When old Zechariah was visited by the angel Gabriel and told he would have a son, his response was, ‘Impossible!’ He suffered for it! When Gabriel visited the virgin Mary and told her she would have a son, her response was simply ‘How?’ The angel replied, ‘By a miracle,’ and Mary humbly accepted. She didn’t’ know anything about genetics or the biology of conception; all she knew was that babies required a mother and a father. Yet once she was told that no human father would be involved, only the power of God, that was enough for her. More important was who the child would be.
When we read the story we tend to focus on Mary, or on the miracle. The story itself focuses on Jesus. We are told nothing about Mary except that she lived in Nazareth and was a virgin engaged to be married; that would make her about 16 years old, perhaps. She is not said to be sinless; ‘highly favoured’ implies that the favour was greater than one would have expected. Unlike Zechariah and Elizabeth, no mention is made of her spirituality, though her acceptance of God’s will sets a great example. As for the miracle of the virgin birth, it is simply stated as fact. It was not an obvious requirement for the Messiah (the prophecy about a virgin conceiving originally referred simply to a ‘young woman’), and nothing is said about it in Mark or John or any of the New Testament letters.
What is said about Jesus is truly remarkable.
‘You are to call him Jesus’, a version of Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land. The name means, ‘God is salvation’.
‘He will be called the Son of the Most High’, said the angel. That could have simply been a title of honour – but what a title! Who would dare claim that for themselves? Yet the angel repeats it with reference to his conception: ‘he will be called the Son of God.’ Surely there is a reference here to his being truly Divine as well as fully human!
‘God will give him the throne of his father David’ – in other words, he is the long-expected Messiah. (Did the angel say ‘his father David’ because Mary too was descended from David?)
‘His kingdom will never end.’ That means it is still continuing: Jesus is reigning now, even though his reign is not yet acknowledged by all. One day it will be.
Mary believed the angel. Do we?
1) What do we learn from Mary?
2) How does the story of Jesus’ life fit in with the angel’s message?