Luke 1:26–38 (NRSV)
Verse 26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, Verse 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. Verse 28And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." Verse 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Verse 30The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Verse 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. Verse 32He 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 ancestor David. Verse 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Verse 34Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" Verse 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. Verse 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. Verse 37For nothing will be impossible with God." Verse 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.
What’s in a greeting, and how shall one respond to a surprising visitor? Well, it depends— especially if that greeting comes in angelic form. Mary is at least in good company. Luke’s story has carefully structured her response to mirror that of Zechariah (1:12): She is “terrified” (not “perplexed”) and full of fear.
But tucked in the angel’s greeting is a clue to what’s going on here—and the one thing that has the power to transform that fear. “Greetings, favored one … for you have found favor with God.” As the saying goes, the story loses a little in the usual translation. In the original Greek, the word translated “favor” is actually the word “grace.” It is as if to say, “Mary, you have been graced by the presence of God.”
For us, too, that is the greeting that calls for our response as we stand in this fourth week of Advent. The surprising good news of grace is the presence of God, transforming our fears into the joy of God’s wonderful promise at Jesus’ birth.
Merciful God, may we hear in your word of promise the surprising note of grace that has the power to transform all our fears into a welcome joy at your visitation. Amen.