Angels – when it absolutely, positively has to be there: Luke 1

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Today’s reading: Luke 1.

Angels are somewhat like God’s secret agents – rarely seen but always at work in the background. Only occasionally does God pull back the curtain and let us see them. Those are moments of serious importance. Abraham on the verge of sacrificing Isaac. Moses at the burning bush. Joshua preparing to attack Jericho. Daniel laying out the prophetic forecast for the end of time. The announcement of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.

Angels are also God’s messengers. They bring God’s most important messages at those most important times. When it absolutely, positively has to be there. So Zechariah, an aging priest with no children, stands before the altar of incense in the Holy Place of the temple, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, when the angel Gabriel suddenly reveals himself. He gives the shocked man the news that he will have a son, and not just any son, but one full of the Holy Spirit who will prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” Luke 1:18-20

Angels can have an attitude – at least Gabriel can when pushed to the limit of his patience by a priest with a questioning faith. Zechariah’s mistake was in demanding proof of the angel’s promise. Gabriel gave him proof and punishment in one stroke by removing his voice.

Half a year later Gabriel returns to a teen-aged girl, related to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and gives her an even more important message.

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “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. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Luke 1:30-38

Mary’s question sounds a lot like Zechariah’s, but there is a difference. Mary only questions how, not if. Gabriel finds no problem with her question and patiently explains the mystery of the virgin birth. Mary responds with the obedient surrender that should be a model for every believer.

The angels return in a dream to Mary’s betrothed husband to make sure he understands what is happening, to the shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem so they can give witness of the Savior’s birth, and again to Joseph to protect Jesus from those who are determined to kill him. In all these situations God’s messengers are dealing with matters of the greatest importance and delivering news that absolutely, positively has to be there.

Image by Steve Day on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

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5 thoughts on “Angels – when it absolutely, positively has to be there: Luke 1

  1. Coincidence, or Providence, that we encounter the first chapter of Luke on this day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

    “And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!””

    This is not the “full of grace” of Stephen in Acts (plērēs charis), this is something altogether different (kecharitōmenē). Some say this is the only place in scripture this word occurs in this form, a unique word for a unique person. This becomes the kernel of truth that ultimately blossoms into the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. How could the angel address her in this manner unless she was sinless? She doesn’t doubt the angel’s words, she cannot comprehend them and their meaning given her sinless state. Perhaps this even implies her intent to remain a virgin for her entire life.

    Dave Armstrong explains:

    “Through the grace of the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on the Cross, Mary was preserved from original sin and its effects. This is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.”

    “To illustrate this doctrine, medieval theologians argued that a person walking through the woods near a hidden pit could be “saved” from it in two different ways: by being warned so that they avoid falling into it, or (having fallen in) by being rescued from it. The first example applies to Mary; the latter applies to all of us who inherited original sin. In both cases, however, salvation must come through God’s grace alone. Mary could no more save herself than we can. The Immaculate Conception is as much pure grace as is possible.”

    St. Augustine says:

    “We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honor to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.”

    Saint Irenaeus states that “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith” (Adversus Haereses, III, 22, 4).

    Consider Wordsworth’s meditation:

    Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
    With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
    Woman! above all women glorified,
    Our tainted nature’s solitary boast;
    Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
    Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
    With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
    Before her wane begins on heaven’s blue coast;
    Thy Image falls to earth. . . .

    “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast,” I rather like that line.

    • I realize there is a long tradition still doctrinal in the Catholic Church that Mary was sinless from birth. Regarding “full of grace,” here is a commentary from the internet:

      The phrase ‘full of grace’ is not a translation of the Greek word kecharitōmenē; rather, it is a translation of the Latin phase gratia plene. The phrase ‘full of grace’ in John 1:14 is not a rendering of kecharitōmenē; rather, it is a rendering of plērēs charitos. The word kecharitōmenē is a verb: it is the feminine singular perfect passive participle of charitoō . It simply means ‘favored’.

      In the New Testament, the verb charitoō was used not only with regard to Mary, but also with regard to all Christians: In Ephesians 1:6, the phrase rendered ‘by which He made us accepted’ in the NKJV is hēs echaristōsen hēmas, wherein echaristōsen is simply a different grammatical inflection of the same verb (charitoō) used with reference to Mary in Luke 1:28.

      Ephesians 1:5-6 (Holman Christian Standard Bible) — brackets added
      5 He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, 6 to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with [hēs echaristōsen hēmas] in the Beloved.

      The simplest argument against Mary being sinless is that she needed a savior. As she herself said in Luke 1:47, referring to God her savior. Romans also tells us that there is no one sinless, “no not one.”

      Could Mary have been sinless? Possibly. Must she have been so in order to bear Jesus? No. As the Ark of the Covenant was made of corruptible things but was sanctified in order to serve in the temple, so Mary though imperfect was able to bear Jesus by God’s grace (unmerited favor). “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels.”

      • I am sure there have been volumes written, and more than one PhD dissertation dedicated to dissecting this word. The one thing we can be sure of is its uniqueness.

  2. And then there is this:

    “My soul glorifies the Lord
    47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
    From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
    50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
    51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
    52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
    53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
    54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
    55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

    Question. Who today fulfills her prophecy that “From now on all generations will call me blessed”?

    Consider the Ave Maria prayer:

    “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

    This prayer is recited so often by Catholics all over the world, there is probably scarcely a moment her prophecy is not being fulfilled.

    Tradition estimates she was likely 14-16 years old when she voiced the words to the Magnificat. Our Lady is truly an amazing woman.

  3. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – Angels – when it absolutely, positively has to be there: Luke 1 | ChristianBlessings

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