"Two Women and an Angel" Bible Study on Luke 1:26-38
December 17, 2020, 11:07 AM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Luke 1:26-38 (Common English Bible).

26 When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, 27 to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” 29 She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. 31 Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33 He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. 36 Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. 37 Nothing is impossible for God.”

38 Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

By this time in Advent, God is decisively, surprisingly, world-disruptingly on the move.  God's promised advent is about to occur, and we in the Church are prepared.  And yet, are we ever really prepared for the peculiarity of the God who comes to us in the Babe of Bethlehem?

Gabriel's announcement to Mary is that God will do seemingly impossible things in the midst of impossibilities.  Elizabeth's story brackets Mary's (Luke 1:5-25).  Mary's relative, Elizabeth, is old and barren.  Just before this Sunday's Gospel, we find Elizabeth's wondrous words, words made even more wonderful because of Elizabeth's painful situation.  To be barren in the culture of her day was to be disgraced and left without any security in one's old age.  That why Elizabeth joyfully proclaims, "This is the Lord's doing.  He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people" (Luke 1:25).  Elizabeth's impossible situation and wonder at what the Lord has done for her sets us up for Mary's equally incredulous story.  The angel responds to Mary's wonderment with those stirring words, "Nothing is impossible for God."  Apparently not: a young unmarried woman, an older, childless woman, both bearing children.  God is indeed doing things that the world considers to be impossible.

Mary acknowledges the impossible possibility of God in her response to Gabriel's announcement.  All that Gabriel has said thus far is "Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you."  Mary's initial response to Gabriel's words is to have herself thrown into doubt and pondering and wonderment.  Why is she so bewildered?

Perhaps Mary is flustered and confused because she is shocked to have been the favored one of God.  "Me?  I'm nobody.  How is it possible for me to be favored?  How could the mighty Lord of Israel be with somebody like me?"  Gabriel then tells her the big news that she's going to be pregnant with a son, but not just any son: the Son of the Most High, the Son of David, his reign will never end.

No wonder Mary's response is, "How can this be?"  Yet even in her bewilderment, Mary is able to move from her, "How can this be?" to "Let it be with me according to your word."  We are being moved from any doubt about the fulfillment of the promises of God to our own recognition of the fulfillment of the promises of God (Luke 1:36).  That grand move from disbelief to, in a couple verses, "Here I am" is quite a move.  A story of God's advent among us becomes a story of acceptance of God's vocation.  No wonder that Mary has always been regarded by the Church as the first disciple, the first one to be enlisted by God to play a role in the Jesus story and the first to say, "I don't understand why you favored me with the call, but here I am."

Luke interweaves the stories of John's birth to Elizabeth and Zechariah with the story of the birth of Jesus to Mary and Joseph.  Luke's is only gospel to join the stories of John and Jesus so closely, to identify Elizabeth and Mary as relatives (Luke 1:36).  We are told by Luke that Elizabeth gives birth to John in her old age; Mary gives birth to Jesus in her youth, just six months after John's birth. 

The angel Gabriel comes to Zechariah, a priest in the Jerusalem Temple, to announce the news that their prayers have been answered.  Elizabeth will bear a son who will be one like the prophet Elijah: "He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God" (Luke 1:16).  Zechariah will be mute until his son's birth because he disbelieved Gabriel's announcement (Luke 1:20).  Elizabeth is so embarrassed by her pregnancy that she stays in seclusion for five months (Luke 1:24-25).

And then comes the Annunciation to Mary.  Six months into Elizabeth's pregnancy, the angel Gabriel is sent by God "to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David's house.  The virgin's name was Mary" (Luke 1:26-27).  Mary responds to Gabriel's words, not in mocking disbelief, but in wonderment: "Rejoice, favored one!  The Lord is with you!"  She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  The angel said, "Don't be afraid, Mary.  God is honoring you.  Look!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus" (Luke 1:30-31).

By being told to name here baby "Jesus," Mary's story is being woven into the history of Israel.  The Hebrew name means "savior," God saves God's people.  Mary shall conceive a child, and this child shall be a sign that God saves.  As the angels will sing on the night of the Nativity, "Your savior is born today in David's city.  He is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).

This Jesus, this new Joshua, will be great, will be called "the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father," whence he will reign for ever and ever in a kingdom without end (Luke 1:32-33).

Jesus is thus a fulfillment of God's promises to Israel, a linkage of the reign of David and the future of God's people.  No wonder Mary responds to all this grand announcement with, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34, NRSV).

At the end of the angel's encounter with Mary, we are drawn back toward older Elizabeth and the verses that preceded Mary's exchange with Gabriel (Luke 1:5-25).  So Luke once again links Jesus and John, young Mary and older Elizabeth: "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" (Luke 1:36, NRSV).

Surely a highlight of the story and a fitting climax is Gabriel's pronouncement, "Nothing is impossible for God" (Luke 1:37).  As we move throughout Luke's Gospel in the coming year, we will find again and again that this could be taken as a theme for the extraordinary events that Luke reports.  With the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, nothing is impossible.

And so, God turns world history upside down by moving among us in folks on the margins, people like young Mary and old Elizabeth, the everyday, lowly nobodies of this world, through whom God makes all things possible.  With God, nothing is impossible.  After all, God's Child, Emmanuel, was born in the barn.  Talk about someone on the margins!

Have A Blessed Christmas!

Pastor Greg Rupright


12-20-2020 at 8:57 PM
Pat May
Reading this after today’s Reflection, but it’s a lovely summary!
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