The Annunciation

Posted by Thaddaeus

Luke 1: 26-38


The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”  But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  And the angel said to her in reply, “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.  And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”  Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  Then the angel departed from her.


Background:  The annunciation to Mary parallels the annunciation to Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist.  The angel Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, appears to both.  Both are afraid, which seems to be the natural reaction whenever humans encounter the supernatural.  It is the same response of the  shepherds in the field.  The women at the tomb of Jesus are terrified and lower their eyes at the site of two angels.  Mary is consecrated as a Temple Virgin at the age of three and lives on the Temple grounds.  The Temple Virgins is an altar guild and a school for Israelite women where they study Scripture and liturgical prayer.  They care for the vestments and instruments used in sacrificial offerings.  Her teacher and nurse in the Temple is Noemi, the aunt of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.  She and they belong to a sect called the Essenes, who believe that the promise God makes to David will be fulfilled by a virgin.


The Annunciation:  There are those who question whether Isaiah’s prophecy foretells a virgin birth.  Some scholars contend that virgin (Heb., “almah”) can mean a non-virgin, or a married woman, but such interpretation fails.  There is no other passage in the Old Testament Hebrew where almah is not a virgin.  Also, when original Hebrew is translated to Greek there are other Greek words that could have been used to convey a different meaning.  The Greek translation is parthenos (Lit., “virgin”).  Unlike Zachariah’s reply to the angel, Mary’s reply is faith-based.   How can she conceive a child without breaking her vow of perpetual virginity?  The angel understands Mary’s concern and assures her that the power of God will envelop her.  I will go out on a limb to suggest that Mary understands this to mean that the Shekinah Cloud (Lit., “God’s dwelling place”) will overshadow her and make all this possible.