The Great Announcement
There have been some great announcements in history. I can remember being at Yankees stadium as a child enjoying my birthday present when the game was interrupted. The loudspeaker rang out that the first men had safely landed on the moon. I can remember when I was watching cartoon one November afternoon when the broadcast was interrupted by an announcement that President Kennedy had been shot. I can remember listening to Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA. The next thing I heard was that a plane had flown into the world Trade Center. These announcements break into time, and one remembers where they were and what they were doing when they happened.
These are some of the announcements I remember. Some remember the announcement on Sunday afternoon in December that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Important announcements have been made throughout the centuries. But no announcement is greater than the one that God was about to become personally involved in our history. God the Son became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Let us look into the text further to see the implications of this announcement.
Exposition of the Text
Verse 26 begins with a marker of time. It was the sixth month. The context tells us that it was the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. The previous verse had said that Elizabeth had hid herself five months. The timing of this announcement then was one month later.
At first, the mention of the sixth month appears as detail used to narrate a story, that it is not important of itself. However Luke is not one to record detail for detail’s sake. The sixth month is repeated at the end of this passage. This frames the announcement with the time marker. This means that it is significant. In chapter 2, Luke uses a time marker to announce the birth of Jesus, dating it during the reign of Caesar Augustus and one Quirinius who was Roman governor of Syria. One should notice that the six months’ time marker comes first in Luke. What Luke is telling us is that while the world was ignorantly going about its own business that God had declared a new epoch of time. A new calendar is declared in the world. Until recently, this division of time was celebrated by BC and AD. The world is trying to stamp out the significance of the change of calendar by changing this to Common Era (CE) and Before Common Era (BCE) without any note of why it is common.
This division of time is slightly off the timing of God. Besides the mistake in calculating the birth of Christ by at least four years as Herod died in 4BC, the timing of God divides time by the conception of John the Baptist, not Jesus. For four hundred years, the voice of God had been silent. But when the angel Gabriel announces the birth of John the Baptist, this silence had been loudly broken, even while Zachariah remained mute. With this announcement, a new epoch had begun.
In this sixth month, the angel Gabriel came with the sequel announcement to a home in Nazareth. Inside this house was a young virgin named Mary who had been promised to a man from another village named Joseph. As virginity was essential for the marriage to take place, the family would have taken every precaution to keep Mary from knowing a man. Women in society in that day tended to be shut in anyway, and this would have been jealously guarded. Her mother would have guarded the room she was in.
So Mary would have been deeply troubled by an Angel in the form of a man appear suddenly in her sequestered room. In the world of that day, this would have been dangerous. Roman soldiers were known to break in and rape young girls amongst others. It’s hard to say exactly what went through Mary’s mind when Gabriel came, but in the very least, she would have been startled and frightened, even if she recognized that it was an angel and not a man.
She would have been even more startled when this stranger greets her: “Rejoice, you who have been given grace by God. The Lord is with you!” The word “grace” in Greek here is in the perfect passive tense. The passive is often used as a divine passive and this gives the idea of “God-Graced” one. It his God who favored her. The perfect tens of the word indicated that this favoring had ongoing implications. The Greek verb also is a causative form. So what Gabriel is emphasizing is that God had caused his favor to rest upon Mary, a favor which would have enormous and permanent consequences. The emphasis then is not on Mary, but what God was going to perform through her.
Mary was of course overwhelmed by the greeting. But this was nothing compared to what Gabriel was about to say. Gabriel tells her that she is about to conceive and have a son. This would be no ordinary son. She was to call Him Jesus (Joshua, Yahweh Saves in Hebrew). But He would also be called the Son of the Most High. This great son would be both Son of David in human terms and Son of god in divine terms. David’s kingdom had an end, but the Kingdom of David’s greater Son would be without end.
Mary was engaged and was probably taught what we call the “birds and the bees” here. She responds to the announcement, “How can this be? She exclaimed! I haven’t had relations with any man. In other words, a child has to have a father as well as a mother. Virgins don’t simply conceive. Women were thought of as incubators of the man’s seed. Other than nurture, some ignorantly thought she contributed nothing genetically to the project. I don’t know how they resolved the fact that many children resemble their mothers physically more than their father. Nevertheless, Mary asks a very appropriate question. A cynical generation would have Mary thinking “Have you come to do the job?” However, I do think we need to be a little more reverent. Mary was not perfect. I do not believe like modern Roman Catholics since Vatican 1 do that she was immaculately conceived without sin, but I do think she was virgin in mind as well as body. But Mary needed to be favored with God’s grace even as much as we do.
Gabriel then tells Mary how this conception would happen. It would be the work of the Holy Spirit that would overshadow her in cloudlike fashion and cause her to conceive. Even though it was by all human experience and knowledge, at least in the age before in-vitrio fertilization and cloning impossible for a virgin to conceive. But Gabriel reminds Mary that everything is possible for God who is not limited to human understanding and capacity.
Gabriel also offers the pregnancy of her cousin Elizabeth as proof that God is able to make this happen. Mary must have known Elizabeth, although they lived some distance apart. She must have known that Elizabeth was old, well past the time of childbearing. Gabriel tells Mary that her cousin is six months pregnant. The same God who made this conception possible would make it possible for the Virgin Mary to conceive.
Mary believes what the angel told her and shows her faith by submitting to the Lord. She says: “So let it be unto me, your maidservant, even as you have said.” We see here the link between faith and works. Faith is never dead, but living. Works proceed from faith. We must also see that her faith is not just a leap into the dark. She will take steps to confirm this faith. She would go to see her cousin Elizabeth, and her faith would be confirmed and grow, even as that child grew within her.
How many great announcements of the past have faded into trivia or even lost to history. Despite the world’s attempts to silence this great announcement, it will be proclaimed to all the world until the end of the age. At this time, the calendar will cease and time will be no more. Time only has meaning in a finite world. It is a limitation. We have a promise this Advent season that this will as certainly happen. The human race and reasoning says this is as impossible as the Virgin Birth. But God calls His people to faith and remember. He who opened the wombs of Elizabeth and Mary will one day open heaven and receive us onto Himself as His everlasting bride.
Our faith is not a leap into the darkness, any more than was Mary’s. By a miracle of God, the Word of God creates faith in us, a virgin faith, a faith that has God as the Father. The Holy Spirit overshadows us and gives us new life within. God who by His saving grace has caused us to become highly favored in His sight. And God nurtures this faith within us. The Holy Spirit builds our faith from within and by means of the Church without. This working faith further confirms the seed of faith that was started in us and leads us to eternal life through Jesus Christ the Lord.
Mary took time to confirm the reality of the announcement by visiting Elizabeth. As the truth of the Angel’s announcement was confirmed, it is valid for us to seek to confirm the reality of faith in us. We can do this by prayer, study of the Scripture, fellowship with other believers, attending to the dramatic sermon of the Eucharist. The church calls this attending to the means of grace. A true faith acts upon itself and builds itself up. When we come to the fullness of faith, we will recognize that God had been with us all along, even when we were ignorant of His prevenient grace in us, preparing the way for us.
A Christmas carol says “the world in silent stillness lay”. But with the announcement of John the Baptist, the silence was broken. The announcement of the birth of Jesus further confirmed that God was again speaking to the world rather than being hidden. This is not to say that God was not actively at work preparing for this day. In the same way we shall come to realize that God had prepared the way for our faith even before faith is announced in us and a new epoch is declared in your life. No longer will you set your clock to the world’s time and date your life by what happens in the world. Your life will be dated by what God has done in you, is doing in you, and will do in you. Take time in this season to rejoice with the saints of God and the holy angels over the birth of the Savior of the nations who had come into the world and is coming again.
Let us announce to the dying world that the Kingdom is coming. Let us help prepare the way of faith to others this season. May God use us as He did Mary as the means of bringing life to the world. When the last trumpet makes the final announcement in history, it will be too late for the unbeliever. So while it is today, let us be the heralds of the Gospel so that they may hear the words “In you is born this day, the Savior who is Christ the Lord.” This Savior who was born of Mary lived a sinless life and died on a cross for our sin, God raided Jesus up on the third day and was announced to be the Son of God in power. Because we know this truth, we know that He will be faithful to His promise to return. May God bless you this Christmas season with the announcement of the greatest gift ever given. Amen.