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AHC B Advent 4 The Archangel Gabriel Visits Mary - Hebrew Catholics

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The Archangel Gabriel Visits Mary

Advent 4 Year B

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

Click here for a printable copy of this paper

St. Luke 1: 26 — 38

 

Introduction

On this fourth Sunday in Advent we finally come to what we would see as associated with the Christmas theme. The account opens as the angel Gabriel (Hebrew, gebher el, meaning Strength of God), with heavenly wisdom, tact and adroitness, enters into dialogue with Mary. St. Gabriel, as we shall see, gets quickly to the point. He is to deliver an eternal decree from the Most High, and then return to God with the virgin’s reply. As soon as she gives her consent, the angel departs. There is no “small-talk” or any other polite exchange. This really is a very unusual event.

This early section of St. Luke’s Gospel has come under much critical analysis in modern times. Some would say it is more devotional than historical. We believe they come to that conclusion due to their lack of appreciation for the Hebrew culture in which the event is presented. It is spiritual time fusing with human time, and thus the account must be permitted to render its own message without the “cut and thrust” of modern commentators who see themselves as more sophisticated, more enlightened, and therefore more endowed with spiritual insight. The message contained in our reading is available to all who are prepared to walk gently through the text, pausing to meditate on the sheer stark simplicity of the event.

Click here for a printable copy of our text

 

1.     The Setting

Verse 26 and 27

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.

Six months after the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, he is now sent by God to make a personal, private visit to a house in Nazareth — a particularly insignificant township with no status whatsoever.

We are informed, next, that St. Gabriel is to report to a virgin. Many commentators have tried to modify the text and refer to the person as merely, “a young unmarried woman,” and so on. Their case cannot be supported. All reputable scholarship, Catholic and Protestant, insists the text is meant to emphasise that it is a woman who has not had any relations with any male. She was a virgin.

The woman was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David, i.e. he was a descendant of King David. Betrothal was a legal relationship between a man and a woman, binding upon both parties (See Deuteronomy 20: 7. Also 22: 23 — 27). It took place after the conclusion of the marriage-contract between the parents, and was performed by the exchange of something of a certain value between the parties. The interval between betrothal and marriage was usually one year. (UBS)

Finally, after all this has been conveyed, we are informed that the young lady is known as Miriam, or as we say it in English, Mary. In Hebrew custom, special respect for the woman is emphasised by leading up to revealing, finally, who this person is. St. Luke, who may not have been Jewish, has recorded the event with great care and dignity.

 

2.     The Entrance of the Angel

Verse 28 and 29

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.

This section opens with a subtle yet significant nuance, “And coming to her”. The distinguished scholar Joseph Dillersberger makes an observation. When Gabriel carried out a similar function of making an announcement to Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist, it was Zechariah who went into the Temple and came near the angel. Thus Dillersberger writes:

“Things happened otherwise with Mary. The angel it is that visits her,
or, to put it another way, it is she who “receives” him.

He does not simply appear to her but rather enters like one who would
be expected to announce his arrival. It is not expressly stated that he
first knocked at the door, but the Gospel is so worded that we get that
impression. The angel was first sent “into the city,” and there having
assumed human form, like an ordinary mortal he approached her
home and “entered”. Then came the salutation. This time he was not to
deliver his message without first of all graciously and formally saluting
the humble virgin.”

Our text indicates the angel then greeted Mary with: “Hail, favoured one!” This is from the Greek, chaire, kechar itomene, a play on sounds, which means, “Greetings to you — one upon whom special favour has been bestowed”. The latter part of the opening — i.e. “favoured one”, is a Hebrew superlative, and thus very emphatic.

It is common among commentators to choose a translation of the Greek greeting to be something like “Rejoice” and link it with the Old Testament prophecies. And then to state blandly that the angel chose a Greek greeting instead of the common Hebrew term, “Shalom”. Again, this is a mistaken direction in an attempt to indicate a new era breaking into Salvation History, moving away from the birth-culture of Christianity.

Given the circumstances, we can be confident the angel greeted Mary with the traditional Jewish “Shalom”. This is the perfect equivalent of the similar greeting in Greek (from the verb chaire, to be glad) which means a great range of terms such as, “hail to you”, “hello”, and similar.

Thus the angel Gabriel greeted Mary with: “Shalom lakt Miryam“, “Perace be with you, Mary“.

This is important because the common, casual but polite address is now followed by what is thereby emphasised: “One upon whom special favour has been has been bestowed”. A greeting is normally followed by a name, but Gabriel does not presume, in his opening address, to use her name.

Instead he declares what has already taken place in Heaven: the Most High has bestowed special favour on Mary. He then follows the second part of the greeting by, “The Lord is with you”, which intrigues Mary — in fact confounds her somewhat.

 

3.     The Great Announcement

Verses 30 to 33

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.”

Without Mary saying a single word, St. Gabriel puts her at ease by saying, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God”. Although St. Luke composed this Gospel account in Greek (the language of many educated people in his time as well as Jews and others living outside Israel), he took care to use a well-known Old Testament phrase from Genesis 6: 8. (See also Genesis 18: 3; 19: 19; and so on). This Genesis link emphasises selection for some specific divine purpose. (UBS)

The Archangel now boldly declares what this divine plan is:

•     you will conceive in your womb and bear a son;
•     you shall name Him Yeshua (derived from Yoshua);
•     He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High;
•     the Lord will give Him the throne of David, His father;
•     He will rule over the House of Jacob (Yacob) forever;
•     of His Kingdom, there will be no end.

We might well ask ourselves: “What would I do or say after such a revelation of the divine plan?”

First,                Mary is told she is going to bear a son she knows
                        nothing about.
Secondly,        she is commanded to name Him Yeshua. (Why such
                        a common name, Josh, even though it means, “the
                        Lord saves”?)
Thirdly,            she is told four incredible earth-shattering facts
                        about this “Son of the Most High”.

 

4.     “Now Just A Minute!”

Verses 34 — 37

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.”

Our Blessed Lady, poor Miriam — who had to face what no other woman has previously been told — but who nevertheless is rather more assertive than we might be used to thinking, says with due respect, words to the effect:

“Hold on” please! There’s just one matter you have overlooked. I am engaged to a very wonderful man, Joseph, but we are ordinary Torah-abiding (faithful) people, and we try to obey God’s commandments. We are due to be married, but we have never had sexual relations.

“Intending no disrespect, if I may be permitted to say so, how on earth can all this take place? It is not that I do not believe you, I am just astonished at what you have said.”

We note that St. Gabriel does not flinch, or draw back. He is poised with his reply, already on his lips: words to the effect:

“Dear Miriam,

First,                the Holy Spirit is, at this very moment, about to enter
                        into a very special engagement with you, as has never
                        occurred before, nor will again.

Secondly,         the Most Holy Shekinah, the Power and the Presence
                         of the Most High, will cover you with the Divine Presence
                         in a way never experienced by any person before you.
                         You will become, for all eternity, the special choice of a
                         young Lady fit to host in a certain way, the physical
                         Presence of the Creator of the Universe.

                         It is worth noting here in the first sentence of verse 35,
                         we have a Hebrew parallelism — the Angel seems to
                         repeat himself. But features like this in the Hebrew
                         language demonstrate how the things of God are opened
                         up to explore and understand — at least to the best of
                         human ability.

Thirdly,             the child you bear will be worthy of the two highest
                         titles which can be given to Him:

•     He will be ‘HOLY‘;
•     He will be, ‘SON of GOD‘.”

The Archangel Gabriel, in kindness and profound awareness of Mary’s situation encourages her with a very powerful and heartwarming final message: — words to the effect — “Your cousin, whom you love so much, has also conveived a son, even though she is long past the normal age for becoming pregnant. Everyone, including herself, thought she would never have children; but she has been carrying a child for six months. This is God’s sign for you, that anything and everything is possible with God, when He commands it. This is God’s sign to you to give you confidence and inner strength for the times ahead. Please tell me what reply should I take back to the Most High, Who awaits an indication of your willingness to comply with His Plan.”

 

5. Mary Gives Her Consent

Verse 38

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.

Mary, having taken it all in, responds in a very Jewish manner. She opens her reply with, “Behold,” a Hebraism, expressing readiness to serve or to listen (as found in 1 Samuel 3: 5, 6 and 8).

Mary adds her response, in words to the effect:

“I would like the Most High to look upon me as one who will do
anything He wants with no thought of reward or recompense.
I want only to comply with His wishes. I would like everything to
take place exactly as He has proclaimed through you, His loyal
messenger.

This sacred moment, which marks the beginning of our Lord’s
incarnate life, should be contrasted with Genesis 3: 6. There
the disobedience of a woman brought sin and death into the world.
Here the obedience of a woman brought salvation, reversing
the effect of the Fall. (See also John 1: 14.)

St. Gabriel, Archangel of the Most High, who stands in His Presence and serves Him faithfully at all times — who commands legions of angels and exerts indescribable power in the workings of the universe, does not utter another word, nor delays a second further. Immediately he departs and returns to his assigned position before the Throne of God, taking her reply to Him Who First asked her willing co-operation. The Archangel’s actions reflect the esteem with which Mary is held.

 

Conclusion

What an extraordinary moment in human history! Perhaps it is even more amazing that after declaring to Mary God’s chosen plan of action, and receiving Mary’s beautiful reply, Archangel Gabriel vanishes instantly!

•      He does not offer any clue as to what might happen next.

•      He gives no advice about how Mary could explain everything to
       Joseph who is making preparations for their marriage over the
       next few months. (Thankfully St. Joseph was also given a private
       visit to clarify things.)

•      He gives no hint that in less than 10 months, she will be presenting
       her baby Yeshua in the Temple. (Although not specifically
       commanded in the Law, it was common custom, following the
       example of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1: 22 — 28). When that occurs, the
       priest on duty, (Simeon), as Mary presents Jesus, would proclaim
       in prophecy:

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in
Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you
yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many
hearts may be revealed.”
                       
(Luke 2: 34 — 35)

Mary and Joseph are left to work things out over the next twelve years before Jesus, at 12, going on 13 years of age, makes His first obligatory pilgrimage to the Temple.

What confidence the Most High has in this young couple who barely know what is going on — and who are happy to go simply from one day to the next, living their holy lives with all Heaven in boundless admiration of their down-to-earth confidence and trust. They just got on with it!

Blessed are You, O Lord King of Creation, who chooses the lowly,
the humble, the holy, to be Your servants in the unfolding of
Your Plan for our Salvation.

Blessed be Your Most Holy Name forever! Amen

 

Shalom!

 

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — 4th Sunday in Advent

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

 Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating
how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going
reflection.

     The Archangel Gabriel Visits Mary

Advent 4     Year B               St. Luke 1: 26 — 38

 1. We have the opportunity to meditate on many wonderful passages from the
Holy Gospels as we move through the year. Nothing will quite approach the
grandeur and loftiness of this passage from St. Luke, during which the Son of
God, Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity becomes incarnate in the womb
of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As St. John recorded it, “And the Word became
flesh ….. .” (John 1: 14). After more than 2,000 years of outworking and prophecy,
the Divine Plan moves to a new phase. St. Luke has recorded it in a style
intended to help us meditate on it and experience its power and effect. It is
good for us to read the text slowly, but with concentration, and let it draw us
in — for this is a crucial part of our Hebrew Christian heritage.

2. Our passage is one of the glorious pieces of Sacred Scripture portraying to
us the beautiful Unity of the Blessed Trinity, as it were, in operation: reminding
us of the creation account in Genesis and the powerful Presence of God
shaping the course of human history. By reflecting on these passages we
come to see, however gradually, that we are part of the process, the
unfolding and the fulfilment. This is a very important perception to develop, if
we are to be confident that we belong to and have a place in the unfolding
Plan of God.

3. The early Church was very aware of the many sacrifices Mary and Joseph
had to make to perform their special roles in the Holy Family. That God should
choose two hardly-known young people to bring up His only Son, is something
at which to marvel. That God should have first sent one of His top-ranking
archangels to convey His message to Mary and await her considered reply, is,
in itself, a manifestation of God’s love and respect for those He looks upon as
members of His Household. That should assure us of what we can expect
when we dare to listen to God’s Word, (which is His Divine Will), and carry it
out.

Let us pray for one another to dare to let God reveal His expectations to us and to respond to them enthusiastically with an open heart and mind.

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of the Reflection Points

 

Luke 1: 26 — 38

Advent 4     Year B

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

26   10 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from 
        God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,

27    to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the 
        house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28    And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The 
        Lord is with you.”

29    But she was greatly troubled at what was said and   
        pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

30    Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for
        you have found favor with God.

31    Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
        and you shall name him Jesus.

32    He will be great and will be called Son of the Most
        High, 11 and the Lord God will give him the throne of
        David his father,

33    and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of
        his kingdom there will be no end.”

34    But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I
        have no relations with a man?” 12

35    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.

36    And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived
        13 a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for
        her who was called barren;

37    for nothing will be impossible for God.”

38    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.
 

 

10 [26-38] The announcement to Mary of the birth of Jesus is parallel to the announcement to Zechariah of the birth of John. In both the angel Gabriel appears to the parent who is troubled by the vision (⇒ Luke 1:11-12, ⇒ 26-29) and then told by the angel not to fear (⇒ Luke 1:13, ⇒ 30). After the announcement is made (⇒ Luke 1:14-17, ⇒ 31-33) the parent objects (⇒ Luke 1:18, ⇒ 34) and a sign is given to confirm the announcement (⇒ Luke 1:20, ⇒ 36). The particular focus of the announcement of the birth of Jesus is on his identity as Son of David (⇒ Luke 1:32-33) and Son of God (⇒ Luke 1:32, ⇒ 35).

11 [32] Son of the Most High: cf ⇒ Luke 1:76 where John is described as “prophet of the Most High.” “Most High” is a title for God commonly used by Luke (⇒ Luke 1:35, ⇒ 76; ⇒ 6:35; ⇒ 8:28; ⇒ Acts 7:48; ⇒ 16:17).

12 [34] Mary’s questioning response is a denial of sexual relations and is used by Luke to lead to the angel’s declaration about the Spirit’s role in the conception of this child (⇒ Luke 1:35). According to Luke, the virginal conception of Jesus takes place through the holy Spirit, the power of God, and therefore Jesus has a unique relationship to Yahweh: he is Son of God.

 13 [36-37] The sign given to Mary in confirmation of the angel’s announcement to her is the pregnancy of her aged relative Elizabeth. If a woman past the childbearing age could become pregnant, why, the angel implies, should there be doubt about Mary’s pregnancy, for nothing will be impossible for God.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,
Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner.
All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced
in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

 

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