Scripture’s characteristic word from heaven to earth is “Do not be afraid.” When an angel announces this to a human, the human is usually “in for it.” To understand Mary’s response, we must understand Gabriel’s announcement. It isn’t evident in English, but three crucial words in verses 28 and 30 contain the same Greek root: charis. Its changes in form reveal an important aspect of Mary’s response.
Charis can be translated as “grace,” “mercy,” or “good,” understood as manifesting divine presence, activity, and power. Gabriel’s greetings, “chaire,” implies “rejoice, be glad.” He calls Mary “favored one,” “kecharitomene,” from the verb charitoo, “to bestow or endow with grace.” It is in the perfect tense, which signifies an act completed in the past with continuing effects. It is also in the passive voice, which indicates that something is done to the subject; one doesn’t act but receives. To avoid saying the Sacred Name, some biblical writers use the passive voice when God is the actor. Mary was and continues to be favored or graced by God. She has been given something that she has maintained.
Gabriel’s declaration “you have found favor” can be translated as “you have discovered, come upon, or received charin.” If you find something, are you the source of it? Mary’s response, “Let it be with me” (allow it to happen), beautifully expresses her acceptance of God’s plan. Previous occurrences of grace suggest that she is giving back something she has received. Her fiat returns a gift to its giver. In Episcopal liturgy as the offerings are presented, the congregation says, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” Mary has done so perfectly. Our challenge is to go and do likewise.
God of promises and grace fulfilled, in obedience to your will and purposes, we will recognize and return the gifts you have given us. Amen.
In the fourth week of Advent, we focus on prophecies of the arrival of the Messiah. When David commits to build a temple for God, God promises to build a house for David as well. This is the line of David that will rule forever, and Jesus comes from this line. In the first reading from Luke, Mary rejoices after her visit to Elizabeth, for she understands that her child will play a key role in God’s redemption. Paul reminds the Romans that his message about Christ did not begin with him. Instead, it is the fulfillment of promises made through the prophets. The second reading from Luke might more logically have come first this week, for it describes how Mary reveals the importance of this child in her song of rejoicing.
Read 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16. When have you thought you were participating in God’s plans and later realized you had misunderstood God’s desire or instruction?
Read Luke 1:47-55. Consider how you magnify the Lord. How do you pass on your faith to future generations?
Read Romans 16:25-27. Remember the carols you have been singing this Advent and have sung throughout your life. How do they help you proclaim the mystery of the Incarnation?
Read Luke 1:26-38. In this season of giving and receiving, how do you remember that God is the giver of all good gifts? How do you return your God-given gifts to God?
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