By Paul Koch –
The sending of the Angel Gabriel to the city of Nazareth in the region of the Galilee is an incredible and shocking move by our God. This isn’t the sending of a heavenly messenger to the holy city of Jerusalem. It isn’t sending the angel into the throne room of Caesar in Rome. This is the sending of God’s emissary to a small backwater town to an unknown and unimpressive young girl who is betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph, who, up to this point, no one but his own parents probably thought all that much about. Now God usually does his mighty deeds by showing up on a mountain top in thunder and lightning, but this is different. Here God comes down, all the way down: down to the lowly and the unimpressive, to the unknown and the forgotten. It is here that He speaks an incredible word to a virgin named Mary.
Now the announcement made to Mary is stunning. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” says the angel. This girl is not only known by God but is favored by Him. In fact, according to the angel the Lord is present with her. Now, she is rightly afraid. I mean if a divine messenger of God shows up in your living room and declares the greetings of the Most High God, I think you would be afraid as well. So, Gabriel continues saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Now that is a lot to swallow in one sitting. Gabriel has declared that she will have a son and she will call her son Jesus. A name, by the way, which literally means, “God saves.” This child called God saves will be declared to be the Son of the Most High. He will sit on the throne of David. This child of hers is the fulfillment of the promises of God, the promise first and foremost of the long-awaited Messiah, the Anointed one. This, you see, is the fulfillment of Scripture, the revelation of the great expectation and hope of Israel. He is the answer to the cries of God’s people. In fact, He is the answer for you as well. The answer to questions about meaning in life, about hope and salvation, about the truth itself.
And this answer doesn’t come in the palaces of the rich and famous. It isn’t located on the white pillars of academia. It isn’t kept secure in the glorious churches and temples of the world. No, it comes to the most lowly and insignificant place to be found. To a woman who can’t even imagine that this is going to happen. Who is she to receive such an honor? For that matter, how can she give birth since she is still a virgin? How can it be that God’s great work would happen through her? It doesn’t make sense.
But so much about this whole story doesn’t seem to make sense to us. I mean why would God come at all? Why take on our flesh to live a hard life, to be rejected and brutalized by His own creatures? Why would the Almighty come down and know what it is to be hungry and cold and lonely? Why would He endure the shame and brutality of the cross? Well He does it of course for you, for your sins, to pay the price that you could not pay yourself. There was a law, an immutable law of God, which you have transgressed and there are ramifications to such sin. God became flesh to satisfy those demands to endure the punishment to become your sin so that you might receive His righteousness. Love, perhaps, is the best reason we can give for this incredible action of our God. He loves you, so He comes to do what you could not do for yourself.
But why? I mean, let’s be honest. There isn’t a mountain of compelling reasons why the Creator of the heavens and the earth should love any one of us. He calls you His children, yet you don’t act like it. You may have been baptized and invited into His wedding feast, but you live your lives as if you mattered most, as if your God had little to no importance in any part of your daily comings and goings. Gathering for worship becomes a matter of personal preference and convenience instead of an act of devotion. Like Mary, you too ought to cry out before the favor of God and say, “How can this be?” How can it be that God has done all of this for you?
The angel is not deterred by Mary’s hesitation. He knows that the power of God is greater than the doubts and fears of mankind. So, though it doesn’t seem to make sense, though it is offensive to our sensibilities and expectations, He simple and deliberately reveals to her the Word of God. He says, “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 called holy-the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Nothing will be impossible with God. His living creative Word speaks into existence all that there is. And through that same Word comes the salvation of us all.
Mary’s response to the angel is perhaps the greatest confession of faith in all the scriptures. Fully aware of her situation, fully aware of her low estate and her complete lack of being able to offer anything to her God, she receives this Word. Mary simply says,
Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Let it be to me according to your Word. Her faith, her hope, her confidence doesn’t rest in her estate in this world, or her ability, or her accomplishments but in her willingness to cling to the Word of God. What she confesses here at this pinnacle moment in salvation history is what St. Paul would later speak about when he says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.” The Word is the foundation of our confidence and hope.
And early church father of the 4th century called Ephraim the Syrian wrote some of the earliest hymns of the church. Of his hymns that we still possess, most of them focus our voices on the nativity of our Lord, on Christmas. And there we find the beginning of a curious tradition. He says that Mary conceived through her ear. Now that may sound bizarre, but think about it. It was by the proclamation of the Word that this miracle happened. It is to the Word that she submits and to which she holds fast. Other church fathers speak about the ear of Eve in the garden being the door through which death entered as the serpent twisted the Word of God. Likewise, it is through the ear of Mary that the source of life everlasting comes.
And so, it still is. It is through the ear that life and light are given to you. Through the proclamation of the Word, the assurance that without any merit or worthiness in you God has called you by His Gospel and enlightened you with His gifts. He has declared you to be His children and so heirs of eternal life. It is the Word that is connected with the water in the gift of Holy Baptism and it is the Word that proclaims the body and blood of Christ to be present in, with, and under the bread and wine. All of this is given to you, so that you might not doubt, but firmly believe that in Christ you are saved.
So today and every day, let us continue to follow the example of Mary. Holding firm to the promises of Christ let us declare together, “Let it be to me according to your Word.”