[Note: On Thursdays I am sharing notes from my recently completed study of Luke.]
Being in God’s Favor (Luke 1:26-38)
I read the following in the July 3-10, 2002 issue of the Christian Century:
Each year when he makes up a timeline for his course in early Christian history, church historian Robert Wilkens is struck by one fact: church history, unlike national histories, doesn't have many events. Rather, his timeline is strung together more by people, such as "Origen, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Anselm, Bernard . . ." Says Wilkens: "This noble train ... bears witness by their lives and also by their words. The saints have left us an ocean of words, theolog¬ical words, philosophical words, spiritual words, words of faith and hope and love, words of courage and words of patience ... different from the language we use to carry on our affairs or to debate political or social issues¬—words such as grace, faith, justification, sanctification, deification, original sin, living water ... and on and on and on." …. Says Wilkens: "Christianity is a sacramental religion, for God is made present through persons and places and things, and that is the stuff of church history" (Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 55: 1 2,2001).
Keep those thoughts in mind as we consider what Mary heard and did in this passage. Here was a human being who was used in a special and mighty way by God. And that is the way that God has always worked. He chooses to work through people, flawed and frail though we may be. Yet the story is not finally about those people. It is not finally about us. It is finally about who God is, not about who we are. As Fred Craddock said, “We must be careful to notice that none of her qualities is offered as the reason God chose her; that reason lies tucked away in the purposes of God.” (Luke, Interpretation Commentary, p. 28.)
“The sixth month” would be the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
Note the specificity of the description: Gabriel is sent to Nazareth in Galilee. God works in history and in the real places of human life and activity. Recent study has suggested that Nazareth was a more urban and cosmopolitan town than was previously thought.
Some important details:
Joseph was a descendant of David. This connects Jesus in a “legal” sense with the house of David which has important messianic implications.
Mary was a virgin, in the legal state of betrothal, which probably meant an arranged marriage entered into by her parents when she was young.
There is no indication why Mary was favored or chosen. The most important component of the greeting is the fact that the Lord is with her.
She is rightly “perplexed.”
Mary is told by Gabriel not to be afraid because she has found favor with God. One might suggest that, given subsequent events, finding favor with God is actually reason to be afraid! After all, those with whom God finds favor (Job, for instance, or Jesus) often find themselves in peril. The meaning is, though, that true peace is found in being open to whatever God wants to do in your life no matter where that leads you or puts you. It is better to be in a tough spot within the will of God than to be in an easy spot outside the will of God.
The honorific titles assigned to Jesus point to his greatness and to his superiority to John the Baptist. To have the throne of David and to reign over the house of Jacob forever and to have a never-ending kingdom were all ways of saying that Jesus would fulfill Jewish messianic expectation. “Jesus” itself means “the Lord saves” and is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua.” It was a common name but in this case it came to have uncommon meaning. There have been a lot of men named George Washington but for most of us there is only one George Washington. His life gave power to his name. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth gave the power to the literal meaning of his name.
Mary asks a good and logical question.
The angel assures her that this miracle will be the result of the Holy Spirit’s work.
Mary is given the sign of Elizabeth’s remarkable pregnancy.
This what Craddock calls the “creed behind all creeds”: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Indeed, this is the truth that stands behind all the audacious as well as reasonable things that we believe: “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
These are the words that cause Mary to go down in history. She wanted what God wanted. What kind of legacy will we leave? It doesn’t matter whether you are famous and important. What does matter is whether we have been open to whatever God wants to do with us and through us and in us.
To find favor with God is to be used in the fulfillment of his purpose. No more gratifying knowledge can be had than to know that you are being used by God to bring about what he wants to bring about. That gratification can be experienced fully and properly, however, only when it is focused on who God is and what God is doing.