Read: Luke 1:26-38
And [the angel Gabriel] came to [Mary] and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:28-29, NRSV).
What would it take to help you see this old story with new eyes?
For me it was the final verse of John L. Bell’s hymn, “No Wind at the Window.”*
No payment was promised, no promises made;
no wedding was dated, no blueprint displayed.
Yet Mary, consenting to what none could guess,
replied with conviction, “Tell God I say, Yes.”
Bell’s paraphrase prompts us to see what was there all along, namely, that Mary’s response was not a foregone conclusion.
The would-be novelist in me wants to run with what would have happened if she had said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Would Gabriel have resorted to strong-arm tactics? Or would he have sighed and gone back to his list, flying down the street to call on some other unsuspecting girl of good repute?
We don’t know, of course. But the very act of imagining a negative response jolts us into appreciating Mary’s positive response. And it underscores the fact that Gabriel came bearing an invitation and not a command. Mary had a choice, and it could not have been an easy one.
What else might we have missed in this story? And what might we notice about Mary if we try to read with fresh eyes?
I like her caution. Even though Gabriel tries to sound reassuring with his opening gambit, she’s not sure what to make of it. Then things go from strange to stranger. Gabriel launches into an elaborate speech about how she is going to conceive a son who “will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High…” There is more, but if it had been me, I think it would have been hard to hear anything else after that first bit.
And sure enough. She skips the theology and fires back with a practical question. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
Gabriel has an answer for that, too, although it strains credulity. One wonders if he is responding to the look on Mary’s face when he rushes on with the news that her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, is six months gone. This, evidently, is intended to reassure her in a “stranger things” kind of way. Gabriel finishes with a flourish, reminding her that “nothing will be impossible with God.”
That last line makes me wonder if Gabriel was a bit nervous about how Mary would respond. After all, the last time we heard those words was in the story of Sarah, who laughed at the prospect of her own unexpected pregnancy (Genesis 18:14). Was Gabriel worried that Mary might laugh in his face?
Well, he needn’t have worried. Mary says yes—and nothing is ever the same again—for her or for us.
Gabriel, for his part, makes an abrupt exit. Best not to give Mary a chance to change her mind.
Ponder: What new things did you see in this story? Why is it significant that God issues an invitation and not a command? How is God inviting you to say, “Yes”?
Listen to/watch No Wind at the Window, which sets John L. Bell’s text to a traditional Irish tune and features artistic representations of the Annunciation. Notice the pattern of the poetry, which points out the many choices swirling around this familiar story: Not this—not this—not this—but this.
Pray: Give me the wisdom to hear your invitation clearly, O God. Then give me the courage to say, “Yes.”
*Text and music © 1992 WGRG, Iona Community (admin. GIA Publications)
Introduction to the “God With Us” Series
Emmanuel. It means “God with us.” If ever there was a time to pray for God to be with us, it’s now.
In this series, we let Advent and Christmas hymns lead us in that prayer. Since December is short and we need God with us now, we’re starting early. Besides, there are so many hymns and so little time! Some of the featured hymns will be familiar, and some deserve to be more familiar. But all of them offer unique insights into the miracle of the incarnation.
May these reflections help you feel God’s saving presence in your life and in the life of the world right now.
Come, O Come, Emmanuel!