26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:26-29)
Twenty-five verses into the account of Jesus’ early life and still no mention of him! The waiting is nearing its completion though. Having visited Zechariah and Elizabeth, the angel Gabriel now goes to Nazareth to visit Mary. While Elizabeth was advanced in years, Mary is young; she is a virgin and only betrothed to Joseph, not married. Almost every word of the narrative counts here, but that Joseph is “a descendant of David” (v.27) is perhaps the greatest clue that something special is about to happen. On one hand, this is an ordinary couple-to-be; but on the other, they are extraordinary because of Joseph’s connection to David.
Gabriel addresses Mary in friendly terms (v.28) by offering a warm greeting. As well as signifying a cheerful “hello”, the verb here (chaire) can also mean “rejoice”; this is good news. Previously, God graciously removed Elizabeth’s social disgrace; here, Mary is addressed as “begraced one” – someone who has received grace. The language of grace (charis) pervades this section, hence the tradition of ave Maria, plena gratia (Hail Mary, full of grace). Finally, Gabriel assures Mary that the Lord is with her. It is a warm greeting, but talking angels are not everyday occurrences; and, understandably, Mary is distressed and internally perplexed by the nature of the greeting!
I wonder, though, if this is sometimes our reaction when we hear or sense God speaking to us? I know I can sometimes overlook God’s good and gracious greetings, and focus instead on the fear or worry, calculating all the things that might go wrong. That’s not to say that God won’t ever ask us to do things which are difficult and costly; he sometimes does – Mary’s task is far from straightforward. Yet, we can trust his plans are for good (Romans 8:28) and that God still speaks tenderly to us – with grace and favour.