The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” And, in the end, Mary’s response is “Here I am . . . let it be with me according to your word.” Said in another way, Mary embraces the power of the Messiah, the savior of the world, to change her life.
Today’s readings (Luke 1:26-38; 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Romans 16:25-27) are deeply intertwined, as Paul Bieber wrote in Homily Service in 2005, emphasizing that the identity of the Savior is two-fold: descendant of both David and of God.
The identity of the Messiah as the Son of David goes back to the promise we hear in the first reading, where the prophet Nathan promises David that his royal house will be established forever. But David's dynasty fell in 587 B.C.E. The promise was not fulfilled in the expected manner, but in a surprising, unexpected way.
Even before we get to the fulfillment, observe that notice of the promise comes about in a surprising, unexpected way. Living in his palace, King David has a bad conscience because God has to live in a mere tent. He wants to build the LORD a house to dwell in. Not an unusual desire. Down through millennia, people have built temples as places to worship their Gods. They thought of the deity or deities in territorial terms, the God of this place or that place. But the God of the Old Testament dwelt in a tent, leading [the] people on a pilgrimage. This God didn't need a fixed structure . . . but preferred to live within the community, moving about among all the people. Our God is not planted in one place but travels about with us. The God who dwells in a tent rather than a temple is a God on the move.
This God found residence in a house, a temple of human flesh. The central event in the building of this house is the coming of the Son of David—not to Jerusalem, to the daughter of scribes or priests, but to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin named Mary. . . .
Mary's conception is a divine creative action; it is a new work of the overshadowing Spirit, that same Spirit that hovered at the creation of the world when all was void.
In revealing to Mary the twofold identity of Jesus, Gabriel is speaking both the language of the Old Testament prophets about the Son of David and the language of the New Testament preachers about the Son of God: language that Paul in Romans specifically calls “gospel.” Thus it is no exaggeration to say that Mary has heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and indeed is the first one to have done so. When she says yes to this Gospel, she becomes the first disciple. When she says yes to this Gospel, she shows us something important about our discipleship.
He is the unique Son of God as well, the very presence of God with us, Emmanuel. Anything less is not the Gospel, and assent to anything less will not make us disciples. And assent to that twofold identity is not just intellectual assent; it involves being willing to hear Jesus’ proclamation of God's will and doing it.
That means being willing to face the annunciations in our lives. That means radical obedience, like Mary's, which is deceptive in its simplicity.
– Paul Bieber
Given the many prophetic voices we have heard in this Advent season, Ron Anderson asks us to consider whether Mary’s voice may be the strongest of all.
Paul Bieber is pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church, San Diego, California.
E. Byron Anderson is the Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Worship and the Director of the Nellie B. Ebersole Program in Music Ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.
Homily Service 39, no. 1 (2005): 37-49.