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.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 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 to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘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 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.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve often wondered exactly what Mary was doing when Gabriel turned up that day. Of one thing I am sure – she didn’t expect what happened. The angel arrives and tells her that her whole life is about to turn completely upside down. Perplexed doesn’t begin to cut it for me!
She’s nothing special – and certainly doesn’t think of herself as anyone special – that’s why Gabriel’s greeting – “favoured one” – confuses her.
It gets worse from there on in – because what Gabriel has to tell her is big – life threatening – news; the punishment for being an unfaithful woman (and Mary was betrothed to Joseph – and being betrothed was as good as being married in Jewish society) was stoning. Mary is quick to protest her virtue.
She protests her innocence. I’m not sure she really understood it all – and I’m not sure that we do either. It’s one of those holy, mysterious, things that God does from time to time. So, in order to reassure her, Gabriel offers something that she can understand – her relative Elizabeth, who was thought to be far to old to ever have a baby is six months pregnant – God can do anything.
And that was enough for Mary – perhaps she had seen how despairing Elizabeth had become, just as likely she had heard her mother talk about the great sorrow visited upon Elizabeth and Zechariah in a society where children were seen a such a sign of God’s blessing (as they are today). With the clear sighted faith that characterises each of her appearances in the Gospel narratives, Mary says yes.
Just sometimes – it’s all a bit of a mystery to us. Life unravels at the seams – and all the certainties change. It certainly doesn’t seem to be anything we’ve done! Do we, I wonder, have the clear sighted faith to look around us and see God at work – and just say “yes” – no matter how perplexed we may be?
Lord, in the middle of everyday life
you appear and turn our ordered world upside down.
We’re nothing special –
and You intervene to change things.
We don’t always understand,
we make excuses,
we look for proof.
You’ve shown us before how You’ve acted
to change lives – so why not ours?
Help us to respond with clear sighted faith
knowing that You will see us through
because it was always Your idea.