20 December – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 1:26-38

For us Christians, the heart of today’s Gospel passage – continuing immediately from yesterday’s text – is a turning point in the history of the world – as it is also even for those who do not know Christ, or who refuse to believe in his origins.

As the story is told by Luke, Mary must have been truly alarmed at the words of her unexpected visitor. Her cousin Elizabeth is now pregnant for six months. The incident is taking place in Nazareth, not exactly the centre of the earth, or even of Palestine. A future disciple of Jesus will be heard to say with some cynicism:

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? (John 1:46)

Truly, in the eyes of the more sophisticated, it was something of a backwater. Yet this is the place God chooses to enter our world – not Rome, not Athens, not Alexandria, nor any of the other great centres of power, culture or learning in the world of the time.

The angel Gabriel greets Mary:

Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.

Gabriel is the same angel who spoke to Zechariah. How did Mary react to such an extraordinary salutation? The Gospel says that she was “much perplexed”, and well she might be. As a young girl in an obscure little town, what could the words possibly mean? “Favored one” means that she is being showered with God’s special grace. It is more something that is happening to her, than something she already has. The nature of that favour is expressed in what follows – she is to become the mother of a Son whom she is to call Jesus (meaning ‘God saves’). He will be a King:

…and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:33)

What really disturbs Mary is that, although she is already betrothed to Joseph, she is not yet married to him. In other words, she is not yet intimate with him as his wife. How can she become a mother? It will happen because the conception will be the work of God:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…

The child who is born will be, in a very special way, the Son of God. He will also, of course, be the son of Mary. In this way we have the deep mystery of the Incarnation expressed in the language of a story. Jesus will be, at the same time, someone who is fully divine and fully human. Jesus will be the unique bridge between God and his creation. He will be human “like us in all things but sin”. He will also, through his whole life, his words and actions, be the “splendour of the Father”.

In a great leap of faith and trust in the angel’s message, Mary says ‘Yes’:

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

For us Christians, the moment of that ‘Yes’ is a turning point in the history of the world – as it is also even for those who do not know Christ or who refuse to believe in his origins. It is the moment of Incarnation, when the Word became flesh and began to live among us as one of us. The world would never be the same. In a way, this is a more important moment than Christmas, but it is understandable that we should tend to celebrate more the visible presence of God in Jesus at Bethlehem.

Mary had yet to learn what that ‘Yes’ involved, but it was made unconditionally and it was never withdrawn. Through a life of trials and tribulations, of which we can know surely only a fraction, right up to those terrible moments as she stood beneath the Cross and saw her only Son die in agony and shame as a public criminal, she never once withdrew that ‘Yes’.

There is a clear message there for us. We too have been called in our own special way to give birth to Jesus in our lives and in our environment. We too have been called to say ‘Yes’ – an unconditional ‘Yes’ to following Jesus. Now is the time for us to renew that pledge with Mary’s help and example.

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