26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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 ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The 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[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”38 Then 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.
Luke 1: 26-38 (NRSV)
(For use with the MORNING Daily Prayer)
Gabriel’s admonishment to Mary, “Do not be afraid,” is a call to freedom.
Into a world fraught with anxiety, the New Testament steps with a resounding, confident call for confidence. Gabriel’s “do not be afraid” is a pronouncement for Mary about how to approach the wild things that are going to happen to her. Gabriel gives direction to Mary of what she is to do—she will bear a son and name him Jesus. He gives information about who this son will be. He tells her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Gabriel attests that nothing will be impossible with God. Gabriel, sent by God, comes to a specific city (Galilee) in a specific time (the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy) to a specific woman, (Mary) to announce the dramatic, eternal event of God’s supreme accommodation and redemption—the advent of “God with us.” Not only is this event God’s initiative and miracle, it is news of comfort that God communicates—to Mary in this incident reported by Luke, and to us, as readers/hearers of this text.
Mary initially feels “troubled” by Gabriel’s greeting and presence. Luke uses the word “troubled” only four times in his gospel. Twice here, in this first chapter, when Zechariah and Mary are both troubled by Gabriel’s appearance, and later, when Jesus pairs the word with the word “anxiety” in speaking to Martha, and finally, after he is resurrected, when he asks the disciples why they are troubled by his presence. In all these cases, being troubled is being fearful and anxious: Zechariah and Mary don’t know what to make of Gabriel’s visit; Martha is anxious about duties and pressures; the disciples are startled by Jesus and are afraid that they are seeing a spirit.
Being troubled– being anxious and fearful–is the opposite of freedom because in fear we are focused on unknown future events that might occur to hurt one of us or our loved ones. When we fear, we miss the gifts of the present. Fear is slavery to the temporal and to the personal, slavery to the individual, to the self. In a sense, fear is the way of idolatry because when we fear, we seek to impose control on circumstances, and so put ourselves in the place of God.
When Mary declares that she is “the handmaid to the Lord,” she does the opposite– identifies herself as one who serves God. When she says, “let it be to me according to your word” she is affirming not so much her own answer to a call, but an awareness of the power and might of God, witnessed to her though Gabriel and reported to us by Luke.
Paul explains in the letter to the Romans, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption whereby we cry ‘Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15). Freedom from fear is a gift that comes to all –in this text, and in the Christmas event.
A Prayer for the Twenty-Fifth Day of Advent
Eternal and most merciful God, we thank you for this season of hope. We thank you that we can go out to the world in the confidence of your love, presence, and guidance.
This confidence sustains us, makes us want to reach out to others, and gives us peace.
We thank and praise you in the name of Jesus the Christ, Amen
Anne Kort Rankowitz
Director, Curriculum Resource Center