Year B: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Announcement of the Birth of Jesus

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived* a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Mary was being asked to make a leap of faith in response to God’s invitation. Have you had a sense of God inviting you to trust in him more freely, to make a leap of faith over any specific situation, or in general? What tells you its God inviting you?
  2. Have ever had an experience of saying; “yes” to God without calculating the cost first? You simply responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit? Explain
  3. Advent is about each of us anticipating new birth. Jesus’ arrival is an ongoing spiritual reality, not simply a one time historical event. What new intentions and actions might you be giving birth to at this time in your life?
  4. What particular characteristics do you most admire about Mary? Do you try to emulate these in your own life?

Biblical Context

Luke 1: 26-28
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

Only in Luke’s Gospel do we read the story of the annunciation to Mary. As we noted, Mark’s Gospel has no infancy stories, and in Matthew’s Gospel the annunciation is to Joseph. Only Luke brings Mary on stage and presents her as our model of true discipleship. Mary’s response to God’s call is one of total trust, total self-giving: “Behold, response to God’s call is one of total trust, total self-giving: “behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Although we treasure this story for the picture it gives us of Mary, the primary purpose of the story is to teach something about Jesus. Scripture scholars believe that the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth are Christological stories that developed later in the oral tradition than did stories about Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection or about his mighty acts of power. The birth and infancy stories are responding to the question, “Who is Jesus?” They teach the post-resurrection understanding that Jesus is God’s own son and the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to the chosen people.

In addition to being divine, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the chosen people. As Luke begins his story he tells us that Joseph is “of the house of David.” Then, even before Mary says a word, the angel tells her that “the Lord God will give him [her son] the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

To understand this passage we need to know what the Jews understood God to have promised David and his posterity. We read the famous passage from 2 Samuel that contains this promise in today’s Old Testament reading. For now, let us say that David and his descendants understood God’s promise of a kingdom to be a geopolitical kingdom. Luke is writing about AD 85. Jesus has been crucified. The Romans are still ruling in the holy land. So the angel’s words to Mary represent a complete reinterpretation of the meaning of the word kingdom. The kingdom that Jesus has established is not a geopolitical kingdom but a spiritual kingdom. Luke is teaching that all of God’s promises to the chosen people have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but fulfilled in a very different way than they were expecting.

By Ted Wolgamot

It’s that special time again — that time of wonder and joy and miracles. Christmas is coming. It’s nearly here. We know that because there’s seasonal music everywhere, and family celebrations being planned, and holiday parties that demand our attendance, and gifts that must be wrapped.

But we also know it because of another big hint — every media outlet is issuing its top ten of the year songs, movies, TV shows, books, pet names and so on. That listing started me wondering about what would be included if you and I identified our top ten Gospel quotations. If we did, which ones would make it on to your list?

I know that right at the very top of mine would be this marvelous, breathtaking statement: “May it be done to me according to your word,” the words spoken by Mary to the angel Gabriel in today’s Gospel. These words opened the door to the possibility of you and me entering into an entirely new kind of relationship with God. These very words changed history.

One of the things I treasure most about this story of Mary and the angel is that before Mary is presented with God’s astounding request, Mary is first told: “Do not be afraid.”Imagine. Why wouldn’t she be afraid, even terrified?

In the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there is an unusual painting by Henry Tanner of this classic Annunciation scene. In it, Mary is not depicted as a totally serene girl kneeling in prayer with a glowing halo above her head as we usually find. Rather, Mary is shown sitting on her disheveled bed with unkempt hair, eyes frozen as if in awe or even terror. The look on her face is that of someone both stunned and utterly confused. And why wouldn’t she be?

God is asking the unimaginable of this young, uneducated, thoroughly unprepared girl. She is being visited by an angel — and she is being asked to do what?

Of course, she was afraid, speechless, astonished, dazed. After all, Mary was being asked to make a decision: Act out of fear or act out of faith; respond with terror or respond with trust.

In a way, we’re all asked by life’s demands to make similar decisions — just not ones so unique and exceptional. All the major sins that you and I commit in life are ultimately grounded in fear. Fear is the number one “hostage-taker” for all of us — the fear that I won’t get enough love, enough affection, enough attention, enough power, enough money, enough of anything we hold dear.

Mary’s response is really all about a reversal, a re-write: The “No” of Adam and Eve becomes a “Yes.” The world is offered a new model, a new blueprint, a new design upon which human lives can be based.

Mary chose trust. She chose to allow the angel’s words — as daunting as they were! — to soothe her anxieties, to calm her immediate fright, to enable her to reach out in confidence.

That’s why Mary is our Mother in faith. That’s why she is her Son’s ultimate disciple. Mary chose trust over fear, belief over doubt, freedom over being held hostage.

And the result was the birthing of Jesus, God’s beloved Son. We are now challenged by Mary’s example to do the same in each of our lives: trust, believe, hope, love.

That’s why I would put these words at the very top of my ten Scripture quotes: “May it be done to me according to your word.”

Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.