Annunciate

Something has struck me about the Annunciation. Read carefully.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered 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 called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

(Luke 1:26-38 ESV)

Here’s the thing. It strikes me that God simply decides to use Mary to bear Jesus. There is no option given, there is no decision to be made (apart from that of accepting the will of God). Gabriel states a simple fact – “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus”. That which God has decreed to occur occurs and there is no choice of man or woman that will stop it being so. Mary’s two responses are just to ask a quick biology question (which Gabriel has easily covered) and then to accept God’s plan for her. No decision. No options.

How does that square with people who claim that “God would never force himself upon us”? Strikes me that in the Annunciation that is *exactly* what he does.

Anyway, it’s a perfect excuse to play this. Best version of Gaudete ever.

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21 Comments on “Annunciate

  1. My first thought is the question of where the “God would never force himself upon us” statement comes from. Are there biblical texts that back that up? Off the top of my head I can’t think of any.

    So if we knock that down as a straw man…. Did Mary have a choice?

    If she’d been absolutely beside herself and said no, would God would have still forced Mary to do it? I guess God knew what Mary’s heart would be – so he chose someone whom he knew would be happy to go with it. It appears as though God has simply decreed… “you will conceive…” but he knew that her reaction would be as in the passage – “let it be to me according to your word.”

    I completely believe in free choice, but I also believe that God knows what choices we are going to make. So, to take an example, when God called me to be ordained and I didn’t want to go along with it, he worked in me allowing me to change and get to a point where I did – my heart and attitude towards it completely changed. I’m sure God knew what that process was going to be. Did he really give me a choice? Well, yes, but the choice was follow God or not. Don’t you think it was the same for Mary – he knew she’d come around in the end (and, it seems, a lot quicker than me coming round to being ordained!), so he was able simple to say, you will bear a child…

    • @tallandrew these are some interesting questions. Could Mary have chosen to be a *bad* Mother? If so, would this have had any kind of impact on Jesus, or did God’s “forcing” extend to her acting in a certain way?

  2. Whenever I sing the Magnificat (which is every week, as I am fortunate enough to live near a church which still has Evensong) I am filled anew with the wonder of Mary’s joyful acquiescence to God’s word. I cannot help but wonder if I would have reacted as she did – a young girl, living in a time and culture in which unmarried motherhood was hardly de rigueur, and knowing what hardships she would face. My Mariology is sadly incomplete, to say the least – perhaps it takes a Roman Catholic to explain these things.

    I do believe, though, and this shows, that God knows what is in all our hearts – which is pretty terrifying, when you think about it.

    As for the video – I can’t explain exactly what it is that annoys me so much about Libera. It might be the flabby arrangements of their songs, or their breathy girly voices, but I feel they should all be handed over to Stephen Cleobury or someone to train them properly. All those lovely boys with their enthusiasm and joyful faces – it seems such a waste. Okay, I know I am Mrs Bah Humbug, but even with the dreadful pronunciation I think I prefer Steeleye Span’s rather more robust version!

  3. We had John the Baptist yesterday. Doesn’t the Annunciation come in a week or two? Which lectionary are you on Peter?

  4. That is what we call “Your Kingdom come, Your Will Be Done, on earth as it is in heaven”… Everything in this world is given by the Lord our God! We are nothing without Him.

  5. God chose Mary – a deliberate selection of the right person to bear Jesus. Of course he would not have “simply decided to use her” if she had resisted. The idea that God “forces himself upon her” has unfortunate connotations of violation, and,  particularly in the context of a conception, it has connotations of rape. It is very unhelpful and pastorally insensitive to anyone who has been through the experience of rape.

  6. God chose Mary – a deliberate selection of the right person to bear Jesus. Of course he would not have “simply decided to use her” if she had resisted. The idea that God “forces himself upon her” has unfortunate connotations of violation, and,  particularly in the context of a conception, it has connotations of rape. It is very unhelpful and pastorally insensitive to anyone who has been through the experience of rape.

  7. Mary had a choice, and this was it…

    “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” 

  8. She gets a choice. God had a sovereign plan and is being assertive in the passage but if Mary had said anything other than “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” then I believe he would have respected her free will.

    Compare it if you will to Jesus in Gethsemane. Jesus knew God’s sovereign plan… he knew there was only one choice… but he still had the right as a free willed, free thinking being, to make the other choice if he so desired.

    Praise God for their obedience to the Father’s divine plan.

  9. I think it might be helpful to think about one of the other bits of the passage, where the angel says ‘for you have found favour with God’. It doesn’t say exactly what sort of favour, but I think the implication (or at least one implication) is that God decided that out of all the possible choices Mary was the best one. And whatever else he may have been thinking of in making the choice, the knowledge that Mary would agree voluntarily is likely to be one of the factors. Things could have got a bit awkward if she had actively disagreed! God knew he would have to put up with an awful lot when he became human, there would be no need to make things even worse for himself than they needed to be (if I may say so without disrespect).

    • But none of that is engaging with the core issue as to whether Mary is even given a choice in the matter. That’s the key point – that Gabriel annunciates the conception as a done deal.

      • Sorry, I’ve been away for a while. Yes, of course you are right that the angel announces (thus, surely, rather than annunciates?) the conception of Christ as something that has already been decided. But the context is clearly that of someone bringing good news that the recipient is expected to welcome, which is something that one must not lose sight of in discussing this, I think. As for whether Mary agreed before the decision was made (in so far as one can talk that way when the eternal God is involved), presumably as a good Jew she had been looking forward to (which includes praying for) the consolation of Israel, so in a general sense she had already agreed to play whatever part in that process God would ask of her. My main point was that Mary’s agreement was not irrelevant either in God’s decision to choose her or in the way things played out afterwards.

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