Luke 1:26-29 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the story of the annunciation. Gabriel appears, and Mary is told that she is going to have a baby – but not just any baby – the Son of God. She says, sure…I’ll do that. Blah, blah. The end. Even as I think about my blasé attitude and my tendency to minimize mystery, I cringe. God is doing something important here, and I should pay attention.
It had been 400 years since the last visit from an angel. (One visited Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, a few months earlier. But Mary didn’t know this when Gabriel showed up at her door.) The last Old Testament appearance was to the prophet Zechariah. In that book we see a prophecy about the humility of the Promised One, the Messiah. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).
Now an angel is appearing again, and he is speaking to a poor, young virgin of little consequence about what God, the creator of heaven and earth, is going to do for the world through the child born of her improbable pregnancy.
Something in the universe was breaking free. The old promises given to Adam, Abraham, Jacob, and David were about to be fulfilled. The prophecies concerning the Messiah were bursting loose. Can you imagine the scene in heaven? The curiosity of the angels? The astonishment as God finally begins to move on behalf of His people and in a way they might not have predicted? First Peter 1 speaks of the prophets trying to determine the time of the Messiah’s coming. They realized that they were laboring for the benefit of those to come later – us. And Peter says, these (the good news, the sufferings and glory of Christ) are “things into which angels long to look” (1:12). Angels are inquisitive about the work God does in us. Why shouldn’t they be? We are unlikely candidates for mercy or grace, and humility and suffering are unlikely positions for a glorious God.
Imagine: God calls out to his archangel, Gabriel, and he goes to God immediately. God points out Mary. Gabriel is told what to do and say. This is an EVENT! There is commotion in heaven. Earth holds its breath. The word says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10 (KJV) If there is joy in heaven when sinners repent; surely there is joy when the plan of salvation begins to be unveiled. The Work of Redemption has begun a new stage – there is joy.
Mary, this meek recipient of the good news, is amazed. She is called “favored one” and is told that the Lord is with her. But she was “perplexed.” Other versions say troubled and thoroughly shaken. What would you do if an angel appeared to you? In Revelation 19:9-10 John attempts to worship one and is quickly told not to. An angel is a breath-taking creature.
Then Gabriel gives her the message: 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 name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end (Luke 1:30-33).
How in the world does a young woman process these words? Her first concern was biological. She understood sex and pregnancy enough to know that she wasn’t qualified; she was a virgin. She had questions. How? And the angel answered her. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.
And Mary said, Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word. Just like that she believed. She heard the most impossible thing she had ever heard in her life, and she believed. She was going to carry within her body the life of the Son of God. The mystery didn’t escape her, she knew something wild was taking place, and yet she believed the words the angel spoke.
We are especially incredulous about the whole scene. Angels? Ridiculous! God impregnating a woman? Outrageous! Elizabeth, an old woman, pregnant? Offensive! NOTHING is impossible with God? Who ever heard of such a thing! So, from the very beginning we are challenged. Luke doesn’t soften the blow of the challenge of believing something unimaginable. He simply tells the story.
But God gives us imaginations, faith, grace, and hearts of curiosity. We were created out of eternal stuff – a substance so other that our calloused adult brains struggle to believe the glory of who we are. This eternal stuff longs to see, needs to see, is made to see or imagine improbable things – like angels, God, immaculate conceptions, and virgin births.