Year B Advent 4th Sunday: Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God
 to a town in 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 He went in and said to her,
 'Rejoice, you who enjoy God's favour! The Lord is with you.'
29 She was deeply disturbed by these words
and asked herself what this greeting could mean,
30 but the angel said to her, 'Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God's favour.
31 Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you must name him Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David;
33 he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.'
34 Mary said to the angel,
 'But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?'
35 The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow.
And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.
36 And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age,
has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month,
37 for nothing is impossible to God.'
38 Mary said, 'You see before you the Lord's servant,
let it happen to me as you have said.' And the angel left her.

God has a plan to save the world. So he sends his angel to the capital of his people, Jerusalem. That makes sense. There he speaks with the high priest in charge. That makes sense again. But then God sends the same angel to a totally unknown town, Nazareth. That makes no sense. What should God have to do with such an unimportant village? There the angel does not enter a palace, but a simple house. Makes no sense. And there he speaks with a virgin. What does God have in mind? The contrast between Jerusalem - Temple - High priest and Nazareth - House - Virgin couldn’t be greater. The most important part of the mission of Gabriel (Jerusalem) turns out to be only the introduction for the all the more important part of the virgin in Nazareth.

The name of the angel Gabriel is meaningful. It refers to Daniel 8:16 and especially 9:21-24 where the same angel appears to the prophet Daniel and explains to him that there will be a time of 70 weeks before the Lord will come with his redemption. Luke seems to use that in his Gospel. He uses the number of 70 weeks as the foundation of his composition. Let us calculate:

Gabriel appears to Zachariah to tell him that he will have a son. After six months (= 180 days) Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her that she will have a son. After nine months (= 270 days) Jesus was born. 40 days later Jesus is presented in the Temple: 180 days + 270 days + 40 days = 490 days (= 70 weeks!). Exactly the number of the prophecy in Daniel.

[Thierry MAERTENS & Jean FRISQUE 'Kommentar zu den neuen Lesungen der Messe; 1: Erster Band:  Adventsonntag bis Sonntag nach Erscheinung' Freiburg/Basel/Wien, Herder, 1969 pp:153-154]

Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel. He had announced to her that she was chosen to be the mother of God’s son. She agrees (literally translated), ‘See: the slave of the Lord’ (Luke 1:38). In that culture slavery was very normal. 95% of the population was slave. Slaves were members of the family. Their task was to do what the master ordered them to do. As says the Roman officer in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘I say to my slave “Do this!” and he does’ (8:9). That was the characteristic of a slave. The behaviour of the slave was the mirror of the master. When Mary says, ‘I am the slave of the Lord’ she promises to be the mirror of her Master in her behaviour.

Picture Meditation

This stained glass window, made by J.J. Wainwright ca 1930(?), is to be found in the church of St. Francis, Handsworth. (photographed by Fr Dries)

I read it horizontally. The upper section shows what happens in heaven: God-Father and God-Son send the Holy Spirit (white dove) to Mary. That the spirit comes from Father and Son is emphasized by the beams which descend from the hands of the Father and the Son to the Spirit.

In the middle section I see the result of what happens in heaven. The angel (left) brings the message to the Holy Virgin that she - although a virgin - will be the mother of Jesus. That is to be read on the banderole behind the angel. The lily in the hand of the angel refers to Mary’s virginity.

In the lower section we see what happens in the place where the people who died before are to be found. Adam and Eve who committed the original sin are awaiting the coming of the Redeemer full of hope.

Is there a connection between Adam and Eve in the lower section and the apples on the floor of heaven? Does the artist suggest that the apples, too, have to be restored in the original beauty of the creation?

It is very rare that in a picture of the Annunciation the one who is about to be born as the little child Jesus, is pictured as the second person of the Trinity at the same time.

Looking at the picture I ask myself if I ever had a moment in my life which I consider as a message..., an invitation of the Lord..., that the Lord prefers the lower placed persons (as I am?) to the ones who are in charge of higher functions?

What is my vocation? At which moment in my life did that vocation become clear to me? Am I a mirror of the Lord in my daily life; in what way?

Who were the angels in my life, people who brought me - in one way or another - some of the goodness and the fertility of the Lord?

Who are/were the mirrors of the Lord in my life?

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ