December 1: The Great Journey Begins
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to […]
“In the sixth month, 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” (Luke 1:26-27).
It started with an angel.
That feels exactly right.
The angel comes as a messenger from God to a young girl named Mary. Luke writes the story as if he was a newspaper reporter. To borrow a modern phrase, he reports, we decide. He wants us to know that what happened that day in Nazareth was sober historical reality, not the figment of some writer’s imagination.
In the history of the church, Mary has often been portrayed as a kind of misty, otherworldly figure. Some of the great paintings of Mary make her look so peaceful and beatific you almost forget she was a real person. That’s a shame because Luke makes it clear she had doubts, questions, and deep faith in God. Nowhere is this seen with more clarity than in verse 38:
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
Without exaggeration, we could call this one of the most remarkable statements in the Bible. We read it so often we forget how great it really is. Without warning, she meets Gabriel, who announces she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God. When she asks how, he says, “Don’t worry about it. The Holy Spirit will cover you like a cloud, and you’ll end up pregnant. That’s all there is to it.”
What do you say to that?
Let’s not underestimate what it cost Mary to say Yes to God. From that moment on, she faced the incredulity of her friends (“Oh Mary, how could you expect us to believe such a bizarre story?”), the scurrilous gossip of the neighborhood, and the whispers of promiscuity that have lasted 2,000 years.
Mary knew–or would soon realize–that saying Yes to God meant misunderstanding and public shame. Gone was her pure reputation, and with it her dreams of a quiet, happy life in Nazareth. In the future her life would many times be happy, but it would never again be quiet.
Mary said yes. Yes to God, Yes to the impossible, yes to God’s will. When the angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God” (v. 37), Mary took a deep breath and replied, “May it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).
And so the great journey begins.
Grant us faith, O Lord, to believe all you have spoken, even what seems impossible to us. Amen.
Musical bonus: Let’s start our musical journey by listening to a performance of the traditional Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel by Margaret Becker.