Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Fearless, by the Rev. Joel Boyd
Edited and formatted for publication by J. E. Tucker, MPH
December 12, 2021
The Gospel According to Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)1
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin[a] engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The LORD is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus[b]. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the LORD will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The faith of the young Mary is virtually unmatched in the Biblical witness—save for her son, Jesus, of course.
Sure, [some were] healed with amazing faith and many who came to strong faith in time. And we might give Noah some credit: he obeyed God and participated in a renewed population on earth. But Noah was much older than Mary; the flood destroyed the bad guys, and he had an ark. Mary, [on the other hand,] mainly had her faith and would have to live to see her son killed. No one else [was reported having been] conceived by the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35). Sure, John [the Baptizer] had it (faith, that is), but Jesus was conceived by it or took on His humanity by it. And no one else gave birth to the savior of the world while still so young.
Just consider for a moment how many other people had been visited upon—either by God or God’s messengers—to give them a charge, to call them to participate. And then think [about] how many of them balked or even tried to avoid the call in one way or another.
Sarah, when she learned of the promise of pregnancy in her old age, well… she laughed at the idea, perhaps finding it ridiculous (Gen. 18:12). Moses didn’t feel qualified to do what God had asked him to do. Jonah tried to run away from God. Sure, some of the disciples dropped everything to follow Jesus, but they also wrestled with doubt when the rubber met the road later.
But Mary, when she is visited by the angel Gabriel (Lk. 1:26) and learns the most amazing news, believes—she has faith. Scholars make much fuss over the comparisons between Zechariah and Mary, but one thing to highlight is that the elder priest (i.e., Zechariah), with access to the Holy Place[c] in the Temple—literally right next to the presence of God (Ex. 26:33-34; Ex. 25:8)—when he receives God’s word through the angel, he doubts and asks for a sign. Mary, well… she is quite young; is not yet married and is of no status of any importance. She has no access to a place of importance, either. And despite this, the angel comes to her, and it is she who responds with faith, not Zechariah.
When the angel speaks, Mary is not troubled because of doubt. Rather, she is unsure of what to make of such an unusual greeting. How would you react if an angel came and greeted you like royalty, noting your favored status with God? We [must] remind ourselves that Mary did not have a highborn status. She would have had no reason to expect such a greeting.
Perhaps the biggest news any human being had ever been delivered was shared there, in Nazareth, to a young [woman] named Mary. She learned that, while of no special status herself, her son would be of great importance, perhaps beyond what she could imagine at that moment—but we might give her the benefit of the doubt.
After sharing all the amazing things which will soon happen to her and her son, the angel informs Mary that Elizabeth, her older relative, will also [bare] a child despite Elizabeth’s known history of [infertility]. [By] sharing this bit of nearly equally stunning family news, the angel is continually building the case for the ceaseless wonders God can achieve. Nothing limits what God can do. As the angel says: “no word from God will ever fail.” (Lk. 1:37)
And now, if this were a movie, the camera would shift directly to Mary as the audience anxiously waits for her response, her reaction. We’ve heard from Gabriel and the great case the angel has made. And we recall all those cautious and uncertain responses from those who had their doubts. But what we have from Mary is something quite different. As beautiful as it is bold, the words of Mary’s witness come to us; “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Lk. 1:38)
Mary is fearless and she believes. She trusts in the word given to her by God’s angel. Mary is shockingly able to not only grasp the richness of the angel’s message but also able to take responsibility and action in the moment. She not only trusts the angel, but Mary also trusts God and God’s promise for all that is yet to come in the life of her son.
Friends, while Mary would have had ample reason for alarm, she trusted God and was fearless. She [was] a truly great example to us of the picture of faith, where we find encouragement to not only talk the talk but most importantly to walk the walk. As you live into this Advent season, may you be reminded of Mary’s fearless action, for God invites us, each one of us, to participate. May we do so with faith and love for God and all God’s people. Amen.
- Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
[a] Debated. Cf. Isaiah 7:14: ‘almâh (הָֽעַלְמָ֗ה); strictly, “a young woman of marrying age.” Běthûlâh (בְּתוּלָה) would be more consistent with Luke’s and Matthew’s parthenos (παρθένος). [b] Gk.: Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous); Heb.: יֵשׁוּעַ (Y’shua). [c] Lk. 1:10 puts Zechariah amid the daily incense offering. The altar of incense was located within the Holy Place—the section of the Second Temple immediately preceding the Holiest of Holies.