Monday, December 13, 2021
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Luke 1:26–28 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Reflection on the Nativity
In the opening scene of It’s A Wonderful Life, we meet George Bailey of course, who is in trouble. Then the film zooms out beyond earth, to a far away interstellar realm where celestial beings (portrayed as galaxies) are talking, trying to assign someone to visit and watch over George Bailey. One suggests Clarence (though he has the IQ of a rabbit) since he has the faith of a child. And anyway maybe he’ll earn his wings.
It does help with our theological imagination doesn’t it? How do angels get their assignments? How do they know when to visit and where? We don’t get answers to these questions in the Gospel of Luke but we are at least offered a certain amount of specificity. Luke claims to have “investigated everything” (Luke 1:3) in order to offer us this account so we should expect details. If angels get job assignments, the Angel Gabriel’s would read:
When: in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy
Where: Nazareth in Galilee
Who: Mary who was pledged to Joseph a descendant of David
And for this assignment we don’t send Clarence. This is an important message so we call in Gabriel again. He visited Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah just a few verses back; a tricky assignment because Zechariah doesn’t believe the message, and the angel makes him mute and unable to speak until the message has been fulfilled (intense angel drama I’d say). Gabriel is also the name of the angel who visited Daniel, who also becomes speechless at a divine message (Daniel 10:15).
We will soon see how Mary responds to the angel’s visit in the verses that follow, but here we simply find the angel’s first words of welcome. The Greek word used for “Greetings,” here is also the word for “Rejoice,” implying from the start that this is good news. Gabriel calls Mary “highly favored,” a title also given to Noah, Moses, Gideon, and Samuel. Like Moses’ burning-bush story that occurs when he is out tending his uncle’s flocks in the wilderness, the angel comes to Mary when she is home in the midst of ordinary life in Nazareth. All these things are signaling Mary as a prophet (for the Lord is with her) and the first to witness and know God incarnate.
How then do we pray?
First: It reminds me to welcome God in the ordinary. We may have awe-inspired mountain top moments, or walk the valley of shadow, but equally God can come to us over our morning coffee or during our evening commute. Divine insight does not have to come at prescribed times (like during worship).
Second: I’m interested in following the thread of Zechariah’s silence/wordlessness in relation to what will be Mary’s outpouring of song. We each have our own ways of responding to the wild, weird, abundance of God’s vision for our lives. Some of us—like Zechariah—will find it utterly bewildering (surely it can’t happen now? after all this time? it’s too good to be true?) and some of us will find it humbling. We do not know how we will respond. I don’t fault Zechariah for his being-made-mute. Sometimes after a long time of hoping for another way, we run out of hope. We need not shame Zechariah for his less-than-faithful response; any of us could find ourselves in such disbelief.
Third: I can’t help but think of this passage from Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” We may not have a visit from Gabriel, or even Clarence, but there is something here about paying attention to one another’s voices, for it is there that we might hear an echo of the divine.
Praying the Nativity
into my ear
so that I may live
nearer to you.