The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. AMEN.
Luke 1:26 “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.’ 34 And Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.”
“Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” That greeting from the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary has a long history of translation and interpretation, mistranslation and misinterpretation. The King James translation puts the words of Elizabeth into the mouth of the Angel Gabriel so the greeting ends up with some extra stuff. “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
This translation of Gabriel’s greeting along with Elizabeth’s greeting in Luke 1:42 “, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” form the first line of the Roman Catholic prayer known as the “Hail Mary.” Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
There is a lot of luggage attached to “Hail Mary.” These days the phrase denotes an act of desperation done in the hope of getting lucky. As far as the second part of the greeting “the Lord is with you,” it is generally understood as a more formal and religious was of saying “hello.”
“Kaire,” is the word recorded here in Luke 1:28. This word is often translated as “greeting” or “hail,” but it is much more than a way to begin the exchange of introduce yourself to someone. Kaire actually means “rejoice!” The root word used here is the same word used for ka-ritos– in English “grace.” This is the shorter form of the New Testament word for grace and it is used by St. Paul in his Epistles and in the Epistle of James.
Judas uses this word to betray Jesus as he kisses Him on the cheek in Matthew 26:49 “And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, ‘Hail, master;’ and kissed him.” The soldiers use the word to mock Christ as they crown Him with thorns and a purple cloak. Matthew 27:29 “And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!”
Odd examples I admit. They certainly don’t seem to convey the warmth and joy of the Gabriel’s or St. Paul’s use of the word. When coming from the mouth a betrayer or a mocker, the word doesn’t shout “rejoice.” That’s how mocking works. You take that which is good and right and turn it into something cruel and hurtful.
But you have to keep in mind, how it is God’s grace has came ours and how. It is solely on account of the all-redeeming suffering and death of Jesus Christ. It was His incarnation, life of obedience, betrayal, His suffering, and His miserable sacrificial death that, ended up as our grace, our peace, our forgiveness, and our life.
It should also come as no surprise that the very first word spoken by Christ Himself on Easter Sunday to the women at the tomb is this same Ka-rain. Matthew 28:9 “And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail.” Ka-rain is God’s way of announcing His unmerited grace and peace to sinners, which is certainly reason to rejoice.
The angel Gabriel suddenly appears before young Mary, a virgin engaged to be married and says, “Rejoice! You’re about to be impregnated by God Himself and you’re going to give birth to God’s Son.
Given our present cultural context it’s hard to imagine that virginity or chastity was the natural and preferred state of affairs for the unmarried, but up until the 1960s pre-marital sex was the exemption to the rule, not the other way around. That was largely because of the Sixth Commandment and common sense. Our culture’s acceptance of casual sex and sex outside of marriage, has destroyed the estate of marriage and turned a gift from God into sin and pain.
The virtue of self-discipline and chastity was nowhere more true than in the first century among the Jews. So imagine how confusing and unsettling Gabriel’s greeting and message could have been to Mary.
Gabriel’s greeting wasn’t just a hello. It was Ka-rain– “Hail, the one upon whom God’s grace has fallen! The Lord is with you.” That’s why “she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.” I will tell you what kind of greeting it was. It’s a hello, God has a plan for the salvation of the world and you have a part in it and it is going to bring you both great joy and great sorrow. Remember what Simeon told Mary at the temple? “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also).” Luke 2:34-35
The news gets “worse” for the young virgin girl who is already engaged to a fine man. When Gabriel addresses Mary for the second time he uses a greeting that will also be used by Jesus time and time again. “Do not be afraid, [and then repeats the news again] Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”
That is enough information about Who this Child is going to be for any pious Hebrew in the first century. Gabriel is describing the Promised Messiah and Mary knows it.
It’s no big deal today when an unwed teenager finds herself pregnant. There’s no shame attached to the biological parents and barely any responsiblity either. Government programs will make sure of that. But there would be nothing but disgrace for Mary. Yet, the only thing that she asks about is how can such a thing happen.
“‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God . . . 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’”
Mary listens and obeys. She believes the unbelievable. She doesn’t worry about what the others may think or say. She doesn’t worry about the possible consequences. Mary simply trusts and says, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”
This is why Martin Luther and lots of other theologians say that at the very moment Mary hears the Word of God and obediently confesses, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word,” is the very same moment that the Holy Spirit conceives in her the Son of God.
She didn’t argue. She didn’t doubt. She didn’t hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. She humbly heard, believed, and in that sense obeyed. She did nothing else other than believe the Word spoken to her.
Up to this point, the angel’s words have been in the future tense. Mary will conceive. She will bear a son. She’s not pregnant yet. But by the time the Gabriel departs, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit have done their work. The Son of God is contained in a single and now multiplying cell in Mary’s womb.
This same life-giving Word is at work in you to today. The Holy Spirit hasn’t ever stopped giving the free and unmerited grace and life to you. Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, hearing through the Word of Christ.” It is by the preaching of God’s Word, His Gospel, that you have been born anew.
Thus again St. Paul in the Epistle lesson. Listen to the emphasis he places on the Gospel and preaching. “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever.” Romans 16:25-27
Hailed favored ones, Immanuel, your sins are forgiven. The Lord is with us.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep our minds and hearts in Christ Jesus. Amen.