Advent Week 3 – Luke 1:26-38


Heads up: a lot of groups take the weeks of Christmas Eve and New Years off. Planning around the holidays can be tough, and it’s nice to get a break in a busy season. Go ahead and think through how you’d like to stay in touch over the holidays, cause even something as simple as a “Merry Christmas!” text is a good reminder of what unites us in community.
Our third, “Do not fear,” passage comes from Luke 1, and this time Gabriel says the phrase to Mary. You know the story: Gabriel visits Mary, says, “Greetings, O favored one!” and then explains that soon Mary will bear a son named Jesus. She asks, “How will this be?” Gabriel explains a tad, and Mary decides, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

This conversation is yet another fascinating exchange between a heavenly being and a mortal one. Gabriel is mysterious and judicious with his words, Mary is humble yet inquisitive. The whole scene humorously dances around how, precisely, Mary will become pregnant—it’s not as if she didn’t know how that kind of thing works. Note that Gabriel doesn’t really get into the weeds on how the Holy Spirit will accomplish this miracle, but he includes the work of God evidenced in Mary’s own cousin, Elizabeth, as proof that God can accomplish whatever he wants, whether or not it seems sensible to us. And this seems to satisfy Mary’s curiosity.

But can you imagine what all of this was like for Mary, having an angel spring this kind of news on you? Here she was, engaged to a nice guy named Joseph, preparing to be a wife and perhaps a mother one day, being told that her whole timeline has been flipped and rewritten. Where she was expecting predictability and stability there would instead be confusion and unrest. And telling people “the Holy Spirit made me pregnant” will surely make her a laughing stock, maybe get her disowned by her family, and most definitely put stress on her relationship with Joseph (as we saw last week). And yet she says to Gabriel, “let it be according to your word.” Even though the details were still obscure and the future was questionable, she accepted the Lord’s plan for her.

Thinking back two weeks ago to a similar exchange, notice that the angel is far more forgiving of her question than he was with Zechariah. Both of them respond to Gabriel’s news similarly, “How will this be?” But here with Mary I think we can assume this was asked in good faith, as in “How exactly is this virgin pregnancy going to work out?” There had yet to be a virgin birth in Israel’s history, so she didn’t have much to work from, whereas for Zechariah there were several instances of God giving children to the formerly barren (e.g. Abraham and Sarah). So Zechariah had examples, and furthermore, he was a priest! If anyone should’ve accepted the audacious promises of the Lord it should’ve been him.

Back to Mary’s story, where would you expect to see the angel say, “Do not fear”? Maybe it’s just me, but I would assume he would have to say that after the “the Holy Spirit will make you pregnant” bit. But Mary is afraid, at least according to the text, not after this proclamation but before it, when the angel greets her. Recalling previous weeks, most people are afraid when they meet an angelic being, so that’s not new news. But we’re told she was greatly troubled “at the saying,” that is, when the angel said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” She was afraid as to the implications: what does this mean, what word does this angel have for me, how could I be favored in God’s sight? But God uses Gabriel’s words to ease her fear, whether because she’s told that she’s bearing the Messiah, or from the example of Elizabeth, or hearing how God will see her through it.

This is similar to what we saw with Joseph, that when God’s people are called to difficult things the greatest comfort comes from knowing God is near and has a plan. That doesn’t make things any less hard or scary, but it does remind us that our trials aren’t meaningless and that we aren’t alone. Looking at Mary we see that being the Lord’s servant involves giving up your plans, your agendas, your timelines, and maybe even your hopes and dreams. Think of all that awaited her that she could never expect, like standing at the foot of her son’s cross while he died (John 19:25), or hearing the unbelievable good news of his resurrection. Being the Lord’s servant requires both submitting our entire selves to God—knowing full well that we already belong to him anyway—and trusting him to be good even when things are awfully frightening.

Questions for Discussion

• Would someone read Luke 1:26–38 for us?

• What stands out to you from this passage?

• Why do you think Mary was initially afraid over the angel’s greeting?

• What was so important about this angel’s message?

• What do you think it was like for Mary to receive this news?

• How does this passage help us understand the significance of Jesus’ birth?

• How can this passage help us celebrate Christmas this year?