The evangelists Matthew and Luke began, at the beginning, with birth narratives surrounding the miracle of God sending God’s Son to us. This may explain why the early church tradition refers to the birth of Christ as the “Genesis” of a new creation. These scriptural verses are the accounts of God’s call to young Miriam of Galilee, whom we now call “Mary.” She is the young woman engaged to marry Joseph, a strong and upright man. We know this event by the name of its feast day, “the Annunciation.” This name means “announcing,” a proclamation that God is going to bring forth the final and most significant moment in reconciliation with humanity. It is a bold and love-filled moment requiring the courageous reply of a young woman called to rely totally on her trust in God and yet bravely face all the culture and laws of her community. Read Luke 1: 26-38.
Luke, according to tradition, knew Mary and her family. There is a misty tradition that he even painted her image which was later passed down through faithful hands – becoming the well-known iconographic image of Mary who “shows the way to her Son who is Christ, our God,” but who also knew him as the tender child in her arms.
Tradition suggests that Luke knew more about her motherhood than the other evangelists would have known. This may be the reason he deliberates at length on the Annunciation and the critical events in the life of her cousin, much advanced in age, who would also be touched by the life-giving hand of God.
Luke’s gospel lines up two parallel accounts, indicating and emphasizing the miraculous hand of God in the events of this day. The first account tells of a faithful couple, living near the Sea of Galilee who lived in close adherence to the God of Israel. Zechariah and Elizabeth revered Yahweh, God who gave life and took it away. If God was pleased with you, God gave life. But what had happened? Despite their daily prayer and trust in God they had no children. Read Luke 1: 5-25 When Zechariah’s turn came to serve as priest in the temple, he raised prayed zealously to the Lord and lamented that he had no children. Standing at the altar of incense, Angel Gabriel came to him, the same angel who had appeared to Daniel and brought news to Mary! In Hebrew, Gabriel’s name reflects an entity who stands in the strength of the presence [Gabri …] of the only God Almighty [El.]
In the manner of the law, Zechariah took a scoop of coals from the basin for offerings and “two handfuls of crushed sweet incense,” taking it inside the curtain, placing it with prayer on the altar. In this act, he paid respect to the covenant of the Lord. [Leviticus 16: 12-13] As Gabriel approached Zechariah, he suddenly was ceased with fear. But, the angel assured him saying his prayer had been heard and promising he would have a son. The son would be called great in the sight of the Lord, and would be instrumental in bringing people back to God. His son, born to an old and barren wife [something impossible] would be one like Elijah who would prepare the world for Jesus. Zechariah questioned Gabriel, doubting that such an event could occur since his wife was far past childbearing age. Upon his doubt, Zechariah became mute. When he went outside the inner sanctum of the holy place, friends and family awaiting him were astounded that he could not speak. Not until the son’s birth and the boy’s naming did God allow Zechariah to speak. It was to proclaim his name to be John, as it had been so ordained by God. Note these elements in Luke that will be replayed in the parallel account of the Annunciation: Zechariah’s trust and honor of God; his prayer heard by God; his son great in the sight of the Lord; his questioning of God’s ability; and a voice permitted to call the son’s “name.”
In the Annunciation, Mary is found deeply faithful to God. She is approached by Gabriel, who describes her favor with God. Also questioning the angel, Mary is told she will conceive a child without a man, certainly something impossible, but not impossible with God. Mary’s son will be called great and the savior of the world. Gabriel instructed her that the child’s name would be “Jesus,” and “called Son of the Most High.” Mary’s son seals the covenant with God and brings the faithful back to the Father.
In ancient writing, parallelisms such as this indicate the supreme importance of an account. And, as in Hebrew poetry, parallelism offers the possibility of exploring the mystery within the gospel’s words. Such mystery of God is truly impossible to completely describe, so the ancient technique of parallelism created a possibility for reflection and encountering the truth in what could not be explained in words.
After the Annunciation, Mary goes to visit Elizabeth in a woman to woman discipleship. Both women experienced a unique pregnancy ordained by God and outside of natural law. The joy of these two women, as they embraced one another, evidenced the lively Spirit of God. With the baby leaping in Elizabeth ’s womb, she praised the motherhood of her cousin who was mother of her Lord! (Luke 1:39-45) Mary sings (and perhaps Elizabeth sang with her) a song of joy resembling the song of Hannah when she, too, knew she would have a son called Samuel. (1 Samuel 2: 1-10) Mary claims that her whole being is “magnified” by the Lord. The Magnificat is a song that inspired holy chant and musicians for all the centuries of Christianity. Luke 1: 46-56
Luke’s account of the actual birth of Jesus is brief. We hear about the census that took Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, a long, long trip to the south of Nazareth . And, we hear of the shepherds coming and angels singing in the sky. (Luke 2: 1-21)
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