In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.
—Luke 1:26-38 (TNIV)
Yesterday we looked at the biblical concept of love. We noted that the biblical notion of love typically manifests itself in action and is not sappy or sentimental in nature. Neither is it driven by hormones. We also observed that because humans and God are not equals, our love for God typically manifests itself in obedience to him and service to others. We love God, in a significant way, by loving others. In today’s Gospel lesson we have a classic case study in love. Here we see the announcement of God’s mighty and eternal plan to redeem his people and save them from their sin. By entering our history and taking on our flesh, God shows his great love for us by doing the impossible for us—bearing the consequences for our sins on the cross and making it possible for us to live with him forever. I can think of no greater or more wondrous expression of God’s love for us than this.
Since love is always manifested in relationships, we also see in this story Mary’s response to God’s blessing her. I think Luke may have downplayed Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s visitation. If I were to see an angel unexpectedly, I think I might be more than “greatly troubled.” I probably would be downright terrified! But note carefully Mary’s reaction to the announcement that she would be the Mother of God. Despite her fear and misgivings, she obeyed. Yes, she asked Gabriel some honest questions, but she did not get a complete answer. How, for example, would the Most High overshadow her?
Moreover, this announcement was no small thing because Mary surely knew that if she were to become pregnant before she married Joseph, this would likely create a terrible scandal and possibly cost Mary her life (cf. Deuteronomy 22:23f). Despite her feelings of fear and the uncertainty of what was going to happen to her, Mary obeyed. There is nothing schmaltzy about this story; it is the stuff of real life. Mary’s example is a textbook case of how we are to love God. Surely Mary would never have consented had she not trusted God and believed him to be true to his word and promises. This means that she likely had an intimate relationship with God and knew the biblical story of God’s faithfulness. Now she was going to be given the opportunity to see God’s faithfulness in action for herself. In doing so, she staked her very life on it.
Yet, if we truly believe God to be the Source and Author of all life, was her decision really a risky one? Would it not have been far riskier for Mary to disobey God and refuse to become the Mother of God (and let’s be clear about this: Mary did have a choice; God does not force himself or his will on anyone)? This is not to take anything away from Mary because she did not have the luxury of 20-20 hindsight the way we do. Her fears and feelings of uncertainty were real because like the rest of us, Mary was fallen, finite, and mortal. The point, however, remains. If God really is the Source and Author of all life, then our obedience to him is never ultimately a risky thing, irrespective of any ostensibly potential danger to us.
How is God calling you to love him? Do you know him well enough so that you trust him the way Mary did?
Tomorrow: God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.