Saturday, December 16, 2017

Who? Me?

The announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would be the mother of God's Son, recorded in Luke 1:26-38, is the gospel lesson appointed for the 4th Sunday in Advent in the Year of Mark.  This announcement has become, in the history of the Church, a feast day for some Christians, celebrated as the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  While it is true that the angel told Mary that she was favored by God, the veneration of Mary tends to lead us into skewed thinking about whom it is that God favors.  Was Mary really that different from any of us?  Is it not possible that it is God's amazing power and grace that is most remarkable here and not Mary's virtue and obedience?

(The following questions attempt to unearth some of the basic concerns of Law and Gospel preachers.  These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but they have been developed as part of my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

 1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This word is pure good news.  It  is gospel in its purest form.  The Son of the Most High is to be born to a human mother.  Nothing will be impossible with God!

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is almost no hint of Law here.  We might note Mary's hesitancy to believe the angel and her skepticism regarding his announcement, but then again, who can blame her?  Also finally she says, "Let it be with me according to your word."

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are either in the position of Mary or one who overhears this conversation between Gabriel and Mary.  If we identify with Mary we might explore her response to Gabriel's words, "Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you," as well as her response to the announcement that she would be the mother of God's Son.  If we identify with one who overhears this conversation we might explore our response to God's plan to restore to David's throne one whose kingdom will last forever.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  Mary's final words are an example for us:  "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."  We live in response to the announcement of God's amazing love for the world.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Because the Law is not present in this text we will need to imagine some  fitting couplets.  Here are a few ideas:  unfavored/favored; barren/fruitful; nothing is possible/nothing is impossible.

6.  Exegetical work:  It is worth noting that Gabriel's promise to Mary that "the power of the Most High will overshadow you," uses the same word used in Genesis 1:2 which says that "the Spirit hovered over the formless matter when the miracle of creation took place." This suggests that "there is a new creative act of God when Jesus is born."  (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. V, p. 835.)  The apostles receive a similar promise when, just prior to Jesus' ascension, they are told, "And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses..." (Acts 1:8)  This overshadowing and emphasis on the powerlessness of those whom God chooses, is well noted in the words of  17th century Austrian Lutheran poet, Catherina Regina von Greiffenberg:  "Who would believe that the King of kings, the Lord of all the potentates, would dispatch an angel as an ambassador to a poor maiden or the wife of an artisan?  What is more absurd before the world and yet better disposed for the dispensation of heaven?  Poverty and lowliness are no hindrance to divine calling:  as little as they could take from her the right of inheritance of her royal birth from the house of David and still less the gracious election by God, whose piercing eyes see through all the mountains of misery the small flash of the metal of virtue that his hand has placed within them." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. III, p. 15)

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Marcus Felde highlights Gabriel's words to Mary, "The Lord is with you," and shows how that announcement can be either a word of Law or of Gospel.  Go to to see the whole analysis.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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