Fear? Not! Luke 1:26-38
The second thing that he said to Mary was ‘fear not’, or in more modern speech ‘do not be afraid’; the first was a puzzling greeting that told her of God’s favour and presence with her.
Fear not, you will conceive and bear a son… oh, and we’ve picked out a name for him: Jesus, and Mary, there are a few thing that you should know about your boy:
-He’s going to be great
-He will have title: The Son of the Most High
-God will give him the throne of his ancestor David
-He will be King forever [Messiah]; his kingdom will not ever end.
Curiously to me, Mary didn’t ask clarification about all the king and kingdom information, or disbelieve the message about what was going to happen. Her question was practical – unlike Zechariah, who when told that his prayers had been heard and a baby was going to be born to his wife Elizabeth, asked the angel how he could be sure of this – doubting the message or the messenger – A priest, he should have known better….
Mary’s question “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” doesn’t seem to question the events foretold to her. It is more of a procedural / practical nature: I know how babies start; that hasn’t happened.
Gabriel does not get into a technical explanation – he basically explains that God will make it happen. Mary is satisfied and gives her informed assent. And then the angel left — left!
This would be where I would freak out – ummm, become rather anxious. Being visited by an angel can’t have been very comforting, and his message, somewhat less comforting. But then to be all alone again with this, this – secret, that no one else on earth could possibly believe? Excruciating!
Perhaps, after a while, when she finally remembered to breathe, and when her heart beat slowed to within the normal range for a girl of her age and build, and perhaps as she looked around and saw that she was alone in the darkness (for some reason I always imagine that the angel visit occurred at night), perhaps the angel message came back to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God,” and this was a comfort to her. I hope so. Mary had the faith to believe that God would do what he had said he would do, and that he was with her.
Her faith had allowed her to respond to God’s message with “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” That was probably the easy part. She had nine months of pregnancy ahead, and how would she be able to explain to her beloved Joseph? -and what would the neighbours think – well, we know what they would think. And this was a time when what the neighbours think might cost a girl her life, and not just her reputation.
I imagine that there were times in those nine months, and in the years beyond, right up until the end of her life, when the message from God: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God,” was the only comfort she had.
I am not Mary. I have not been visited by an angel, but I do have faith and, like Mary, I believe that God will do what he said he will do, and that he is with me. And when the people who live around me can’t understand how I can believe this stuff. I take comfort in the words of Mary’s son, Jesus “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
All direct quotations of the Bible are taken from:
New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
I used http://www.biblegateway.com to locate bible verses
Isaiah 11 (RSV)
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist,
and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall feed;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
We read in Isaiah 11, that the stump of Jesse will sprout. We take this to mean that Jesus is prophesied to be born from the remains of Jesse’s family tree.
Usually, when a tree is chopped down, we kind of figure that it is finished. Things don’t always work out the way we figure.
This reading appeals to me for the vision of absolute safety and peacefulness it presents – a complete lack of danger, threat, chaos or turmoil. I find this a refreshing antidote to the morning paper and the news of tragedy, armed struggle, disaster and violence we hear so often. Peace.
In Advent, we look back in order to look forward. Advent recalls looking forward to the arrival of The Messiah. and look how he shows up:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 RSV
A chopped down tree, a baby – these seem like weak openings, small ways to start. God chooses surprising ways to begin. In the beginning, The Beginning – at the creation of the universe God spoke – he ‘said’.
A friend who is expecting SOON was wearing sweatshirt last night that has some words from Something’s Coming from West Side Story: “Something’s coming, something good.” That feels like the message of Advent – The message of Christmas, too: Something’s coming, something good.
I wonder what he wants to say to us? I wonder what he wants to do / begin in us as something small