When Mary Meets an Angel — What Then?

The Annunciation by John William Waterhouse, 1914. Public Domain.

In Saint Luke’s compelling story of the Virgin Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel, the chief actor is God himself. (Luke 1: 26.)

It is He who sends his angel to Mary with a specific message. And, even though myriads of angels appear elsewhere in the Scriptures, only two — Gabriel, and Michael (Jude 9) — are named. This suggests Gabriel’s great elevation.

Mary lived in a little town called Nazareth in Galilee. She was committed to be married to a man named Joseph who was a descendant of Israel’s ancient King David.

In those biblical times marriage could be solemnized at an early age. One historian suggests that Mary might have been as young as 14.

If the Eternal God would send an elevated angel with an understandable message for a fourteen-year-old, the message must have been really important. So it turned out to be.

As Gabriel appeared to Mary he greeted her, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (CEB)

Rejoice indeed. But that was not her first impulse. Gabriel’s words troubled her greatly. She puzzled over them; what could they mean?

The angel addressed her fear, “Don’t be afraid.”  He then gave Mary his message — a message never delivered before and never to be heard again: “You are going to be the mother of a son, and you will call him Jesus” — the Messiah.

Gabriel went on: “Your son will be great and will be known as the Son of the Most High.” The Most High? That’s the Almighty God. That’s the Sovereign over all creation. The angel continued, “the Lord God will give him the throne of his forefather, David, and he will be king over the people of Jacob forever. His reign shall never end.” (JBP)

Mary asked the obvious question: “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1: 34).

Gabriel, answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the most high will overshadow you. Your child will therefore be called holy — the Son of God.” (JBP)

These words sound like the echo of Genesis 1:2 at the moment the Creator called all creation into being: “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said….“ (Genesis 1:2). This birth was going to be unique — a miraculous act of God.

Once, Gabriel referred to the eternal God as “The Lord” and twice as “The Most High” and then, as “The Lord God,” ending his part of the conversation with the assurance that “… Nothing is impossible with God.” God was the authority behind Gabriel’s message.

But in this exchange the Virgin Mary was far from passive. Once she understood, she declared, “I am the Lord’s servant.” There was no long struggle; her heart was already obedient to the Lord and she responded quickly and with great freedom of spirit.

Luke tells us nothing about Mary’s heritage, or her physical appearance, or even her location. The issue was her willingness to be God’s servant in his great miracle.

She concluded with: “May it be to me as you (Gabriel) have said.” In effect: I’m ready for whatever the Lord wants.

The angelic messenger vanished: mission accomplished! In time, Mary was God’s agent to provide a Savior for the world. We honor her greatly for accepting with humility her part in the drama of the world’s redemption.

CEB, Contemporary English Bible; JBP, JB Phillips Paraphrase




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