“What Sort of Greeting This Might Be” (Luke 1:26-38)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 8, 2021

“What Sort of Greeting This Might Be” (Luke 1:26-38)

During this Advent season, we’re looking at how Luke tells us of the events leading up to Christmas. Luke does this in chapter 1 of his gospel. Christmas will come in chapter 2. And in this infancy narrative, Luke goes back and forth between two storylines: the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus Christ. Last week we heard the angel Gabriel announce to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son in their old age. They are to name him John, and he will go before the Lord to make ready a people prepared.

Now it’s six months later, and today the angel Gabriel comes to a virgin named Mary. He’s got some special news for her, too. He starts by saying: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Well, I suppose if an angel suddenly appears in your house and starts speaking to you, you too would wonder “What Sort of Greeting This Might Be.”

Our text begins: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” “The sixth month” means since the time Elizabeth became pregnant with John. The angel Gabriel–the angel who appeared to Zechariah. The city of Nazareth–not a significant city in the history of Israel. And this virgin Mary–she’s unknown up to this point. She is betrothed to her fiancé, a man named Joseph–again, nobody special. But note what Luke adds: “of the house of David.” That is significant, as we will see shortly.

The angel Gabriel from heaven came, and he says to Mary, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Maybe you’ve heard a traditional way to translate this greeting: “Hail, Mary, full of grace.” Yep, that’s from the Roman Catholic rosary. However, how “Hail, Mary, full of grace” is understood–that’s where the problem is. Understood properly, “hail” is just a standard greeting to anybody. It’s not like Mary is the queen of heaven or some kind of royalty. And then, “full of grace.” In what way? The Greek here actually says, “having been graced one.” Mary has been shown grace. It’s not that she herself is a source of grace. No, she is the recipient of God’s grace and favor. The Roman Catholic thinking on this is wrong. We do not pray to Mary as though she has grace to dispense to us. Mary is “full of grace” in that she has been given grace, the great gift and honor of bearing the child who is the source of God’s grace for us.

So the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and greets her. But Mary was “greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” No wonder. Every time an angel appears to a human being in the Bible, the human is struck with fear. Angels are powerful, majestic beings. They could strike you down in a heartbeat. But like all the other places in the Bible, the angel reassures the person to whom he’s bringing a message: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Don’t worry, Mary, I’m not going to strike you down. I’ve got good news for you, most highly favored lady!

What is this news he has for her? “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” Another miracle birth of a son! And this one, like John, already has his name picked out for him: “Jesus,” or in Hebrew, “Yehoshua.” It’s the same name as Joshua, and it means, “The Lord saves.” That name describes what this child will do: He will save us from our sins. And like Joshua of old led God’s people into the promised land, this Joshua, this Jesus, will do so in an even greater way.

Gabriel continues: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Wow! This son of Mary will also be the Son of God! “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Now here’s where that mention of “the house of David” comes in. David, of course, was the king of Israel a thousand years earlier. And the Lord God had made a promise to King David that one of his sons, one of his descendants, would be the greatest king of all. You heard God’s promise in the reading from 2 Samuel 7: “I will establish his kingdom. . . . I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” This long-prophesied son of David, the Messiah, the Christ, who will have an everlasting kingdom–Gabriel now is telling Mary that this promise to David will finally come to fulfillment in the son whom Mary will bear!

Mary is astounded! Not just in the magnitude of this son she will bear, but just in the fact that she’s going to have a child in her current condition. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” I haven’t even been with a man yet. How am I going to have a son?

But it’s appropriate that a virgin will bear the son who overcomes sin, death, and the devil for us. Think back to how the serpent led humanity into sin and death back in the garden. It was through the woman. Now, through a woman, Satan will be overthrown and defeated. The Lord God had given that first gospel promise way back in Genesis 3:15, when he told the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” It’s very unusual to speak of a woman’s “seed.” Normally, you would refer to the man’s seed. But if the Savior of the world is going to be born of a virgin, then “the woman’s seed” works just fine.

And this woman’s seed, her offspring, is going to crush the serpent, destroying his power. Think of someone stomping on a snake’s head, even as the snake strikes the person’s heel. That’s a picture of how Christ would destroy the devil: by being nailed to the cross, the nails piercing his hands and his feet. It looked like Jesus lost and the devil won. But really this is how the woman’s seed, Mary’s son, won the victory for us: by taking the punishment we deserve in our place. Jesus paid the price for all our sins, so now the devil has nothing with which to accuse us. Brothers and sisters, your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake!

Gabriel tells Mary she will have a son. And Mary asks Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answers her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.” A miraculous birth! This child will have a unique, one-of-a-kind identity. Luther puts it this way in the Catechism: that Jesus Christ is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary.”

Only such a Savior could save you! He needs to be true God, because only God can save us. We sinners are unable to save ourselves. But he also needs to be true man, in order to fulfill God’s law on our behalf and also to take the punishment for sin and die. Only the God-man Savior could do this, and the good news is, he has! Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, who has redeemed you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.

Gabriel’s message to Mary is all about this child she will bear, a miraculous birth that would otherwise be impossible. But Gabriel reassures her: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary responds with the humble simplicity of faith: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Mary is the model for the church, in receiving the Lord’s word. May God grant us the faith of a Mary, to receive whatever message he has for us. “Let it be to me according to your word.”

And the message the Lord has for us today is this: You have a Savior, the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, and his name is Jesus. He has won the victory for you, forgiving your sins and destroying the devil’s power. This Jesus is the messianic son of David, the Christ, who will have an everlasting kingdom. Christ has brought you into his kingdom, and you will live forever with him.

The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” What sort of greeting might this be? It is the greatest greeting you could hear! For you also have found favor with God. You have been graced, you have been gifted, and the Lord is with you.

Published in: on December 8, 2021 at 1:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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