2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall

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The Most Convincing Angel

Every year when I return to the readings that fill the seasons of Advent and Christmas, I think, "Here we go again." I assume that I know what they are all about, but then I take time to read them aloud, often discovering through the sound of the words in the air something my eye has missed on the page: "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" (Luke 1:35).

Racing ahead of my voice with my mind, I expect to hear Mary's famous response, "Let it be with me according to your word." (Luke 1:38b). But wait! That is not what I hear. Mary does not respond to the acceptance of her ministry simply on the basis of how God is moving in her life. Instead, I hear myself reading: "And 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. For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:36-37).

One might think it would be enough for the angel Gabriel to announce God's work in Mary's life, but instead, he tells Mary about the pregnancy of her elderly relative. On the basis of how Mary later goes to visit her kinswoman (1:39-56), we can only assume that there was an affectionate relationship between the two. Perhaps during her long childless years, Elizabeth used to show a special interest in Mary, finding the delight in her that she had yet to be granted through a child of her own. Perhaps Mary had reciprocated with the joy of a child who is glad to have a trusted older relative to share things never shared with a parent. It is not far fetched to consider that Mary's willingness to bear Christ proceeds in part from the example of the trusted older woman.

Even if we are dealing with legendary materials in these passages, Luke's careful organization of his narrative suggests that the appeal to the older woman is a crucial part of the openness and receptivity of the younger woman. Through her trusted relative Mary finds the faith and courage to respond to God. Look what the angel added to the announcement of the work of the Holy Spirit: the example of a wise older woman whom Mary trusted. Heaven's angel is smart enough to know that the most convincing angel on earth is a beloved and trusted confidant, especially a wise, older woman.

What wise, older woman is the convincing angel who has opened your heart to prepare for the birth of Christ?

Thomas H. Troeger

Iliff School of Theology

Denver, CO