The Virgin Mary: Gospel Analysis
Advent 4A Matthew 1:18-25
Advent 4B Luke 1:26-38
Advent 4C Luke 1:39-56
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, pp. 3-5.
# 3. THE ANNUNCIATION Luke 1:26-38
The gospel text for Advent 4B begins here:
Only Luke tells this story.
The Gospel of Luke is often called the Gospel of womanhood because Luke has many positive stories about women. In fact, there are eight positive stories about women in this gospel, and the story for today is one of them. The birth stories are told from Mary’s point of view. We will later hear stories about Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, and the woman who anoints Jesus’ body for burial. In the book of Acts, we also hear positive stories about business women such as Lydia, the maker of purple.
-In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, Angels are important in Luke’s gospel.
“Gabriel - ga'-bri-el (gabhri'-el, "Man of God"; Gabriel): Gabriel is the name of the angel commissioned to explain to Daniel the vision of the ram and the he-goat, and to give the prediction of the 70 weeks (Daniel 8:16; 9:21). In the New Testament he is the angel of the annunciation to Zacharias of the birth of John the Baptist, and to Mary of the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:19,26). Though commonly spoken of as an archangel, he is not so called in Scripture. He appears in the Book of Enoch (chapters 9, 20, 40) as one of 4 (or 6) chief angels.” http://www.searchgodsword.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T3615
When a person reads about angels such as in this Bible verse, the reader often quickly assumes that this angel was a historical reality. In the previous story in the Gospel of Luke, it is only later in the story that we heard that the angel was part of a vision. When Zechariah came out of the temple, the people finally realized that he “he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.” (See Luke 1:22.)
We will find the same process during the first resurrection story in the Gospel of Luke where the women saw two angels in the empty tomb. The reader thinks that those two angels were part of historical reality, that the angels were really there in the empty tomb. Later in the same story, we will hear that these two angels were part of a vision. Luke 24:23 “They/the women came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.”
Sometimes, we Christians hold onto our concept of angels as part of the historicity of the Biblical narrative when the Biblical story is clear that these particular angels were part of a vision.
Angels were part of Luke’s theology and mindset, and today we too need “angels” who speak to us. We also need to be angels and be messengers of God.
There are numerous references to angels here in the Prologue e.g. Luke 1:11, 13, 18, 19, 26, 30, 34, 35; 2:9, 10, 13. We also find a reference to an angel in the resurrection story (22:43, 24:23).
Consistent with Luke 1 and 2, there are numerous references to angels in the book of Acts: 8:26; 10:3, 7, 22; 11:13; 12:7, 8, 10, 11, 15, 23; 23:8, 9 and 27:23.
The Greek word for “angel” is “angelos” and an angel is simply a messenger.
Many of us have played the role of angels. That is, we are often messengers from God. God repeatedly speaks through messengers today. We are to be open and receptive to God’s many messengers in our lives.
Today, most people do not literally believe in the artistic rendition of angels from the Middle Ages where angels literally have wings, fly, wear haloes, are chubby and Caucasian.
It is always important to translate Biblical categories into contemporary realities. The word, “angel,” is a good example of the need to translate this word into our contemporary culture and thought pattern. It could be a fascinating class experience to have each person recount to their neighbor how he or she was “an angel” or tell a story about how “an angel” came to them to speak God’s message. The room would buzz with conversation because this is an easy question. That is, people know today that we are visited by messengers from God or are messengers from God. We all can share those stories.
Painting and Imagination: An Angel
-To a virgin betrothed/engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
Circle the word, “virgin.” Let us pause for a moment and focus on the word, “virgin,” in both the Hebrew and Greek language.
Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:27 refer to the "virgin" Mary. Matthew 1:23 specifically quotes Isaiah 7:14 which says “A young woman shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.” The Hebrew word for virgin is “almah” which means “young woman.” In the Old Testament, the Hebrew clearly says that a “young woman” shall conceive and bear a child.
The Hebrew Bible was translated from Hebrew into Greek in about 300 BCE. (The Greek Old Testament was called the Septuagint, the Seventy, in honor of the 70 scholars who translated the Hebrew into Greek.) The Greek word for the Hebraic word, “almah,” is “apathone.” “Apathone” referred to a person who never had sexual intercourse; that is, that person was a virgin, as we think of a virgin today as never having had sexual intercourse. .
The Greek Old Testament was THE version that ALL the New Testament authors read and quoted in the New Testament.
In the New Testament, the word, “virgin,” no longer referred to a young woman as in the Hebrew text, but to a young woman who had never had sexual intercourse as in the Greek text.
All New Testament books quote from the Greek version of the Old Testament and not the Hebrew version of the Old Testament. In the Greek New Testament, the word, “virgin,” occurs fifteen times and consistently means that the person has not had sexual intercourse.
In these passages in the infancy narrative of the Greek New Testament, it is clear that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Spirit of God impregnated Mary. Mary was a virgin; that is, someone who did not have sexual intercourse with her human husband, Joseph.
The life of Jesus Christ begins and ends with a miracle. The authors of the New Testament concluded that Jesus Christ was/is the Son of God. His life began with the miracle of his virgin birth; it ended with the miracle of his resurrection. In between, we clearly hear in both his baptism and transfiguration that Jesus Christ was/is the “Son of God.”
So in the birth, baptism, transfiguration, and resurrection stories, we hear in various ways that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Son of God. The message of the virgin birth is consistent with the other primary stories in the gospels.
Jesus’ lineage was traced through Joseph, even if Joseph was not the biological father.
-And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." That is God’s attitude towards us. We are the “favored ones” of the Lord and the Lord is with us.
-But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. But like us, Mary didn’t really “get it” that she was favored by God.
-The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. These words were directed towards Mary, but these words also speak to us today. We can hear these words being addressed to our own lives: “Do not be afraid, ________, for you have found favor with God.” Fill in the blank space with your own name. This is a Bible verse that needs to be memorized and written into the spiritual diary at the end of the SYNOPSIS on page 362. Again, this reveals God’s attitude towards us. Write your own name near the word, “Mary.”
-And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. What a miracle. Mary was to become pregnant. But what did this mean? Mary knew what she was to name her son. Jesus. The name Jesus means “savior” and Jesus is the one who can save us from our sins and from ourselves.
-He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High (God), and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." The message to Mary was astounding: that her child was to be called the Son of God, that he would sit on the throne of David and that his kingdom would last forever. This message would have been incomprehensible for young Mary.
All through the Bible, we hear that the reign of David, the Messiah, and the Kingdom of God will have no end but will be forever. This belief that God will reign forever leads us to the belief that Christ conquered death and that we, too, shall live eternally with God.
-Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" Mary is rightfully perplexed at the message of Gabriel.
-The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High (God) will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. The angel Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit himself would overshadow her and she would become pregnant because of the Holy Spirit within her. This is a clear reference that the Holy Spirit created the birth of Jesus.
Similarly, when we are born again or born anew, it is because the Holy Spirit has overshadowed us and hovered over our hearts and in our hearts and therefore the Holy Spirit is the “father” of our faith. We are only born again when the Holy Spirit penetrates our lives and creates new life in us. In other words, there is a definite parallel between Jesus’ birth and our rebirth.
Clearly, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God.
-And 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.
-For nothing will be impossible with God." That Mary would give birth to the Messiah was impossible for her mind to fathom. “Me Mary? The mother of the Messiah? Impossible!” That is true for Jesus and for our lives as well. Tuck these words into your memory bank. This is a verse to be imprinted deep into your soul. That is, Christ can be born in our hearts as well. All things are possible with God.
-Then 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. Mary is a willing servant of the Lord, and we are called to be willing servants of the Lord as well. Mary believes.
Both Luke and Matthew emphasize the virgin birth of Jesus. Whereas, for the Gospels of Mark and John and the letters of Paul, these particular authors believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God but do not include teachings about the virgin birth of Jesus.
The gospel text for Advent 4B ends here.
#7. THE BIRTH OF JESUS Matthew 1:18-25
The gospel text for Advent 4A begins here:
-Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.
-When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. This is another reference to the virgin birth. We have already studied the concept of the virgin birth. Both Matthew and Luke have the virgin birth as part of their infancy stories.
-Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. This is a wonderful story about the sensitivity and kindness of Joseph. He was not going to embarrass Mary.
“Joseph was unwilling to expose her to public disgrace and put her to shame.”
That line tells us much about Joseph. He didn’t want to hurt Mary. He didn’t want to destroy her. He was not punitive. He was not revengeful. He wasn’t out for a pound of her flesh. Instead, Joseph had these feelings of grace towards her, and so he resolved to divorce her quietly. Not tell her parents. Not tell his parents. Not tell the Jewish rabbi. Not tell the Jewish court so he could get his money back.
This story about the birth of Jesus is a story of compassion, a story of grace, a story of a man who had been enormously violated by a pregnant woman and he vowed not to punish her. He had been deeply violated, yet he still cared for her and took care of her.
-But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Matthew’s logic is appealing to fellow Jews and a Jewish mindset that appreciated and valued God’s revelation through dreams.
-"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. This is another reference to the virgin birth.
An angel or divine messenger appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Mary is pregnant by the Spirit of God. The Spirit hovered over her and she is now pregnant. You are to marry her and name the child Jesus for he will save the people from their sins. Call him Immanuel because God is always with us.” And so Joseph remained with Mary because he believed the dream and the message of the angel.
The primary purpose of the story is not to tell us that Joseph was religious or righteous. The primary purpose of the story is to tell us that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. That is the point of the story. Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. He was the legal father. He was the adopted father. But he was not the biological father of Jesus and that is what the story is all about.
-She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." At the core of Christian theology is the awareness that Christ died on the cross to pay for the penalty for our sins, a penalty that we ourselves could not pay.
-All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: In Matthew’s Gospel, there are sixteen times when the author says: “This took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet (or by the Old Testament).” In other words, this logic appealed to a Jewish audience. It was said of Jesus that he was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. This logic helped a Jewish audience believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.
Each author used a logic that “made sense” to the reasoning of his audience. Luke does not say that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy because that reasoning would not have made to sense to his world-wide audience which was not familiar with the Old Testament concepts.
-"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." Again, this is fundamental. We in a modern world believe deeply that God is with us in all of our circumstances.
-When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. In his nocturnal dream life, Joseph listened to his angelic messenger and Joseh did not have sexual intercourse with Mary until the child was born. This is still another reference to the virgin birth in the Gospel of Matthew.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THE VIRGIN BIRTH AND WHY?
The gospel text for Advent 4A ends here.
#4. MARY’S VISIT TO ELIZABETH Luke 1:39-56
The gospel text for Advent 4C begins here:
-In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb.
-And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, This is the second reference to a person being filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke wants us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, just as the first Christians in the Book of Acts were filled with God’s Spirit.
-"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." When a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, we praise Jesus Christ.
Circle the words, “my Lord” in the phrase, “the mother of my Lord comes to me.” This is the first reference in the New Testament to Jesus being called “my Lord.” Throughout the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, the author wants us to call Jesus “my Lord.” Underline the word, “my.” The word, “my,” is intensely personal and Luke wants you and me to know Jesus as “my Lord.”
Up to this point in the story, we heard that the words, “the Lord,” referred to God. Now the words, “the Lord,” refer to Jesus.
See John 20:28 (p. 331) which is the climax of the Gospel of John: Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
-And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Circle the word, “magnifies” and write the word, “Magnificat.” This is the first hymn in the New Testament. We often hear the words of the Magnificat sung on Christmas Eve.
Circle the three instances of the use of the word, “my.” My soul. My spirit. My Savior. The word, “my,” is intensely personal.
When a person’s heart is filled with joy because of the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ, such a heart overflows with praise of God. This is one of the first stories in the Gospel where a person’s heart is filled with joy and begins to praise God. This is precisely what God wants to happen to us and in us.
Underline the phrase, “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” Mary was nothing more than a slave girl, the lowest person on the totem pole, her father’s property when she was part of his household and engaged to Joseph.
One of the most important themes of the New Testament is that God chooses the lowly to accomplish the divine purposes. This statement is symbolic of God choosing the foolish to shame the wise, the poor more than the rich, the sick more than the healthy. People in Third World countries often realize that people in First World countries have much to learn from people who live in poverty.
-Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; All generations are to recognize Mary as blessed.
-For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; Underline the phrase, “the Mighty one has done great things for me and holy is his name.” That is the way it is with God and us. God has done great things for us. Stop, pause, and hold your breath and listen to that one sentence: “The Lord God has done great things for me.” Underline those words. Highlight those words. Write those words on page 362. These are words that need to be memorized for our memory banks.
We know not to take this passage about God’s arm” literally. That is, God does not have an arm or a pair of arms. Rather, this is a poetic anthropomorphism. The sentence could end with the phrase, “God has shown strength.”
-He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
Often we are so mesmerized by the beauty of these words that we do not fully comprehend what is being said.
The Gospel of Luke has been called the Gospel of the Poor because there are so many references to that gospel’s bias for poor people. The Magnificat has been called the most revolutionary document in the world because it reverses the values of the world and turns them upside down.
A primary question for people living in First World countries is how to be a comparatively rich, First World Christian, and live in a planet where the majority of the world’s population lives in poverty.
The following are quotations from famous scholars about the Magnificat.
E. Stanley Jones, a famous preacher of two generations ago, said that the Magnificat is “the most revolutionary document in the world.”
Geldenhese, a Dutch theologian, said that the Magificat “announces powerful revolutionary principles.”
Murrow, another theologian, talks about the “revolutionary germ” found in the Magnificat.
Barclay, an English theologian, says that the Magificat is “a bombshell” and has “revolutionary terror.” It takes “the standards of the world and turns them upside down.”
Barclay teaches that in the Magnificat, there are three revolutions: “an economic revolution; a political revolution; and a moral revolution.”
Still another author says that the Magnificat “terrified the Russian Czars.”
Martin Luther, the father of the Lutheran church, says that the Magnificat “comforts the lowly and terrifies the rich.”
Gilmore said that the Magnificat “fosters revolutionaries in our churches.” He says that “the Church needs the leaven of discontent, and the Magnifcat makes the church restive against poverty and wretchedness.”
In the Magnificat, God totally changes the order of things. God takes that which is on the bottom; and God turn everything upside down, and puts the bottom on top and the top on the bottom. God revolutionizes the way we think, the way we act, and the way we live. Before God’s revolution, we human beings were impressed with money, power, status and education. We were impressed with beauty, bucks and brains. But God revolutionizes all of that; God totally changes all of that; God turns it upside down. The poor are put on the top; the rich are put on the bottom. It is a revolution; God’s revolution.
The Magnificat clearly tells us of God’s compassion for the economically poor; and when God’s Spirit gets inside of Christians, we too have a renewed compassion and action for the economically poor. Our hearts are turned upside down.
Listen carefully to the words of the Magnificat. Not the poetry of the words, not the beauty of the words, not the loveliness of the words. Listen to the five important verbs. In the Magnificat, God tells us that God regards or respects the poor, exalts the poor, feeds the poor, helps the poor, remembers the poor.
In that same chapter in Luke, we hear the story that God chose a slave girl, Mary, to be the mother of Jesus. God didn’t chose the beauty queen of Ballard; God didn’t chose a mother who was a millionaire; God didn’t chose a bride with brains. God chose a little thirteen year old girl from a fourth world country, with dark skin and dark brown eyes and dark brown hair to be the mother of Jesus.
The Bible didn’t call her a handmaiden. The word, “handmaiden,” sounds so pretty. The Greek word is, “doulos,” which means slave or servant. Mary was a servant girl. God exalted a servant girl from a third world country to be exalted and lifted up.
And this servant girl sang her song and it is called the Song of Mary. It is not that Mary actually sang a song, but these Bible verses have been called “The Song of Mary.” The actual words are revolutionary. The Song of Mary is a revolutionary bombshell because it turns the values of this world upside down.
-He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
-And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
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