Speech of an angel shines in the waters of her thought like diamonds,
Rides like a sunburst on the hillsides of her heart.
And is brought home like harvests,
Hid in her house, and stored
Like the sweet summer’s riches in our peaceful barns. (Thomas Merton)
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” (Luke 1:30-33; context)
The past-present-future nature of the narrative, which we discussed yesterday, carries through Gabriel’s message today. Once again, the mention of David links to the past. Gabriel’s assertion that God is honoring Mary happens in the present. And the speech about the eternity of Jesus’ kingdom point to the future. Within this framework, Gabriel tells Mary what God is asking her to do: conceive and bear a son, who will be called the Son of the Most High.
But notice what Gabriel says before the message about Mary’s impending pregnancy and about Jesus’ life. First, the angel says the standard line used by all of God’s messengers: “Don’t be afraid.” Gabriel said this to Zechariah as well, and an angel will say it the shepherds in the next chapter. In these other two encounters, the angels lead with “Don’t be afraid.” But in Mary’s encounter, it is the second thing Gabriel says, as if he forgot the order of his speech. Perhaps, Gabriel was so excited about the content of his message that he forgot to allay Mary’s fear at the outset. Or maybe the idea of rejoicing in God’s favor trumps the idea of fear.
Indeed, the sentence about fear falls in between “The Lord is with you” and “God is honoring you.” Taken in this order, Gabriel’s message surrounds the idea of fear with the idea of God being in relationship with Mary. Mary has no need to fear because the Lord is with her and God is honoring her. And if this isn’t enough to show that God’s relationship with Mary trumps fear, the angel does something that is always powerful in the Gospel. Gabriel says Mary’s name: “Don’t be afraid, Mary.”
In this opening message Gabriel establishes God’s intimate relationship with Mary, a connection that drives out fear. So I invite you today to listen for the words of God that speak each day into our hearts: “The Lord is with you. Don’t be afraid even if God gives you a daunting task because God honors you with such work, and God will see you through.”
Dear God, you take my fear and triumph over it with your love. Help me to listen for and accept the call you speak in my life. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
I leave this moment with you, God, thankful that I, too, am a player in the continued narrative of the Good News of your Son Jesus Christ.