Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38
4th Sunday of Advent
Today, the gospel of Luke brings us a terrifying announcement to a young girl. An angel appeared to Mary to break a strange news to hear; a news that was out of context; but the news was about an extraordinary gift of a child. She was frightened as she encountered an angelic being. Imagine that a strange creature appeared to you at night. What would you do? How would you react? More surprisingly, this obscure being is talking to you in your own language! Think how terrifying a moment it might be!
I always remember a story of an old woman from my village when I read Mary's story. The woman saw herself in a mirror for the first time in her life. Her nephew had brought home a mirror from a nearby town and placed the mirror in the far end of the hut. The aunty had no knowledge about the strange object in the hut. One afternoon this woman, looking for an item, entered the hut and saw her reflection in the mirror. She had no front upper teeth in the past, and her lower teeth were removed due to our tradition. That afternoon what the woman saw was a monster with closed teeth staring at her. She ran out screaming, "lääy dagø yi øtø"—meaning, there is unidentifiable animal inside the hut. When the villagers came to her rescue, they found a mirror, everyone saw their own reflection, but there was no animal in the hut. Do not yield to your fear, is the message for our 4th Sunday of Advent today.
The text for today begins by reporting that Elizabeth was in her six-month pregnancy when the angel appeared to Mary. Let us take time and see the parallel context of the preceding passages. Luke 1:12-20—the angel appeared to Zacharias, while Luke 1:26-38 presents the same angel appearing to Mary breaking the news that the impossible can be possible, and the unimaginable is now conceivable. The story of Elizabeth and Mary breaks the trajectory of human experience—the old brings out anew and the young brings forth a new beginning. The stories appear to portray both Mary and Zechariah yielding to their fear as they were presented with the impossible. While Zachariah briefly was made mute until the birth of the child, Mary submitted to the sovereignty of God. She realized she was powerless but believed only God can do the impossible (Luke 1:12-20; Luke 1:26-38).
Also, when the angel appeared— “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear” (v. 12). Mary was "confused and disturbed” (v. 29). “But the angel said [to Zechariah], ‘Don’t be afraid’ (v. 13).” And to Mary, “Don’t be afraid,” the angel told her” (v. 30). “Your wife Elizabeth will give you a son,” said Gabriel, (v. 13). And the angel said to Mary, “You will conceive and give birth to a son” (v. 31); “you are to name him John” (v. 13),” you will name him Jesus” (v. 31).
While John “will be great in the eyes of the Lord,” (v. 15); Jesus “…will be very great and will be called the Son of the Highest” (v. 32). John "will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God (v.16); and Jesus will reign over Israel (v. 33). Both Zechariah and Mary, presented their doubts; “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years” Zechariah complained (v. 18). “But how can this happen? I am a virgin,” Mary presented her fear (v. 34).
Then Gabriel assured them, “I am Gabriel, [sent by God], my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time” (v. 19-20). To Mary, "The angel replied,” The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” (v. 35). This is to assure Mary that God’s presence, his protection, and the encouragement will rest upon her even when she cannot understand the whole plan of Yahweh. God will protect and strengthen Mary against all the shame, the name calling, the fear and all other cultural stigmas that might come as part of Mary's conception.
Unlike Matthew, Luke's focus lies on God's intervention with the human world when recording the birth story. Luke did not waste time on chronological order, biological connection, but his emphasis is on Jesus, the subject of his writing. He emphasizes Jesus is the son of God of the Most High; he is the Messiah; the promised one whose background traced back to Jesse and king David. His aim is to present the new acts of God in the new age and the long expecting hope. Luke wants to encourage his readers to stay firm in the hearing of this strange story of heavenly affairs to the human world. He brings “the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s saving purpose” Charles B Cousar.
Jesus is the promised Messiah and scriptures prove this promise. As Isaiah promised, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit" (Isaiah 1:1). A dead stump will shoot out a new beginning. You may think of a pruned tree giving out new leaves and branches. But it is impossible for a dead stump to bring out a new shoot of the same tree. There might be an algae, mushrooms or different organisms growing out of it. This biological and forestry logic is unheard of. The announcement of Gabriel has broken every logical thinking of this world order. God disclosed his love ‘TO” us in a mysterious way—on Christmas.
We can see two inconceivable facts: an old woman giving birth to a child and a virgin giving birth to a baby, are hard to reconcile and understand. Yet, the angel broke the news and strengthened his hearers, to "not yield to fear." It is possible for God. Yes, God has said in the past, that "In that day, the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples… the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people… (Isaiah 11:10-11). God has for the second time gave a chance for his people. His banner is not fear, nor a discouragement, but love and comfort over us. The announcement is to inform us how hopes can be fulfilled, impossible can be overcome when God intervenes in our story.
The women who were in cultural and unnatural despair were brought hope and love. The assurance was in the angel's identification and in the greetings, he offered saying, "you have found favor with God"; God's unmerited grace is in Godself—"the impassible things [are] accomplished by God." Charles B. Cousar.
What does this mean to us today? It is about God’s assurance of his presence; God’s encouragement; and God’s gift of love and mercy on us through the newborn child. Luke’s portrayal of his characters tells us that we are all passive objects of God's intervention. Mary responded, “let it be according to your word,” even if she could not fully understand God’s plan. God's action for humans’ salvation, is always a mystery.
It’s about human life experience and the gospel of hope and love. "Life can be difficult; sometimes a [person] is beaten to his[/her] knees by the battering that it gives to him [her]. Life can be perilous, sometimes a [person] is like to fall in the slippery places of temptation. The gospel is God's power to save; that power which keeps a [person] erect, even when life is at its worst and its most threatening.” William Barclay.
The angel confirms the miracle Elizabeth already had experienced. and “Mary quietly accepted the promise without any hint of the doubts …." I. Howard Marshall.
After that terrifying encounter, Mary, took a trip to visit her cousin. Therefore, do not yield to your fear, stay firm, and let it be according God’s own will.
It is about our relationship to Jesus. We are of Jesus and he is of us. We can all see our reflections in him because we are made heirs of God through him. We should not yield to our fear, because, like my villagers, Jesus is our mirror. We can see him in us (well not our teeth) 😊. The book of Hebrews says, “For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered; he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Heb 1:14-18).
We see our reflection in him, he is in us and one of us. He is our mirror; the savior is to be born and bring God’s favorable love to us. On Christmas, the Mystery of God is finally disclosed and encourages everyone to:
Therefore, Jesus comes as savior; he is Emmanuel who promises to remain and make his dwelling among us. Jesus is not a stranger but one of us; and if one of us, then there is no reason to yield to our fears. He will be beside us to guide and give us divine support in our faith journey.
Today Luke tells us of our faith. It is true that faith does not make things easy- but will make hard things possible. Like Mary, let us accept our calling and the love of God and say, “let it be with me according to your word.” Jesus the savior of the world is to be born to us; he is the Messiah, the Christ!