To say that when you walk upon the land of Israel you are walking across history would be simplifying the fact that every time your foot touches the earth there you are standing upon centuries of events and places dear to Scripture and faith. I know because I’ve been there! One of those powerful places is Nazareth whose initial occupancy date is unknown, but the lovely spring there certainly was the attraction for settlement. We have the Franciscans to thank for the magnificent Church of the Annunciation which is located closely to the center of modern Nazareth. While this structure was built in the early 1960’s, extensive excavations carried out during its construction revealed the foundation of an early Byzantine Church and streets from Biblical times. When services are not in progress, one can wander through the great sanctuary and view “The Grotto of The Annunciation” which may not be the actual spot where Mary encountered Gabriel, but it does inspire one to reflect on that incredible event.
Advent (the four weeks prior to Christmas) reminds us of several amazing announcements within the Christmas story. A census is announced for taxation purposes and it propels Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where prophecy is fulfilled when Christ is born (Mic. 5:2; Lk. 2:1-5). Angels announce to shepherds the birth of a Savior (Lk. 2:8-15) and a star announces to Magi that a king has been born which sends them on an international journey to find him (Mt. 2:1-2). But the first announcement is perhaps the most amazing of all. Imagine Gabriel’s thoughts as he approaches a young woman in her early teens to proclaim she is to be the mother of God’s Chosen One (Lk. 1:26-38)! Gabriel had carried messages to Daniel (Dan. 8:16-27, 9:21-27) one of God’s greatest prophets, and now he is sent to a simple and humble peasant girl, one who appears to be at the completely opposite end of the esteemed spectrum of humanity (Lk. 1:26-27). Yet Mary’s devotion and faith are equal to that of Daniel’s which is evidenced in her response to this heavenly messenger (Lk. 1:38).
It was no small thing for Mary to accept what God had willed for her. As a betrothed woman she was legally bound to Joseph and to be found “with child” by someone else carried dire consequences. The least of these would be public shame; the worst death by stoning. And yet, once the obvious question has been answered (vs. 34), Mary humbly submits to God’s will. It all seems so neat and tidy which has made us become so accustomed to hearing this aspect of the Christmas story that we’ve completely forgotten the impact of this announcement. Or is it that we just do not recognize the significance of the announcement because we have minimized who brought the message? Have we become so familiar with the promise given to David that we pass over the fact that between David’s time and Mary’s almost 1,000 years has gone by? Whatever may have caused our disregard, it is time to listen again, to hear the words anew, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name, Jesus” (Lk. 1:31; Matthew’s version ties Jesus’ name to prophecy: Mt. 1:18-25.).
It is so easy to hear the Christmas story every year and become immune to its impact. But perhaps it is time for us to truly take a deeper look at the questions it raises for us personally. Consider some of these questions as Christmas draws closer: What are some of the greatest announcements I have ever received? Who brought them? Why were they so significant to me? Did I have to act in faith after I received it like Mary did? What other Biblical stories can I recall that emphasize God’s interaction with men/woman of faith? How does God interact with them? How do they respond to God? Has God interacted with me? How? In what way have I responded to Him? Has he found me to have faith like Mary’s? If so, in what way can I continue to trust Him? If not, what must I do to grow in my trust and see Him at work in my life? It is my prayer that when God speaks to me (particularly through the Christmas story) that I respond with faith as Mary did. How about you?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 12/17/2017