Precentor - Revd Canon Gilly Myers
Luke 1. 26-38
Angels are terrifying!
There is barely an appearance in the Bible of an angel to a human being without the angel having to say: ‘Do not be afraid…’. And so it was when the angel Gabriel was sent to visit Mary, in the sixth month of her relative Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
Perhaps Mary had heard the tale of the same angel of the Lord who had appeared to Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, when he was getting on with his job as a priest in the sanctuary of the Temple, offering incense. Zechariah had certainly been terrified, and fear overwhelmed him.
Perhaps Mary had heard this tale, and knew that the outcome of it was that Zechariah had been struck dumb by the experience. And perhaps Mary knew that the outcome of that appearance was that her relative – who had been barren throughout her marriage and was now getting on in years – was herself pregnant, against all the odds.
Perhaps it was the sight of the angel that was so fearful; although it seems to have been the greeting that caused such great perplexity and consternation to Mary:
‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’
Perhaps these words resonated in Mary’s memory with the call of Gideon, who was called to be a mighty warrior. If it did, it may have alerted Mary to the overwhelming challenge that might be about to be bestowed upon her.
The NRSV translation plays down Mary’s reaction to the greeting. The Greek word means ‘greatly agitated’, and the phrase translated as ‘pondered what sort of greeting this might be’ can have the feeling of ‘argued’ as much as ‘pondered’ or ‘wondered’.
‘Mary seems to have been taken aback, disturbed, unnerved, anxious, troubled (and other such powerful emotions) by the appearance of Gabriel.’
If it was the greeting that disturbed Mary most particularly, what about the message?
- You are going to bear a child (announced Gabriel)
She was gong to bear a child…
- Even thought she was so young – probably in her early teens
- Even though she was not married
- Even though she would probably be put aside by her God-fearing fiancée and be utterly disgraced for life
- And her child would be called the Son of the Most High
- He would be a ruler, a King – on the throne of his ancestor David
Who can imagine what a young woman could have been making of all that?
We can only surmise how long a span of time passed between Mary’s perplexed, questioning agitation and her apparently serene and complicit response: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’
What is it that gives her the confidence to say this? Is it the reassurance and promise of the angel that ‘nothing will be impossible with God’? I wonder if this resonates with Mary’s experience of putting her trust and faith in the living God, and allows her to relinquish her fearfulness – at least just enough – to put herself whole-heartedly into the hands and the will of God.
Most of us will never see the appearance of an angel – and most of us, when seeking guidance from God about our future and purpose, don’t receive a declaration of exactly what we are called to do. There have been times in my life, when I have wished that God would send me a message on a postcard, so that I could be sure about a decision. But life isn’t like that most of the time, and discernment comes through prayer, study of God’s word, looking for signs and listening for the voice of God in the midst of a noisy world.
Nothing is impossible with God, says Gabriel to Mary.
We, too, may be fearful about many things. But remember, the words of the angel. ‘Nothing is impossible with God.’
‘Nothing is impossible with God.’