26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’* 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* 35The angel said to her, ‘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 holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
Luke moves between the narratives of John and of Jesus in this first chapter – he has told of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah, who would be John’s father; now he tells of Gabriel’s visit to a village called Nazareth, to a young woman called Mary. Nazareth was a poor town, not even mentioned in histories of the time. It is still a poor town, even to this day. There are two different traditions about where in Nazareth Mary was when the angel came to her – the Greek Orthodox tradition is that she was at the well. There is a small Greek Orthodox church built around a spring said to be Mary’s well. That little church has hundreds of visitors every day. We went to that site on this year’s visit to Israel. The Roman Catholics, however, believe the annunciation took place at Mary’s home, a cave carved into the hillside. This site has been celebrated since early centuries of the church. A small room, carved out, is at a lower level; around it are remnants of tile from the Constantinian era; but built above and around all that is a modern church. The idea that people might have lived in caves, carefully carved out and finished, is not surprising, for in Nazareth we saw that even today people use caves for storage and utility “buildings”.
Wherever it occurred, the Angel Gabriel came to Mary, and shocked her with his greeting, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Mary was perplexed; what could he mean by that? Gabriel goes on to say that she should not be afraid (angels always say that), that she had found favor with God. She would conceive and bear a child – and he would be called the Son of the Most High, and would have the throne of David, and would reign forever. She should name the child Jesus. Mary asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Notice, Mary does not express doubt, as Zechariah did, that the angel is telling the truth, but simply asks how it can happen. The angel says that it will be through the Spirit, and the child would be called Son of God. He tells her that her relative Elizabeth is with child in her old age – “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Mary’s reply resounds across time – “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary must have wondered about this – she must have known that she would be ridiculed as an unwed mother in her village. She could not have known how Joseph, her fiance, would take this news. This was not an easy task she took on, and yet, her response was, “Here am I, Lord.” We are each called in our own ways, do we respond as Mary did, “Here am I, Lord.”?