In the run-up to Christmas I’ve been blogging some small thoughts about Advent. I’ve picked some passages from Isaiah that I believe can help focus us on the coming King and the Kingdom that began to break in with the birth of a tiny baby.
Today we fast forward, in the final post of my Advent Series, not quite to Jesus’ birth, but to the New Testament.
This passage, from the opening chapter of one of the historical accounts of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, fleshes out the famous story of Mary meeting the angel. However, in the way that the Bible so often does, this passage is less about a mystical encounter and more about the way that God speaks and acts. Read on:
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you,and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God.36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
There is, as there always is in biblical writing, so much going on. There are historical details, details that point ot a specific engagement with a specific person in a specific place in a specific time. There is language of favour and blessing – to a woman on the fringes of society from an emissary of the ruler of the universe. Before Jesus has even arrived, the Kingdom is breaking in and showing us what God desires the world to be like.
Let’s jump back out again. In previous posts in this little Advent series, we’ve borne in mind the changing and fragmented nature of darkness in our world. We’ve watched a trailer for a film about drone attacks in the middle east. We’ve nodded in the direction of the reality that many are upset and afraid, as kingdoms clash and burn and all about us is unsure and ‘post-truth’.
His kingdom will never end…
That is what God says to Mary, through the Angel, about the king she will shortly give birth to. There is a contrast, between the kingdoms of this world, the empires we build or destroy, the cultures we think are true yet are like a feather in the eternal breeze of the Spirit.
This is coming, whether we understand it or not. The Angel explains, or rather states why this will come to pass. The Angel speaks, telling Mary what will happen (which subsequently does happen), what has happened (the miracle of Elizabeth’s pregnancy in her old age), and the reason why this is true:
The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.
Mary takes the words of the Angel on trust. For no word from God will ever fail. The word that foreshadows and shapes the Kingdom of God is rooted in the same Good God. And that Kingdom will never end. Because God is Good, and as we read elsewhere in the Bible, His love endures forever.
And with Mary’s words, the stage is set for Christmas Day:
I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
The greatest gift anyone has ever given or received. The favour of God. The sure and certain word of God. The angelic emissary of God speaking to a lowly woman at one end of the Mediterranean.
Christmas is just around the corner…