“Greetings, you who are highly favored; the Lord is with you.”
The words aren’t just for Mary. That same Greek verb which means “to highly favor” is used just one other place in the New Testament, this time of us: “. . . his glorious grace, with which he has highly favored us . . .” (Eph 1:6)
Mary is as surprised to be greeted in this way as we are. “You who are highly favored”: what does it mean? The angel clarifies with a phrase common in the Hebrew Scriptures, “You have found favor with God.” For Noah and Abraham and David, the result of finding favor with God, of God choosing to act on their behalf, was to be given a part in His great story. So for Mary. (And so for us. . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.) “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”
Mary still has questions. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. . .” (Luke 1: 35) These words aren’t just for Mary either. Luke, writing his story in two grand acts, echoes this phrase from the start of Act 1, in which Jesus is born of Mary and lives as a man in our world, at the start of Act 2, in which Jesus is borne in us into the world. Jesus speaks to his followers as the angel spoke to Mary, “when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8), you will receive power to make the impossible possible, and the miracle of God living in a human body will happen all over again.
We each have our questions. How can this be? How can we bear the Son of God into the world?
Mary was young, Elisabeth was “well along in years.” (Luke 1:18) Mary lacked the needed situation (marriage); Elisabeth had been desperately trying within the perfect situation for years and kept coming up empty. With these two examples, the angel brackets and encompasses all of our impossible situations, and answers them all with a few simple words: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
The question for us is as mysteriously simple as the angel’s reassurance. Will we cling tightly to our questions, or will we open our questioning hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Christ? “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
“. . . the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you. . . ” (Col 1:27)