A Strange Kind of Greeting

Luke 1:26-56

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He 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 ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35The angel said to her, ‘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 holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

46 And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

56 And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

A Strangle Kind of Greeting.

If you were going to tell a story about yourself you’d probably begin with your birthday. Of all the gospels, Luke spends the most time detailing the birth of Jesus. None of the other gospels, Matthew, Mark and John, tell the story of Jesus’ birth like Luke. In contrast, Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism; Matthew begins, after a long genealogy, with a quick acknowledgement of Jesus’ birth to the Virgin Mary and then quickly moves on to the only detailed account of the Magi who came from the East to visit a new born king. Last but not least, John begins his gospel with lofty talk about the Word (Jesus) that has become flesh.

Intent on giving an orderly account (Luke 1:1), Luke locates the birth of Jesus in the line of genealogy going back to David and Adam. Jesus’ connection to Adam shows that the birth of Jesus has implications for all of humanity. Jesus’ link to David shows that the birth of Jesus is the Messianic fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel.

Throughout Luke’s gospel, Luke shows Jesus having a particular concern for the marginalized in society: poor, children, sinners, tax collectors, Samaritans, prodigal sons, shepherds and women. This brings us precisely to the text before us, as Luke’s telling of Jesus’ birth gives considerable focus to Mary and Elizabeth’s role in the coming of Israel’s Messiah and the salvation of the whole world.

What’s so special about Mary? There is no denying that for the Jewish-Palestinian culture, the last person expected to bring about the coming of Israel’s Messiah would have been a 13 year-old-peasant girl named Mary. She was not even married, only recently engage to Joseph. Apart from divine intervention there was little reason to believe that a pregnancy at this time would in any way be a welcome greeting. Would Joseph go along with this plan? Wouldn’t this young couple be publically scandalized by those who would not greet the baby growing in her womb with welcome? So, what kind of greeting had Gabriel brought Mary?

It’s difficult to fathom the pondering that went on in Mary’s heart. Why had she found favor with God and been chosen to conceive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a child who would be the Messiah? In parallel fashion, why had Elizabeth, her elderly cousin who had been barren quite some time miraculously become pregnant? There is no doubt that Luke meant for us to see these two seemingly impossible pregnancies in light of the miraculous birth of Isaac to the elderly Sarah and Abraham. The point for us is that the God of Israel is up to something awesome and seemingly impossible in the birth of Jesus!

Luke tells us, with God, all things are possible. Therefore, Mary assents to become the mother of all the faithful when she acts in obedience to Gabriel’s words. She didn’t have to do it. Gabriel did not coerce her. She freely chose to open herself up to be the bearer of God. In the early Greek Christian tradition Mary is known as the theotokos, the God bearer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theotokos.

So, yes, Luke tells the story of Gabriel who brought a strange kind of greeting, but one that was also pregnant, for it was a greeting that invited Mary to give birth to the salvation of the whole world. Thanks be to God she was willing to bear this for us!