Angels of Christmas – The Message to Mary

This Christmas season my thoughts are on the angels. Those messengers from God who brought the various announcements in the Christmas story. Last week we looked at the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah and God’s answer to prayer. This week we consider Gabriel’s announcement to a teen-aged girl living in the obscure Galilean village of Nazareth.

The record of Gabriel’s announcement is found in Luke 1:26-38. Six months or so after Zechariah’s encounter Gabriel is once again sent by God with an important message. We can wonder many things about why God choose Mary to bear Jesus. For a moment, let’s strip away some of the tradition and some of our modern ideas concerning Mary. In many ways, Mary’s world was far different than our own and yet also very similar.

Mary could have been a teenager. She was evidently raised in a community and family of faith. She was engaged to be married but still a virgin. She didn’t live in any of the power centers of the world but the crossroad town of Nazareth in northern Israel. Mary lived in a world and time filled with tension. The Romans, who ruled the land, found the inhabitants to be stiff-necked and troublesome. King Herod’s Rome enabled reign in Jerusalem was marked by great building projects and marred by violence. Closer to Mary’s home was the strife between the Jews and the Samaritans.

Then, one day, the angel Gabriel appears and says “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Mary’s response was one of confusion and distress but she also pondered what this all meant. That chewing things over response is a consistent part of Mary’s character throughout the Gospels.

Gabriel’s message was one of God’s grace. Twice in the English translation, Gabriel refers to favor, which also means the unmerited giving of grace. Unlike the message to Zechariah which was an answer to prayer this message is an unlooked for and unmerited gift.  

Gabriel continued, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

At this point, Mary had a question. She could have asked how this unwed pregnancy was going to be received by Joseph and her community. What’s to keep them from stoning her or turning her out? Instead, she asked a question about mechanics – exactly how was this pregnancy going to be conceived? To which Gabriel responded, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.” Gabriel continued by providing some inside information about Elizabeth’s pregnancy and concluded, “nothing will be impossible with God.

Mary responded to the angel’s message with “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Her statement of acceptance and affirmation is important. In it, I hear an echo of Isaiah’s “Here I am, send me” (Isaiah 6:8) and his description of God as the potter (Isaiah 64:8).  There is a stilled settledness in Mary’s response.

Mary could have adopted several other postures. She could have heard the angel’s message and busied herself trying to make it happen. Mary could have rejected the message in a fit of self-pity or false humility. She could have grown arrogant in her God-given position of the Christ-bearer. Mary could have looked ahead at the challenges of rejection, pregnancy, and birth wondering “what’s in this for me? Mary, instead, took the posture of a servant.

Allow me to speak for a moment to those that feel God has called them to ministry, office, or title. Whether you’re fully engaged in service now or aspire to minister. Consider Mary’s attitude and Gabriel’s final words of “nothing will be impossible with God.”  Mary was graced with arguably the most precious ministry of all time yet relied on God for its fulfillment. If God has called you to something, even something that seems impossible, He’ll get you there in His time. All you need to do is maintain the servant attitude of Mary.

Gabriel’s words “nothing will be impossible with God” ring out to all. What seems impossible to us is possible with God. Those impossible to mend relationships are possible with God. Impossible to break addictions and habits are breakable with God. Impossible dark valleys are walkable with God. Impossible healing of mind, body, and soul is possible with God. The impossible to cross chasm between all humankind and God because of our sin and rebellion is crossed in Christ. The impossible to fix brokenness in our hearts is fixable with God. The question is how will we respond.

Will we respond with unbelief, or arrogance, or self-pity, or self-reliance, or the same stilled and settled servant attitude we see in Mary? I strive for that of Mary, but I can also look back over my life and see plenty of times when I adopted one of the other attitudes. Perhaps you can too. Maybe, when we read or hear God’s promises our response should be more like Mary – “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”  

Dale Heinold
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