2017 December Issue
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Sermon Ideas For Luke 1:26-38 Part 3

Mary's encounter with the angel Gabriel produces mixed emotions. It is a meeting of a pragmatist and a dreamer. Gabriel's heavenly announcements are met by practical questions about the hard realities of the angel's news. While this text is about annunciations, it is also about reservations—on Mary's part as she sorts out what lies ahead. We are told that she is perplexed, pondering, fearful, and confused, saying "how can this be since I am a virgin?" Her question is biological. Gabriel's response is theological. At the close of the annunciation story, Mary demonstrates more acceptance than enthusiasm for the angel's news.

Artists throughout the centuries have sought to capture this scene. In "Ecce Ancilla Domini" Dante Gabriel Rossetti depicts a young woman sitting on a plain, small bed, listening to an angel who stands beside the bed with a lily in hand. Rossetti has portrayed both the confusion and absorption of Mary as she receives Gabriel's news, and her posture betrays some trace of fear or reluctance. Arthur Hacker, however, paints Mary as a tall, statuesque, sad-eyed girl whose gauzy robes cover her head to feet. She clutches the fabric of her garment while Gabriel swoops down from above and hovers just over her head.

A more modern portrayal of the annunciation comes in the form of a children's book The Nativity, illustrated by Julie Rivas. Gabriel delivers his news to Mary at the kitchen table, with coffee mug in hand and gum boots on his feet. Angels, after all, are laborers for the Lord, and Gabriel is an angel discharged to complete a serious task. The scene is conversational, with Mary asking questions and Gabriel going about his work with earnestness and delight.

The poet Edwin Muir describes this encounter of heaven and earth in his poem "The Annunciation" (quoted here only in part):

The angel and the girl are met. Earth was the only meeting place. For the embodied never yet Traveled beyond the shore of space. The eternal spirits in freedom go. See, they have come together, see, While the destroying minutes flow, Each reflects the other's face Till heaven in her and earth in his Shine steady there. He's come to her From far beyond the farthest star, Feathered through time...1

In his poem "Mary and Gabriel," English writer Rupert Brooke addresses the confusion which the angel's news produces in Mary:

..She wished to speak. Under her breasts she had Such multitudinous burnings, to and fro, And throbs not understood; she did not know If they were hurt or joy for her; but only That she was grown strange to herself, half lonely, All wonderful, filled full of pains to come And thoughts she dare not think, swift thoughts and dumb, Human, and quaint, her own, yet very far, Divine, dear, terrible, familiar...2

Although Mary over time has become beatified and ethereal, Luke's depiction of her is down-to-earth. We are not told for what attributes Mary has found favor with the Lord, but we are given stories which show a young woman who is faithful, trusting, and good. Raphael's "The Sistene Madonna" blends these qualities with a shadow of doubt and anxiety revealed in Mary's eyes: perhaps the most authentic response of humanity's encounter with heaven.

Judy E. Pidcock

NOTES

1. Edwin Muir, "The Annunciation," from Collected Poems (Oxford University Press, 1986). 2. Rupert Brooke, "Mary and Gabriel" in Chapters Into Verse, ed. by Robert Atwan and Laurence Wieder (Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 16.