In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”  “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
How do you feel when your boss asks you to do something? Maybe if it’s something simple, or you have a good relationship, it’s not an issue. Perhaps if they asked you to do something tricky, or time consuming, or if you don’t get on with your boss, it might get you a little hot under the collar. Whenever my boss approaches, I always start panicking; what have I done? What is he going to ask me to do?
In today’s passage, Mary is visited by someone even more scary than a boss; an angel. It might seem odd to describe an angel as scary; our image when we think of angels is of little girls in white sheets, with tinsel halos, ballet-dancing across the stage at a nativity. Not exactly an image to frighten the living daylights out of you! But this is not a Biblical image of angels. Whenever people encounter angels in the Bible, one of the first things the angel says is, “do not be afraid.” Angels evidently strike fear into the hearts of all those to whom they appear. Today’s episode is no exception; the angel, Gabriel, says to Mary in verse 30, “do not be afraid Mary.”
Not just that, but Luke records that Mary “was greatly troubled” at Gabriel’s words. At this point, Gabriel hadn’t said a great deal, simply, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” Gabriel hadn’t mentioned the fact that Mary was going to give birth to God’s son yet, simply that God is with her. The greeting alone was enough to trouble Mary!
You’d think that Gabriel’s message would trouble her even more.
What does Gabriel tell her?
She has found favour with God.
She will conceive and give birth to a son, whom she is to call Jesus.
He will be called great and will be the son of God.
God will give him the throne of his father, David.
He will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever.
His kingdom will never reign.
How would you react if you were given that message? It’s shocking. It’s unsettling. It’s remarkable.
It is astonishing.
I think I would be lost for words.
Mary’s response is to ask how this could be, since she has a virgin. As far as she knows, virgins don’t give birth…
Gabriel answers her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
How does a young girl, engaged to a decent man, get her head round that? To take on board that the Holy Spirit is somehow going to make her pregnant, that she is going to endure nine months of pregnancy, that she is to give birth, that she will bring up a child who, according to the angel, is the son of God? How will she cope? How can she possibly afford this? How is she going to explain this to Joseph? How will he react? Will he break off the engagement? Will she be stoned, since this was the punishment for bearing another man’s child? How will her family react? How will her community respond?
There’s no way that she can go through with this surely.
Surely she just turns to the angel and says, “thanks, but no thanks. Find someone better suited to this role.”
Yet she doesn’t. In one of the most remarkable statements in the Bible, Mary says to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Mary was perturbed when the angel appears. Yet her response to his earth shattering message, is yes, of course. I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me according to your word.
This, then, is why Mary was entirely the right person to give birth to Jesus. She completely accepts God’s plan for her life. She knows the impact that this will have, she knows that her life will be changed forever, she knows the risks involved, yet she says to God, “of course.”
How many of us, when confronted by God’s plan for our lives, respond as Mary did, “I am the Lord’s servant?”
Or how many of us, Jonah like, run away in completely the opposite direction?
Or how many of us just do our best to ignore the plan that God has for us, that’s niggling away inside us, nervous of the impact that it will have on our lives, and the lives of our family?
As Christmas draws closer, let’s reflect on Mary’s response to Gabriel in this remarkable passage of scripture, and strive to emulate her attitude more as we go through our lives, day by day.