22:50; Acts 2:18; 4:29; 16:17).
From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh, who was appointed the Son–of–God–in–power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. You also are among them, called to belong to Jesus Christ.To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! (Romans 1:1–7)
Much of the comment is already present in the remarks above.
Verse 26 The sixth month is that of Elisabeth’s pregnancy, as noted later. Gabriel describes himself earlier: The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” (Luke 1:19) The Book of Jubilees 16:12 (a non-canonical text) tells us that it was in the sixth month of the year that Sarah became pregnant.
Verse 27 Virginity was considered an unfulfilled and unfortunate state. Joseph is a conscious echo of the Joseph of Genesis. It is important for early Christians that Jesus is of the house of David—this is found not only in the gospels but also in Paul—Romans 1:3. The name “Mary” from the Hebrew Miriam means rebellion. This name has significance when you read the Magnificat politically.
Verse 28 Literally, it would be a verb, “graced.”
Verse 29 This marks the second stage of the type-scene, that of fear and puzzlement.
Verse 30 This is also a standard part of the formula. Many, many people in the Bible are told “not to be afraid”: Gen 15:1; 21:17; 26:24; 35:17; 43:23; 46:3; 50:19; Ex 14:13; 20:20; Num 21:34; Deut 7:18 etc. All of this echoes Isa 7:14.
Verse 31 This echoes what was said of John the Baptist: Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. (Luke 1:13).
Verses 32-33 This is the message—the language is interesting: royal in three senses—sonship, descendant of David, kingdom. The early Christians were keen to express continuity with the Israelite/Jewish past, as a mark of God’s continued faithfulness. The last line of v. 33 has found its way into the Creed.
Verse 34 This is a strange objection, because we all know how babies are born. Objections elsewhere in these stories are advanced age and infertility. In a way, the birth of John the Baptist is really patterned on the Old Testament annunciations, while the birth of Jesus (here) is something extraordinarily new, signalled by the virginal conception.
Verse 35 The Holy Spirit, who inaugurates the new age—in Pentecost, in Jesus’ first sermon (Luke 4), and first of all in his birth. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
Verse 36 The proof is offered practically (Elizabeth) and theologically (God). Notice the joining of the two causes of Elizabeth’s childlessness: too old and, in any case, not able to have children.
Verse 37 The creator’s actions are inscrutable. This echoes God’s challenge in Genesis 18:14: Can anything said by God be impossible?
Verse 38 On “here I am”, see Genesis 22:1; 46:2; Exodus 3:4; 1 Samuel 3:4-16; Psalm 40:7; Isaiah 6:8. At this point, Mary is the exemplary “hearer of the word.”
Pointers for prayer
1. “Greetings, favoured one. The Lord is with you”. We are all favoured ones and God is with us. Sometimes we are more aware of this than others. How have you experienced being a favoured person, one blessed by God? How have you experienced God’s presence? Who has been Gabriel to you...a messenger of good news?
2. “Do not be afraid.” Mary was perplexed by the words of the angel. Perhaps you too have sometimes been perplexed by life’s path and wondered what it all meant. Perhaps at times you have doubted if God was really with you. In your troubled moments who has been an “angel” helping to lower your anxiety?
3. The angel told Mary that it was through her fruitfulness that she would realise the truth of the greeting. New life would come into being through her, and it would be through the Spirit of God working in her. How and where have you experienced yourself as a source of life for others? Have you at times had the sense that the Spirit of God was at work in you?
4. Mary was taken by surprise by the invitation, but she did not tell the angel she was not ready, nor ask him to return later. She was prepared to go with the invitation even though it was not the “right moment.” “Here I am Lord.” What invitations have come to you at the “wrong time” and how have you responded.
5. Mary’s response serves as a model for us—as one saying “yes” to what life offers. What is it like for you to say “yes” to life? Perhaps at this moment in your life you are being invited to say “Here I am, Lord”?
Here in our midst, O God of mystery, you disclose the secret hidden for countless ages. For you we wait; for you we listen. Upon hearing your voice may we, like Mary, embrace your will and become a dwelling fit for your Word. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.