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"Sharing Our Journey"

Updated: Jan 3

Gabriel greets her as “favored one!” and asserts that the Lord is with her. It is the kind of statement that stops time. Luke says she was “much perplexed”. In fact, you could translate the Greek as “greatly troubled.” That tracks because the angel has given her a lot to think about.

Detail of “Donkey, Llama, Goat, Sheep” by Eli Halpin

Luke 1:26-38

December 24, 2023 - Morning Service

Dr. Todd R. Wright


They say that one of the marks of a great writer is their ear for dialog.


Well, I think Luke is a great writer!


I think he captures the tension in this exchange between Gabriel and Mary, but because we know what he is offering and that she says yes, I think we rush to the ending.


I think we miss the (pregnant) pauses.


I think we ignore the angel’s growing anxiety as he stumbles through his sales pitch.


I think we overlook the possibility that she might say no.


And I think we fail to notice what eventually turns the tide and moves her to say yes.


So let’s savor Luke’s account of the annunciation as I read it again – this time with realistic pauses and raw emotions on display.


[A reading of Luke 1:26-38]


Did the pauses I included seem realistic?


Gabriel greets her as “favored one!” and asserts that the Lord is with her. It is the kind of statement that stops time. Luke says she was “much perplexed”. In fact, you could translate the Greek as “greatly troubled.” That tracks because the angel has given her a lot to think about.


Girls like her would not have felt favored, by God or anyone else. She was poor. She was young. She was female. I’m sure her family loved her, but for most of her life she was both another mouth to feed and another set of hands to do the work needed for the family to survive.


That changed, slightly, when she became engaged to Joseph. He favored her over others he could have chosen. He may even have loved her, but she was under no illusion – her daily life would not change much when she became a married woman: their survival would still depend on her labor.


And the idea that God noticed her, let alone favored her, was laughable. Why would God? She had no power, no money, little influence. No wonder she waits for more from the angel.


Gabriel then tells her she is going to have a baby.


Debie Thomas writes, “Tradition tells us that Mary was probably thirteen or fourteen years old when the angel appeared to her. We know that in first‐century Jewish culture, a girl who became pregnant out of wedlock faced grave danger. At the very least, she became an object of widespread scorn. At the worst — as in contemporary cultures which practice honor killings — she risked being stoned to death by the very villagers who raised her. To say ‘yes’ in this instance was to give herself over to scandal and ostracism. It was to put everything — her reputation, her marriage, her very life — on the line.”[1] No wonder she pauses before answering.

 

Into that pause, Gabriel inserts a series of grand pronouncements about the baby: “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.”


They stack on top of each other, like the patter of a used car salesman trying to clinch a deal: “This Chevy is a steal – low mileage; well maintained; I put new tires on it myself; floormats are included; I’ll even throw in fresh undercoating so you won’t have to worry about rust! It’ll take you wherever you want to go and you’ll be the envy of the neighborhood! So, do we have a deal?


Everything Gabriel says is true, but it is too much. It sounds to me like he is trying too hard and getting more nervous by the second. It sounds like he is afraid that she will say no and he will have to return to the heavenly throne room in disgrace. It sounds like God’s plan A might fail.

 

So what finally changes her mind?


Raj Nadella writes, “In the end, it was the news that Elizabeth had also conceived in a miraculous manner that convinced Mary to accept the announcement.” As proof he offers: “She asked no additional questions after that.”[2]


Why would that make a difference? He goes on speculating: “It was the assurance that another woman, someone she knew well, would walk with her during this uncertain journey that convinced Mary. Elizabeth likely understood Mary’s predicament more than anyone else, and it was the prospect of a shared experience that mattered to Mary more than any of those grand promises from Gabriel.” Having someone to share the journey with mattered to Mary.

 

It is all well and good to be told that God will be with you when your world is turning upside down. Or that God loves you, when it seems like no one else will. But sometimes you need someone who will hold your hand when your whole body is shaking with fear; or make you a cup of tea and sit with you in a quiet corner of the garden until your racing heart slows; or stand by your side and stare down those with rocks in their hands.


The Spirit blows wherever it will. The Holy One blazes in a bush that is not consumed. God’s presence is powerful, inscrutable, dramatic. But sometimes you need flesh and blood.


Nadella marvels: “That’s the story of incarnation in this reading. Not simple assurances that God cares for us but the fact that God will share in the human experience and journey with us in our everyday lived contexts.” God steps into history, becoming flesh and blood to accompany humanity on our journey. To feel what we feel. To speak our language. To be there for us, so we will not have to face anything alone.

 

That’s good news! For Mary … and for everyone ever since who has been invited to be part of God’s wonderful, bewildering, impossible plan.


It is also good news for everyone, who, like Elizabeth, has the opportunity to support people like Mary – people who are frightened or overwhelmed, baffled or facing real threats. Good news, in short, for those of us who want to help but don’t know what to do or what to say.


As one scholar writes, “For people facing difficult situations, what matters most is someone who will share in their experience, stand with them, and walk with them.”[3]


Gabriel’s promise to Mary extends to others, “The Lord is with you!”


Maybe you need to hear that promise.


Or maybe you are called to be like Elizabeth, the flesh and blood embodiment of that promise.


Either way, let us repeat the angel’s promise: The Lord is with us, so no one needs to journey alone! Thanks be to God! Amen


[1] From “The pause before yes” by Debie Thomas, 12/21/14
[2] Here and following, from his reflection on the text for workingpreacher.org, 12/24/23
[3] Ibid

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