December 14, 2017

Difficult Scriptures: Luke 1: 26-38

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee,27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. (Luke 1: 26-38, NLT)

Often times with Difficult Scriptures, we ask you to help interpret the passage in question. Today’s passage is not one that is difficult to interpret, but it is very difficult to comprehend.

Mary was more than likely no more than 13 or 14 years old when the angel appeared to her. She had her whole life in front of her—a marriage to a man who would be able to provide for her, and that was not something to take for granted in those days. And then … and then God came and turned her whole world upside down.

Was this fair? Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life? How would you have responded if the angel had come to you with this news? And does God still move in impossible ways today? Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?

It’s your turn. Help us with this difficult scripture.

Comments

  1. Because God knows the hearts of all people, He knew that Mary was willing to submit to His will! Being told that you are favored by God would make saying ‘yes’ a whole lot easier and saying ‘no’ a whole lot harder. Mary seemed wise beyond her years and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At age 13 or 14 one usually does not have preconceived ideas about the consequences of such a life changing decision. Perhaps this kind of visitation by an angel and being chosen to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah was every young spiritually minded Israelite girl’s dream!

    If my daughter had come and told me that she experienced the same as what Mary experienced, I would probably have needed a visitation from an angel to confirm it, just as Joseph did!

    Looking forward to other comments.

  2. I have noticed that when Zechariah questioned the angel about how his wife could possibly become pregnant, he was made unable to speak until John was born. But Mary questioned the angel about how she could possibly get pregnant and the angel explained. I have read that Zechariah was a priest, was old and should have known that God could do whatever God wanted to do. Mary was a young girl and as such, was treated more…patiently.

    Do you often wonder what it would be like to encounter an angel? Do you think angels take on human-like properties so that they can communicate with us? I wonder how long it took for Jesus as he was growing up to fully realize who he was, why he was and what he had to do? And how much of that would Mary have understood? When they were at the wedding in Cana together, she obviously knew that he could turn water into wine. How did she know he could do that and would do that?

    I don’t know the answers to your questions, Jeff. I only have questions of my own that are brought on by these passages in the Bible. I do read about people sometimes having encounters with what they believe to be an angel, but I haven’t been reading those stories lately.

    How would I have responded if an angel had come to me and told me what the angel told Mary? I think I would say, “You must have the wrong person. Maybe you wanted ______ down the street. She is a very faithful follower of God. I can barely get up in the morning. You don’t want me, I am sure of it. I would be a lousy mother of the Son of God.” Or…it would have scared me so much I would not have known what to do. Or…God would have given me a bit of understanding and strength to say, “OK, I don’t fully understand this, but OK, I will give it a go.”

  3. “Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?” You kidding me? God’s spun my life around in so many directions over the years that at this point I’m pretty sure I’m living in ten-dimensional space! He’s turned me upside-down so often that the only directions I can figure out now are “toward Him” and “away from Him” …

    … oh. I guess that’s the point, huh?

  4. Mary’s response of submission to God is so beautiful. I wonder if this was, completely and utterly out of the blue for her, or if, in some way, God had been preparing her for what He needed her to do? He doesn’t test us beyond what we can bear, so says the word, and she must have trusted God so much to just submit to him like that, not knowing at that time if Joseph would stick by her or not. And if God was preparing Mary in some small way, would He have been preparing Joseph too then, to do the right thing and stay with her. Did they risk small town humiliation and unbelief, or was the culture of the time open to what they said to curious neighbours and family friends about Mary’s pregnancy? They had to be so strong, it seems to me, in their commitment to God and each other and their trust in what God had told them. I wonder what Mary and Joseph’s individual relationships to God had been like up to that time? As a Christian I can only read this and realise how different their culture and responses are from my own. I don’t think i would have coped as mary did with being told such news, much as i wish i would. and i can just imagine how my work colleagues, friends, family and neighbours would react if i were to say i was pregnant by the holy spirit and still a virgin. how different is our culture from theirs? why, if god can do anything, did he only provide a stable for his own son to be born in, for the young woman he chose to endure her labour in? i love how each question brings with it another. happy pondering, folks.

  5. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Rom 5:6

    It could be the angelic announcement to Mary attempted before. In all of Jewish history the desire for the Messiah a heart cry from generation to generation. Like Simeon & Anna. Maybe their favorite bible story was Jacob wrestling the Angel (Gen 32). There God invaded Jacob’s camp uninvited & Jacob was changed from then on. The limp a reminder of facing God in a wrestling match & overcoming. His name changed to Israel. The course of a nation changed in that contest. For what God had promised the Children of Israel, a similar, singular, dramatic event would be required. God would return once again unannounced & change the course of history, for the Jew first, then the Gentiles. Maybe Joseph & Mary understood Jacob’s incredible experience & were prepared in their hearts for actually being the entry of Messiah into human history. There were these unassuming people in the backwaters of Roman occupied territory hearing the heart cry of God & humanity thru the ages to a become the “fullness of time” God had both prepared & waited for.

    The event of that same Gabriel coming first to Zechariah & Elizabeth further preparation for Mary’s encounter. Things deep stirred into a flame that I would think Mary not fully aware of the scope. But she knew God was up to something with her relative Elizabeth & I believe it was deliberate as that miraculous pregnancy pointing back to the Father of our faith, Abraham & Isaac, the son of promise. The stars converged. The planets aligned. The cosmos prepared. And then…

    And then during the normal course of Temple duty, Zechariah’s priestly division was selected. And then Zechariah chosen by lot to be the one to offer incense to the Lord. And when the time of the burning of incense had come, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

    AND THEN the angel appeared at the right side of the table of incense…

    The necessary key events set into divinely choreographed motion. Mary already contemplating them in her heart when suddenly that same Gabriel appeared to her…

    And the rest, they say, is HIStory…

    • addendum: I happen to be recently divorced after a 26 year marriage. I have 3 strapping young men from that union. However, as I am sitting here drinking a very fine Gary Farrell Pinot Noir & listening to music, I realize the challenges of a marriage gone sour & that philosophical consideration of “if I knew then what I know now” can be troublesome…

      The uniqueness of my sons far outweighs the failures of a marriage that was the family nest they were conceived & born into. But that is not how I would answer if you asked me at some point of the divorce proceedings…

      Would I do it all over again had an angel appeared to me & told me what Gabriel told Mary? How much information does God risk disclosing in His workings of human history or even in the individual lives of regular saints? My religious upbringing prepared me for an amazing encounter with Jesus when I was 20 years old. His call just as personal as that presented to Mary. The implications & cost of being a disciple not fully appreciated at my epiphany though. Isn’t that the way it is with all of us? No guarantee of tomorrow. No big screen projection of my life played out so that I can accept or reject its future challenges. Would I volunteer once again to have 3 boys with their mother knowing my marriage would unravel 26 years later? When we start to identify with the human elements of God’s workings in our lives & having to trust His oversight & ultimate goodness in the midst of negative issues, we can more readily look at the innocence of Mary & with the angel declare: “Blessed are you most highly favored one!” You responded in a way that permits me to look back at such an event & magnify the Lord who has done great things to save all people from their sins! Thank you Jesus…

    • Joseph, thanks for that passage in Romans. I just realized that it ties in nicely with Galatians4:4-5, and I wonder if Paul intendend that. I’ll peg them together from now on. “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

      • hey, i like the Galatians reference. thanx! that does tie my thoughts together better. i was in a hurry & without looking up things on line at the same time as posting (nope, i’m not a multi-tasker) it helps when others fill-in-the-blanks of my otherwise brain freeze/senior moment. blessings…

        ~Joseph

  6. In Orthodoxy, it is said that the Virgin Mary’s consent was necessary and duly given (verse 38), and that he submission offers a kind of closure to the disobedience of Eve. As God-bearer, Mary is incomparably more exalted than the angels.

    Meanwhile, scholars of a skeptical bent suspect the story of Mary’s virginal conception of being the gospel writer’s attempt to demonstrate that she has fulfilled a (mistranslated, and taken out-of-context) prophecy from Isaiah.

  7. Liberal theologians have problems with God intervening and invading our lives, turning them upside down – for good or bad. If ones life is turned upside-down, is it God’s doing, or did God simply choose not to show up when he was really needed? Is it God’s punishment? Why does God bring about good for one but not when someone really needs a miracle? Does God really allow bad things to happen in order to teach us an important lesson? Or does life – good and bad – simply happen? Is not it all part of being self-aware creatures in a world where death is an inevitability? I can’t help but question my past criticisms of liberals when I see the damage caused by blaming our problems or hanging our hopes on the miraculous. The power of the Christian life is not that if we believe then everything will work out in the end. The Christian message is one of courage, that one can declare “Let it Be” in spite of the circumstances of life, in spite of ourselves because our hope is not hung on circumstances. The Christian life is lived in the eternal now, living life actively and to its fullest, not hung on hopes of a future miracle or in dread of an unanticipated divine punishment or lesson. Grace is not cowering helplessly in a corner, waiting for God to intervene. Grace is living and loving with joy and peace in the face of our circumstances, our limitations, our weaknesses, our failures, and our inevitable end.

  8. Based on my own appallingly limited and insufficient experience of such things, my equally limited understanding of scripture, and some of the testimonies of converts from Islam, here’s my take.

    I think when God speaks to people in these more direct and miraculous ways, we encounter more closely just what the nature of his kingdom is and how it operates. And because of that, things like having our lives turned upside down tend to pale in comparison. It’s not that there aren’t real effects on our lives, but that we have encountered in some very real way an intersection between our earthly plodding and the fuller reality of God’s eternal kingdom and purpose. When that happens, priorities get shifted a bit. In other words, the reality of God with us begins to take hold and change things, starting with us.

    “Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life?”
    I think God does, but in our dullness and distraction we aren’t always listening. And even if we are, he still tends to look and act a little different than we imagined before the actual encounter.

    God still turns lives upside down and moves in impossible ways today, but it’s easy to miss if I’m not looking and listening. Lord, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

  9. It’s been a joy reading all these comments. Thanks, everyone!

  10. Often times with Difficult Scriptures, we ask you to help interpret the passage in question. Today’s passage is not one that is difficult to interpret, but it is very difficult to comprehend.

    I’m not sure what’s difficult about it. But I’m weird.

    Was this fair?

    God can’t be unfair, so…no.

    Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life?

    Shouldn’t or wouldn’t? Sometimes he comes with a burning bush, others he comes in a small voice. Sometimes he’s a warrior. Others he comes as a slave. Sometimes the Spirit impresses to our souls. Other times Jesus strikes us blind on the road.

    He knows us pretty well. He knows how best to get our attention.

    How would you have responded if the angel had come to you with this news?

    It’s me. I’d probably go from confusion to laughter.

    And does God still move in impossible ways today? Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?

    He does not change.