Annunciation: the angel’s message to Mary and us

When I went back to school as an adult student, I chose to take subjects that I enjoyed, rather than ones that would lead to a job. So, I took Art History. In Art History ou get to look at lots of pictures of beautiful paintings and sculptures. The tricky thing is that you also have to read and write about boring stuff, like ‘triptych’, ‘linear perspective’ and something called ‘egg tempera’ – not to be confused with egg tempura.

My favourite period was the Italian Renaissance. When you look at art from this era you notice lots of paintings of angels and ladies, and they’re all called something like ‘The Annunciation’, like the example below. Why? The artists back then chose to paint for the highest dollar, and back then the church paid best.  What would a church want an artist to paint? Bible scenes, obviously.

‘The Annunciation’ by Leonardo Da Vinci (c.1472-75)

So, what is happening in this picture? An angel (the one with wings) is talking to a lady. The angel is Gabriel, and the lady is Mary. This picture is an attempt to portray Luke 1:26-38. While ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ there are some words that this picture doesn’t say, like:

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “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 called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

The story is pretty straight-forward, but really unusual because it involves an alien being, a virgin birth, and God as a human being. Not really your usual.

Gabriel visits a girl in Nazareth called Mary, who is also engaged to a guy called Joseph. Angels frighten people, because when you see an angel ordinarily it means you’re going to die! Mary is scared, but Gabriel tells her not to be, but instead, she is “highly favoured” and that God is with her.

Gabriel then tells her that she will conceive a baby which she is to call Jesus, or Yeshua, in Aramaic. Not only that, he’s going to be “Son of the Most High” who will reign over God’s people as the son of David – forever. Mary stops the angel half-way to voice an obvious problem (think teenage girl voice), “Like. How?”

Not to be fazed, the angel replies that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” As proof that this will happen, Gabriel tells her that her older cousin (over 50) Elizabeth is six-months pregnant. This will happen because God’s word always comes true.

Mary responds with complete trust, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word be fulfilled.” She has total faith in God’s purposes, and affirms that she is willing to participate in this history-shifting and cosmically-commanding event.

When God speaks to you this Christmas, what will be your response? Will you be a part of his world-changing plan?

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