Luke 1:26-38 “Jesus as Foretold”
Last week, you may recall, we saw that angel—what was his name? Gabriel! He came down to Zechariah in the temple in Jerusalem to foretell of the birth of John, whom we will later come to know as John the Baptist. It is now six months later, and we see that that same angel is busy once more. He is once again foretelling the birth of an important person. This time he foretells of the birth of the Son of God, who is Jesus the Christ, savior of humankind. Makes us want to believe in angels. Everything he says comes true.
Did you ever wonder how it is that this angel’s story comes to us? In the Tuesday afternoon Bible Study, one of the members asked an insightful question. He asked if Luke, the writer of this gospel, knew Mary the Mother of Jesus. Did Luke sit down and interview Jesus’ mother? We do not have an historical record of this today, as far as I know. However, a few years ago a book was published by a certain Dr. Adam Bradford that made the supposition that not only did Luke know Mary, but Mary may have been the true author of the Gospel of Luke! He came to this conclusion by textual evidence.
I do not agree with this idea. I am very sure that Luke wrote the Gospel According to Luke, yet how could Luke confirm anything of the meeting between the Angel Gabriel and Mary unless Mary herself tells Luke her story? Only Mary and the Angel Gabriel could tell of it. They were otherwise alone at the time. Either the information on the Annunciation is coming from Mary or Gabriel. It is far more likely that Luke has been talking with Mary than with Gabriel.
According to the story, therefore, told by Mary to Luke, the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary and says what? “Hi!” The King James’ version says, “Hail!” We could also translate this as “hello” or as in our pew bibles as “greetings.” In the Gideon’s Bible the term is “rejoice.” So much confusion over one angelic word! It is really quite the common greeting of the day and is still used in modern demotic Greek today: “Χαιρετε.” The word itself is based on the word “Χαρις” which means literally “grace.” We get the English word “charity” actually from this Greek root. Yet, as a verb it can certainly mean “rejoice” as well.
What is most fascinating in the Greek when the angel speaks to Mary is that this exact same word is repeated again in a description of Mary to follow. That line “most favored” is the same Greek word being used again. “O most graceful one” could be a truer translation. “Grace to you, Mary, who is already the most graceful one.” Or, “Rejoice, you who are most filled with joy. . ..”
What this tells us is that even before the miraculous birth of Jesus, Mary was already infused with God’s incredible grace and joy that she would be referred to by the angel not once but twice with the term. Already she is the most grace-filled, graceful, woman on the planet. Catholics will still say this line as the “Hail Mary,” “Hail, Mary, full of grace!”
There is a tradition in the Catholic Church, which venerates Mary, that only she and Jesus, of all the people ever on the planet, were never touched by Satan. This is amazingly enough also to be read in a hadith upon the birth of Mary in the Quran of the Moslem faith. In other words, she is not just a virgin. She is the most grace-filled woman that we can refer to today. She was indeed favored by God.
Still thinking about this unusual greeting to Mary, I want to make the point that it is important as Christians that we greet one another. Let me give you an example of why: Over thirty years ago I was eating breakfast in the commissary of the seminary where I went to school to get my Masters of Divinity degree. As I sat down with my plate of food, I noticed a young lady who seemed quite sweet. Maybe she noticed me, too, but we never said anything to each other. End of story!
Wait a minute--that is not actually how the story happened. I sat down with my plate of food. I noticed the young lady and in fact greeted her with a “hello.” She greeted me back. We had a conversation. We had a first date. We had a marriage. We had a couple of kids. Thirty years later, we see how both of our worlds were hinged on a single “hello.” It could have swung one way or the other.
Greeting other people is the first step in changing your life, your world, and the whole world in general. Today I wonder how many wars might have been avoided if people would just say “hello.” How many people would have had their lives changed to believe in Jesus Christ if we had just made the effort to start a relationship with a simple greeting. Can we even talk about making “disciples of all nations” if we are not willing to go out and say “hi” to them first?!
After my short visit this last summer to a church in Germany where I was invited to preach, the regular pastor came up to me and thanked me for giving the Word but then also noted to me that she was amazed at my ability to just go up and greet people and start up conversations with them. I was shocked that she had noticed that. I never have felt myself to be anything but a little bit shy with others actually. She assured me that if was a good thing. She mentioned that she wished that she could be more that way.
I figured out that as long as I am talking about Jesus and the Bible, all my natural shyness goes away. So, let the Lord embolden you this day to go out and say a hearty “hello” to someone you do not know. Just imagine that you are an angel sent by God—you might just be that angel to that other person!
When I greeted my wife for the first time at the breakfast table in Berkeley, I did not do what Gabriel did with Mary. I did not come up to Helen and say: “Hello, how are you? I need your womb to bear my child. The child will be great.” I do not know what Helen would have done if I had said that, but my guess is it would not have been pretty. She might have taken out her pepper spray and given me a shot in the face.
Isn’t it amazing that Mary does not scream for help or run away? Mary really must be the most grace-filled woman ever to stand there and give that Angel Gabriel some credence to what he was saying. Or, Mary understood that this was not just some guy chatting her up, this was a true foretelling of God’s plan for her life.
What exactly does the angel foretell? It is not the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but even more than that in a way. The angel names the child “Jesus,” proclaims that he is the very Son of God most high, and mentions that he will be great among nations. These three things are conveyed to Mary.
His name will be ‘Jesus’: I know that I mentioned before that in those days the first son was generally given the name of the father. The name Jesus is actually Joshua (Yeshua) in Hebrew and literally means “God saves.” If the father is God in heaven, then Jesus is following that same tradition.
Also, Joshua is the name of the historical figure who crossed the Jordan with a miracle, conquered Jericho with another miracle, and reestablished the kingdom of Israel. Jesus will do miracles and reestablish the kingdom as well.
The angel says that Jesus will be the Son of God incarnate. God’s very essence will be on earth for the first time since the Fall of Humanity. We can recall that in the Garden of Eden at the time of Creation, God was there with Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:8 “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze. . . .” With Jesus, humanity will once again be able to share an evening breeze with God! We will be able to literally walk the walk with God.
Because God will be with us (Emmanuel=God with us), God will be able to take the death that we all suffer into God’s self, and then through the almighty power of the Creator, dispense with it. That is to say, you can try to put Jesus on a cross and crucify him, but Jesus is God. Death has no power over him. He will in fact conquer death.
Consequently, Jesus will be mighty among the nations. Luke tells us that the angel promises to Jesus the throne of David. Israel will be reestablished. The Kingdom of God begins with the birth of Jesus. Once the King is born, he is entitled to his father’s inheritance.
As an aside, I grew up in Los Angeles, California. Most people may not realize that LA is actually named for Mary the mother of Jesus. The original Spanish name is “El Pueblo de la nuestra Reina de Los Angeles.” Which is the “village of our queen of angels.” That would be Mary the mother of Jesus who becomes the queen of angels in the new Kingdom of God. So, Gabriel in announcing the birth of Jesus in this way tells Mary that she will be his new boss in heaven! Cool! So, Mary is indeed the most graceful and joy filled after all in God’s Kingdom.
And, it all starts with a simple “hello.” See how a simple greeting can foretell God’s plan over your life. Just greet other people! Give them some aloha.