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, favored 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 favor 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 forever, 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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Welcome to the second Sunday of Advent, the season we spend waiting and preparing for the coming of the Messiah. We are inching closer to Christmas Day, the celebration of the birth and incarnation of our Lord and Savior. This morning, we lit the candle of peace. A reminder of the peace that comes with the Prince of Peace. But this morning’s scripture starts off with fear.
An angel appears out of nowhere and Mary is justifiably frightened. The Greek word used is dietarachthē which is translated as perplexed here by the NRSV translators but could easily be translated as greatly disturbed, alarmed, agitated, or deeply troubled. In the previous verses of this chapter when this same angel appears to Zechariah, the root of this Greek word is used and the translators say he was terrified.
To this deep seated fear the angel Gabriel simply says, “Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid is the most common phrase in the Bible and is echoed here again by Gabriel, the messenger of God. This phrase is so common because so often the people of God are facing oppression and persecution. And I am not talking about saying Happy Holidays or starbucks cups. The people of God are living under unjust empires and monarchs. They have been sold as slaves, had their places of worship destroyed and terrorized, and face economic hardship through systemic oppression.
Unsurprisingly, Mary remains unsure. Which in and of itself is a huge act of courage and will power. Mary, an unmarried girl, who is essentially seen as property, who now has a stranger in her room, asking her to birth a messiah to save her people. She does the most amazing thing here. She takes a breath. She slows down this messianic proclamation by simply asking a question, “How can this be?” How can this be? There is so much going on that she needs to think for a second. She needs a moment before consenting to bear the Son of God. So she seeks a little more information about what this will entail.
So Gabriel gives more information. While Gabriel is talking about how God will do this miracle and sharing about how this child will be the Son of God, Mary makes her decision. So my big question is what shifted for Mary here? This I feel is the crux of this amazing story. What shifted her from great trouble to a peaceful decision? Is it the removal of fear? Not likely. Is it the removal of doubt? I doubt it, it seems like there are lots of questions still to be asked. Is it the pressure of an angel? Once again, I think not seeing how she has already advocated for herself by asking questions and giving herself space to think.
I think Mary says this great “Yes” to God because she started to dream about what her participation in God’s plan would mean for her and her people. Mary started to dream about what a savior could look like for the lowly like her to be lifted up from their lack of status and safety. She imagined a world where the Roman occupation that was pressing down on her people would end. She had a glimpse of the Davidic reign returning to Israel, a reign that her people had been speaking about in hushed terms for years and years, awaiting a messiah to liberate the people. These ongoing hopes of a messiah would have been circulating through her mind since she was a little child, seeing the Roman state police her community through fear and repression. A messiah who would set the oppressed free, unshackle the prisoners and end prisons, feed the hungry without money or agenda, and proclaim God’s jubilee for all people.
The vision we see in Isaiah 11 about prey and predator lying together on God’s holy mountain is the same vision that Mary lifts up in her radical song the Magnificat which she sings in a few short verses from our passage today. It is clear that Mary has a dream for this child based on what the angel said and her community has taught her. All of these dreams of her participation in God’s liberating activities and promises give her the peace, the confidence, and bravery to say “Yes” to God’s ask on her life.
Mary does not lose her fear but acts in spite of that fear with bravery. Mary does not know the exact path this will take but she has the dreams of participation in God’s liberatory work. May we hear this story of bravery and imagination and find ourselves saying “Yes” to God’s story and working to make that world we heard about in Isaiah and the magnificat come to pass. May we pass on the dreams and visions of Isaiah and Mary to the next generation so that we can all work toward God’s liberative reign. May we go and make it so.