Advent Angel Sightings #3
Please read Luke 1:26-38.
(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)
In March of this year it was announced that a statue titled “The Virgin and Laughing Child” is actually a work of Leonardo Da Vinci. It is said that he created the work in 1472, when he was 19 or 20 years old.
The statue depicts a woman holding a young child whose face bears an obvious expression of delight. Religious art scholar Diane Apostolos-Cappadonna sees the charming sculpture as an expression of Da Vinci’s Christian faith. She concluded the article, “Simply put, Leonardo illustrated how Jesus’ humanity came from his mother and his divinity from God.”
CONTEXT: Gabriel’s appearance to Mary followed his appearance to Zechariah six months earlier. While the two accounts have many similarities, we will focus on the aspects of Mary’s account that are unique. In the process we will continue to learn about angels and also appreciate the very positive example Mary has set for us in regard to our own obedience to God.
Mary had a faithful response to God’s message.
1. Mary’s unique situation.
Of the six birth announcements delivered by angels, Mary and the unnamed mother of Samson (JDS 13) are the only women to receive one. John Nolland wrote that while this section is similar to the other five birth announcements, it is also similar three passages where God called Moses, Gideon, and Jeremiah to do special things. Mary is being told a lot more than “Congratulations! You’re having a baby!” After all, her child would be the greatest human being ever born.
Unlike the men, Mary was not afraid at the angel’s appearance, but was GREATLY TROUBLED by his words (29). She must have realized in an instant that normally a man required to make a baby: she was troubled to think who this man might be and how this would affect her betrothal to Joseph.
Mary alone was said to have FOUND FAVOR WITH GOD (30). While this can be assumed in the other four situations, it is not directly stated by the angelic messengers in the other birth announcements. However, the emphasis of the word FAVOR is on God, not Mary. Contrary to the belief of our Catholic friends, there was nothing superhuman about Mary. The word meant “furnished with grace.” Grace is always about the giver, not the gifted.
Grace is received because the giver decided to give it, not because the gifted deserved it. The Bible teaches we are saved by grace. It is not by our works, but by God’s love that we enjoy salvation.
Finally, Mary’s is the only virgin birth - ever (34). People allege there are virgin births in other religions or in mythology, but none of them are in analogous to what Luke tells us about Jesus’ birth.
2. Mary’s faithful response.
She started out TROUBLED and wondering but ended up trusting God. I wonder how reassuring Gabriel’s explanation was (35-36).
In those days the Holy Spirit was not often mentioned, so that alone might have put Gabriel’s explanation outside Mary’s frame of reference.
She must have wondered what the word “overshadow” meant.
As it was used in the Bible, the term “overshadow” simply referred to the presence of God. For example, in Exodus 40:35, the word referred to God’s presence in the form of a visible cloud that “overshadowed” the tabernacle. Gabriel’s use of this term was meant to remind Mary of the cloud and to reassure her that her pregnancy would be miraculous, a creative act done by God Himself.
Verses 32-33 and 35 promise her child will be the greatest man to ever live. In her circumstance, would that be comforting, exciting, or intimidating?
Gabriel relates news that Mary possibly did not know: her kinswoman Elizabeth was having a miraculous baby of her own. Knowing she was not facing this on her own must have been encouraging to Mary.
Surely the most convincing thing Gabriel said to Mary was his assurance, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD (37). It was in response to this statement that Mary declared her willingness to serve.
Without understanding everything that would be required, Mary simply obeyed (38). She understood her role in all this: not the center, but a SERVANT. “MAY IT BE TO ME AS YOU HAVE SAID” communicates wholehearted acceptance of God’s will.
“Parthenogenesis” is the $10 term used in biology to refer to the development of an egg into an organism without fertilization. There are animal and insect species that reproduce in this way. However, science alone cannot explain the Virgin Birth. Indeed, it has
often been denied on a scientific basis.
This doctrine is one of central importance to our faith, so we should be unwilling to surrender it just because science can’t account for it. The Virgin Birth is a handy example of an issue where faith has to trump science. It is a belief where the question of “how” – as Mary asked it – is not at important as the question “why” – as Gabriel explained it.
Mary had a faithful response to God’s message.
Biology aside, this passage stresses the historical fact that Mary was a virgin when Gabriel brought to her God’s message of her holy Son. (So much so that it’s stated twice in v. 27!) I believe this is important for several reasons, one of them being that in the cultures of this day, it was widely believed that the father actually made the baby, the mother merely incubated it. Believing that, people would naturally assume that Jesus inherited a sin nature through his earthly father. However, as there was no earthly father, Jesus did not start out life hampered by a sin nature as you and I did. So when Paul wrote GOD MADE HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US, SO THAT IN HIM WE MIGHT BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD (2 Corinthians 5:21), he affirmed that Jesus did not even have a sin nature. Jesus was innocent from birth and maintained His purity throughout life.
What we learned about angels in this passage is that they are likely to take a hand when events are of historic importance. The birth of the one and only Son of God is obviously important. Based on the dialogue Gabriel had with Mary we may note in addition to delivering messages, angels are often called upon to explain the message to their human recipients.
Mary is a fine example for all of us to follow because obedience preceded understanding. That’s what faith does: it allows us to obey God even when we don’t understand all the implications of His will. Mary asked the “how” question and received a full answer, but it’s unlikely she knew in that moment all that being suddenly pregnant would cost her. It’s unlikely she knew or cared about the biology. When she was reminded that “Nothing is impossible for God,” she accepted that statement at face value and moved forward to obedience. Similarly, we must never allow worldly thinking or fear stop us from being faithful to obey God’s call.
Unmanly Men: Refigurations of Masculinity in Luke-Acts, Brittany E. Wilson
Word Biblical Commentary #35a: Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland
Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez