The Vision of Mary is the second of six episodes covering the dawn of the messianic age, 1:5-2:40. The central element of the vision is the announcement that the child to be conceived in Mary will be no normal child. He is the heir to David's throne and will take the royal title, "Son of the Most High", cf. Ps.2:7, 89:26f, and "Son of God."
v26-27. It is normally argued that the virgin birth was necessary so that Jesus would not be tainted by original sin. This is mere speculation and is not found in scripture. God is quite capable of achieving human salvation through a perfect messiah without a virgin birth. Luke simply states the fact and draws from it the implication of Jesus' messianic authority. Luke sees Jesus' credentials confirmed in Joseph who is "a descendant of David" (of the house of David) - the Messiah is of David's linage. Jesus may not be of Joseph's blood line, but in typical Semitic fashion, he properly inherits his "adopting" father's linage. Note that following the custom of the time, an engagement is as good as a wedding.
v28-30. Mary is greeted as the "highly favored" one. Some manuscripts add "blessed are you", but this is not found in the oldest texts. She receives God's grace, but she is not the giver of grace. These words leave her highly perplexed. She is not troubled by the vision, but by the "words".
v31. The angel tells Mary that she will have a son. Luke quotes Isaiah 7:14 with "Jesus" (The Lord is saviour) replacing "Immanuel" (God with us). Again, Luke doesn't make much of the fact of the virgin birth; he doesn't develop the idea. Interestingly, neither is the virgin birth taken up in the Epistles, nor in the writings of the early Church Fathers. Jewish sensibilities may be behind this gentle treatment of what is an amazing event. Only later, against the Docetists (those who deny the humanity of Jesus) and the Adoptionists (those who deny the divinity of Jesus), is the virgin birth emphasized.
v32-33. The angel declares Jesus' messianic qualifications. Luke alludes to the second book of Samuel 7:10-16 - the messiah's kingship, unlike popular opinion, will have no end - his kingship is everlasting.
v34. Mary is confused. She probably thinks the angel is saying that the conception is to take place immediately, but she is not yet married. So, "How will this be?"
v35. Mary's conception is not described in the terms of her "mating" with the Holy Spirit, rather, the Spirit gives life to her barren womb. The Spirit is the agency of new creation and of resurrection life. So, God's Shekinah glory will "overshadow" her, will tabernacle with her. Note that the title "Son of God" is still messianic in character. Luke is not suggesting a filial relationship between Jesus and the Father.
v36. Elizabeth's conception will serve as a sign to Mary, validating this word from God, and she will serve as a confidant in Mary's lonely journey.
v37. "No word from God is devoid of power". This verse, wrongly used, can cause no end of troubles. God will do what he says he will do, not what we think he should do.
v38. "So let it be with your word to me." She submits to the Lord's will and so places herself in the center of God's eternal plan for humanity.
The annunciation is a wonderful source of artistic inspiration. Depictions of joy and wonder abound. Yet, some years ago, Margaret Ackland, a Christian artist who has gained some acclaim in Australia, exhibited a beautiful painting of the annunciation. The painting depicted the shock and horror of Mary as she received the revelation from the angel. Here was this young teenager, probably not yet fourteen, confronted with a future that would totally overturn her life.
It was not so much the vision that shocked her, but rather the word. She was "highly favored" of the Lord, and when the Lord favors you, your life will never be the same. Many a prophet had wished the Lord had not favored them. Even Moses tried to slip out from under God's favor. The trouble is, you can't walk away from the Lord, for if you do you are outside his wondrous plan. Best to be inside the center of his will.
Mary's perplexity increased as God's plan was revealed to her. The conception of the child would be a creative act of God's Spirit. She would bare a child who would fulfill the messianic hopes of Israel. She could rest on this promise, for "No word from God is devoid of power". She answered as a true person of faith, "May it be to me as you have said."
Like Mary, we stand under God's favor. His plan for our life entails promises which affect, not just our life in these present shadows, but life in the brilliance of eternity. God's plan for our life is wondrous, and yes, often troubling. Yet, his promises are sure, for "no word from God is devoid of power." What he says, he will do. To stand under his favor may overturn our dreams, but then, they are but a morning mist soon dispelled in the light of day. So, let us first understand God's promises for us, his word of life. Then, let us remember that he empowers his word to achieve its intended end, for God's favor is in his hands, not ours. Finally, like Mary, let us give ourselves to his favor; "may it be to me as you have said."
1. Why is Mary "greatly troubled"?
2. How is v37 often wrongly applied? What does it actually mean?
3. What does this incident tell us about the person of Jesus?