Sunday, December 20, FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the fourth Advent candle.)

Reader: ““Greetings, favored woman!”

Response: “The Lord is with you!”

Scripture:  Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “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!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “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. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Think about it. In this passage Luke describes the pinnacle of Old Testament prophecy. All the prophetic announcements pointed to these few minutes of dialogue. Though the passage is very familiar to most of us, I’d like us to walk slowly through Gabriel’s announcement. Six months earlier Gabriel had appeared in Jerusalem to Zechariah to tell him of Elizabeth’s pregnancy carrying John the Baptist. Now he appears seventy miles north in the small village of Nazareth to a young engaged girl who is by herself. In this culture, engagement had the same moral boundaries as marriage, though there was no consummation until the actual marriage ceremony after the husband had prepared their home. Gabriel’s words were, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 

Put yourself in Mary’s place. You are quietly minding your own business and this person, apparently the angel had no “other world” appearance or else Mary was very brave. When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, the Scriptures say he was frightened. Fear was the usual response to an angelic appearance (E.g.shepherds in the fields). At any rate, Mary shows no fear.  She is wondering, “God favors me. . .  the Lord is with me? What does this mean?” Notice Mary accepts Gabriel’s words at face value even though she is confused and unsettled. She’s trying to get a handle on what was said. She’s poised, but troubled. Then we hear from the angel “Don’t be afraid, you’ve found favor with God! And Mary is thinking, “So what does all this mean?” The angel tells her what it means! You are going to conceive and give birth to a son, who you are going to name Jesus. Mary’s head is spinning trying to process the meaning of the words she’s hearing . . . and the angel’s words keep coming. This baby boy you are going to have will be very, very great and in fact, will be called the Son of the Most High. By now Mary is thinking, “Whoa, slow down! I’m still back at the conceiving part.” Gabriel continues, the Lord God will give him the eternal throne of his ancestor, King David, and he will reign over his Kingdom which will never end!” Mary is still back trying to process the conception part. So she asks, “Since I am a virgin and have never been with a man, how is this conception part going to happen? I’m not saying it can’t, but I don’t understand.” 

Then in Luke’s most gracious and delicate manner he relates the angel’s explanation to Mary. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The baby born will be holy and he will be called the Son of God. We have no more details than that. In these words Mary learns that her baby will be holy, sinless. If he is to be the Redeemer of the world, he must be free of all sin in order to pay the price for sinners in the sight of God the Father. At the same time, he must have the exact same human nature in every way, hence born of a woman. In Gabriel’s words, both requirements, holy in God’s sight and perfectly human in God’s sight, have been met in this baby to be born of Mary. Only God could be the Father of Mary’s baby. The incarnation was spelled out. Mary was able to grasp Gabriel’s explanation. Almost as a word of encouragement, he tells her the story of her relative Elizabeth’s pregnancy, concluding with a final affirmation, “For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary gave her response in the most simple and sublime words of submission and trust, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” What poise, what grace, what faith! 

Being a pregnant engaged woman meant gossip, knowing winks, rumors, possible stoning, and a ruined reputation. Undoubtedly she was not believed. Graciously, God sent Gabriel to her fiancé, Joseph, to tell him of the news knowing he would likewise never believe Mary’s story. She followed her Son all through his ministry, all the way to the cross. She was without a doubt, the most remarkable woman who has ever lived.

Music: “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came”    All Angels


Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  ―BCP