Most weeks, this should be helpful to the majority of churchgoers because the Bible lesson is one of those passages appointed in the lectionaries, or Biblical lesson plans, and used by the vast majority of Christians around the world.
The Bible lesson for this week, the Third Weekend in Advent, the first season of the Church Year, is Luke 1:26-38.
A few notes about Luke:
- Only Luke and Matthew, two of the four books known as Gospels in the New Testament section of the Bible, give accounts of the birth of Jesus. Mark and John do not have birth narratives.
- As this Bible lesson exemplifies, Luke tells the story of Jesus' birth from the vantage point of His earthly mother, Mary. Matthew tells it from the perspective of His earthly father, Joseph.
- Luke is at pains to put the events He recounts within the context of history, especially political history. This is also seen in what is the second volume of his history, Acts, another New Testament book; it recounts what happened after the risen Jesus ascended to heaven and continues the story of the early church through about 70 A.D.
- Luke emphasizes the now-ness of God's presence in Jesus and later, in God's Holy Spirit. The kingdom of God is now, for example. The point is that eternity has invaded this world and put those who follow Christ into the kingdom now.
- Luke also emphasizes the immediate accessibility of God through prayer. Jesus is portrayed as praying here more than in the other three Gospel books.
- Luke is obviously a well-educated person. Like the rest of the New Testament, the book of Luke is written in Greek. Mark's Greek is primitive. John's language is sublime. Matthew's is more that of the scribe. But Luke even creates his own complex compound words that make utter sense.
- Luke has the most well-known of Jesus' parables. Among them is the story of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
v. 26: Mary's relative, Elizabeth, who is to give birth to John the Baptizer, is six months into her pregnancy, when the angel Gabriel visits Mary.
On the Church Year calendar, the birth of John the Baptizer is remembered on June 25, six months before Christmas.
It interests me that Gabriel is identified as the angel who announces to Mary that she will bear the Savior of the world. Gabriel had appeared to Daniel some five-hundred years earlier. (Check out Daniel 8:15-17; 9:21)
In the first of those two passages in Daniel, the angel had "the appearance of a man." In the latter, Gabriel showed up while Daniel was praying.
The word, angel, means messenger. Angels are not human beings, contrary to popular myth. The Bible indicates that they are separate creatures, of a lower order than human beings. It also indicates that when incarnated, they may take different forms.
v. 27: This verse establishes the strange circumstances and conditions of Mary's situation.
v. 28: Putting myself in Mary's place, I can't help but think that momentarily, she'll have reason to doubt her "favored" status and to wish that the Lord weren't so "with" her.
v. 29: What makes the greeting of Gabriel so perplexing to Mary? The notes in my Bible say, "Mary was young, poor, female---all characteristics that, to the people of the day, would make her seem unusable by God for any major task. But God chose Mary for a very important act of obedience..." Good point!
v. 30: "Do not fear" or "Be not afraid" is a fairly stereotyped manner for angels to greet people, no doubt indicating that there was something of the startling luminescence of heaven about them. Interestingly though, these are not the very first words of Gabriel to Mary. Once again though, he calls Mary, "favored."
v. 31: This is incredibly direct for so momentous an announcement! But it is precisely these sorts of matter-of-fact ways of communicating that buttess the credibility of the Bible.
v. 32: Son of the Most High is a title that conveys no descendance, but oneness. Jesus is to be the very embodiment of God. The next phrase, ascribing descendance from the great King David, conveys that the Savior Who is true God is also true human.
v. 33: The "house of Jacob" seems to denote all of Israel's children.
v. 34: Talk about perplexed!
v. 35: This will be no usual pregnancy!
v. 36: I think this is funny. As if Mary hasn't had enough perplexing news, Gabriel gives more to her!
v. 37: God can do anything!
v. 38: In spite of the seeming implausibility of it all, Mary surrenders to the will of God for her.
After this passage, the angel simply leaves. I wonder if Mary momentarily questioned if she's imagined the whole thing. Apparently not, as v. 39 indicates.
[For more on this passage, check out Brian Stoffregen's exegetical notes here.]