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Luke 1:26-38







Lesson Focus

God invites us to participate in God's mission of salvation and restoration for the world. 


Lesson Outcomes 

Through this lesson, students should: 


  1. Contemplate what it must have been like to be Mary. 

  2. Understand the social consequences of Mary’s situation.

  3. Discern how they might be used to participate in God’s mission in the world. 


Catching up on the Story

Luke begins his orderly account of the life of Jesus with John the Baptist's origin story. There was a devout elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, living during the reign of King Herod of Judea. Zechariah was a priest, and it was his turn to serve in the Temple. During the execution of his duties in the Holy of Holies, an angel appeared to Zechariah to inform him that he and his barren wife would soon have a son. Zechariah demands a sign that the birth of a boy will come to pass, and for his unbelief, he is struck mute. 


Unable to speak, Zechariah returns home after fulfilling his duties, and soon Elizabeth becomes pregnant. Zechariah regains his speech after the boy is born and insists the child's name be John. Luke then shifts from John's origin story to Jesus' story. There are many parallels between the two birth announcements. Still, the emphasis is placed squarely on the importance of this second child, who is conceived in a miraculous way. 


In Nazareth of Galilee As Luke did with John's story, he provides concrete markers of time and place. Jesus' story begins in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy. This time, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary at her home in Nazareth. For Luke's readers unfamiliar with Israel's geography, he includes the region in which Nazareth is located. Galilee was located in northern Israel, above Samaria. 


Unlike her cousins Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary is not old and barren. Mary is a young girl, likely around the age of 12 or 13. Luke tells us that Mary is a virgin who is engaged to a man whose name is Joseph. Joseph is mentioned only to connect Mary to the line of David. Besides caring and providing for Mary and, subsequently, Jesus, Joseph will have no role in the upcoming narrative. Young engagements like Mary's were common. These engagements were not like ours today, and they were legally binding. Joseph would likely have been older and already established in a trade. Because of the legally binding nature of Mary's engagement, a pregnancy on her part would result in a significant amount of shame directed toward her, her family, and possibly Joseph. 


Luke mentions Mary's virginity twice, and a third time, Mary declares her state herself. Repeated elements in a biblical text are almost always significant. The main point of mentioning Mary's state so often has to do with definitively declaring the ultimate cause of this pregnancy. While Mary certainly will play a role, the initiative and work are God's. Mary's virginity simply points to the magnitude of the coming miracle. It should not be seen as an exalted state, nor should it point to her humble status (Nolland, 49). 


As with Elizabeth's pregnancy and her ancestor Sarah before her, God shows his ability to bring about life and newness even in places where not all the proper ingredients are in place. That God chooses a woman from the backwaters of Israel in a place where most of the world would have never heard of continues the upside-down nature of God's work in our world. The upside-down nature of God's kingdom will permeate the rest of Luke's narrative. 


The Angel Speaks We can assume that Mary is somewhere private when the angel Gabriel appears to her, as the presence of such a being would have attracted notice if she was not somewhere private. In the quiet, secluded space, the angel offers a word of greeting and grace. The angel's first words are gracious, as he declares that Mary is a "favored one." Before Mary has done anything, before she has consented to bear the savior of the world in her womb, God bestows grace and goodwill. Over and over in both the Old and New Testaments, we see that grace is almost always God’s first word. 


Immediately following the bestowal of grace comes a promise of divine resource. Mary does not yet know what she will need, but she will soon understand that she will have it, whatever it is. In the Old Testa