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The Actors of Advent | Mary
December 5, 2021
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
As with many of the Biblical stories that we revisit each Advent and Christmas season, the story of Gabriel’s visitation of Mary is so familiar it can sometimes lose its power within the sentimentality of the season. But a close reading of this passage reveals the power of God to come through on his promise of salvation, the extent of the kingdom that Jesus will usher in, and the faith of a servant girl who upon receiving an unexpected vocation and gift responds with: “I am your servant, let it be according to your word”. Mary’s story offers us a way by which we can be a people who receive the good gifts from God and share those gifts with the world.
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
God, we are confident you are coming, bringing a world where all will be made right. Calm our anxiety, strengthen our patience, and keep our hope aflame, as we work towards, and wait for, your new day. Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 25:1-10
1To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.
3Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
5Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.
6Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
7Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
8Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
10All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
1. Looking at the Bible: What does the text say?
- This is Gabriel's second visitation in Luke, the first was to Zechariah. What are some of the differences between Mary's and Zechariah's response?
- How is Gabriel's interaction with them different and how is it similar?
- What are some of the common assumptions/misunderstandings of Mary that often shape our culture's understanding of this story?
2. Looking at Jesus: Gabriel’s announcement to Mary gives us several clues as to the type of messiah Jesus will be. V.32-33 reveal the extent of Jesus’ kingdom and the nature of his kingship.
- Jesus is called "Son of the Most High" and we are told David is his father. How are we to see Jesus in light of these two references to Jesus' fathers?
- Where in this passage does Luke emphasize Jesus' divinity and where does Luke highlight his humanity?
3. Looking at our Hearts: Just as Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah completely disrupted his life, Gabriel’s announcement to Mary will completely change the trajectory of her life and story. When Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple Simeon gives Mary a sobering glimpse at the grief she will also bear as her son’s mission moves to the cross (Luke 2:33-35). But Mary’s response to Gabriel reveals her not fully understanding and yet receiving this all in faith.
- Mary seems to be requesting more information and not proof of Gabriel's promise like Zechariah did. How might this shape our understanding of having faith in God?
- V.37-38 have been a paradigm for faithfulness throughout church history. How do they help us understand what it means to receive the gift of Christ in our lives?
4. Looking at our World: Mary is receiving the gift of a son from God but at the same time she is being asked to share this gift with the whole world. Her son isn’t just for her, this isn’t just a story of salvation for Mary. And we, like Mary, receive gifts from God, and these gifts are not something we are meant to cling to and keep them only for ourselves. We receive them in order to share them for the sake of the world. Our life, our every breath, every dime to your name, it’s a gift from God. And those gifts are meant to be shared joyfully and willingly, because God out of his generosity has given them to you.
- How are you, like Mary, sharing the gift God has given you?
- What might it look like for you to live with the hope that nothing is impossible with God and then respond with: "I am your servant, O Lord, let it be according to your word?"
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Go in Advent hope and peace.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1: Both Mary and Zechariah meet Gabriel with some level of fear and trepidation yet Gabriel tells both of them not to fear as they enter into his presence. Gabriel gives both of them a promise of a child, and yet in both circumstances the birth of the child will be miraculous.
N.T. Wright offers some helpful clarification about Mary in his commentary on this passage: It’s important to stress that the story says nothing about Mary remaining a virgin after Jesus’ birth. That’s a much later idea. Nor does it say anything about the goodness or badness of sexual identity or sexual relations. Whatever Luke (and Matthew) are trying to say with this story, they aren’t saying that virginity is a morally better state than marriage. They are not denigrating sex, women, conception or birth. They are simply reporting that Jesus did not have a father in the ordinary way, and that this was because Mary had been given special grace to be the mother of God’s incarnate self.
Question 2: In the announcement of Jesus’ birth to Mary we see Luke holding together both the divinity of Jesus (he is called Son of God, his kingdom will have no end, he will reign forever) and the humanity of Jesus (he will be born to Mary, and it’s clear he will be a child). This is oftentimes difficult for us to hold together and yet the Scriptures emphasize this with unflinching consistency, Jesus is both fully human and fully God. In Mary’s story we see just how God works, the power of his Spirit dwelling in us, and the promise of a messiah to rule and reign forever on our behalf, and doing it all out of love for us and the world. God’s favor rests not only on Mary but upon those who receive Jesus by faith.
To be a Christian means first that we are recipients of a gift of Jesus. God finds us in the far flung reaches of the world just like he did Mary and says, “Rejoice, I have good news. I give you my Son.” We didn’t go out and earn it. We didn’t deserve it. We received it because God in his grace showed up. That’s it. The question this passage asks us is: Are you ready to receive him, knowing you have nothing to offer in return?
Question 3: It’s oftentimes easier to consider the global implications of the birth of Christ and the promise that he will rule and reign with righteousness and justice. But, as we see with Zechariah and Elizabeth, this also means the promise that God has come to heal them. This is a deeply personal story of longing but also hope and fulfillment. Discussing this dynamic with your group can lead to helpful discussion not only about the disappointments and sorrow we face but also the ways even now we find God at work in our lives.
Advent calls us to be a people who can admit that we don’t fully understand what is going on but can trust that God is good and therefore we can wait. We wait with each other. We pray for each other, but in the end we trust in the one who gives good gifts to his children.
Question 4: There is an invitation here to joyfully lose ourselves in God’s greater story of redemption. To use our gifts to point to the one who has given you those very gifts. The church is attractive to skeptics and seekers and the watching world when we are joyfully and generously sharing our gifts with our neighbors. Mary was being asked to surrender her life so that she might receive something far better. She was being asked to live in the hope that God was bringing salvation and making all things new. But notice what motivated her. Gabriel said that her son would rule over the house of Jacob forever. He would be the eternal king of Israel. That was good news for Mary, but we know the rest of the story. She may have spoken face to face with the angel Gabriel, but we have more reason to receive this good news.
We know that Jesus gave his life for all and in his resurrection he became the salvation of the entire world. We know that sin and death are defeated, and that Jesus will someday return and restore all things. Therefore, because our future is secure we can lose ourselves in this story. We can give our lives away. We can give ourselves generously to our neighbors and enemies no matter what the cost. Because we’ve been given this gift, this gift of being joint heirs with Christ, we can give it all away.