In Luke chapter 1, we are presented with a beautiful account of how the angel came to Mary, how she heard him, and how she responded in courage: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” The words contained here should fill every faithful reader with awe and wonder, but above all with gratitude. These few verses in Luke are one of the great hinges—or momentous turning points—of the whole Bible. They are an answer to that early tragic turning point in Genesis: the moment of Eve’s disobedience.
Eve’s choice had terrible consequences for all of us. Her yes to the serpent foreclosed and diminished our true humanity—though of course, the serpent had promised just the opposite! But if Eve turned her back on God, and turned all of us with her, then Mary turns to face him willingly, and her courageous yes to God welcomes Jesus into the world. In Jesus every person may now choose, if they wish, to receive God’s welcome. His welcome extends both to the fullness of life here on earth, even with all its limitations, and into eternal life with him.
Our God is the God of freedom and love, and he will not force himself on anyone. Instead, he waits courteously for our assent, for our yes to his love. As we read these verses, we almost hold our breaths and reenter the drama of that moment: God offers to come into the world as our savior, and Mary, at this moment, speaks for all of us. What will she say? Will she offer her whole life to be made new, to be changed forever? Or will she shy away from the burden?
We should sense an awesome hush, an agony of suspense, between verses 37 and 38, and then as we hear Mary’s response, we should feel great relief and rejoicing. Mary’s yes not only changes everything forever but also models for us our own Christian life. Now we too are called not to be afraid but to be open, to say to God, I too am your servant. Let your word to me be fulfilled. In the sonnet below, I have tried to evoke a little of the suspense and importance of this moment.
We see so little, stayed on surfaces,
We calculate the outsides of all things,
Preoccupied with our own purposes
We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,
They coruscate around us in their joy
A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,
They guard the good we purpose to destroy,
A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.
But on this day a young girl stopped to see
With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;
The promise of His glory yet to be,
As time stood still for her to make a choice;
Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,
The Word himself was waiting on her word.
This sonnet, "Annunciation," is from Sounding the Seasons (Canterbury Press, 2012) and is used with the author's permission.
Malcolm Guite is a former chaplain and Life Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge. He teaches and lectures widely on theology and literature.
This article is part of The Eternal King Arrives, a 4-week devotional to help individuals, small groups, and families journey through the 2023 Advent season . Learn more about this special issue that can be used Advent, or any time of year at http://orderct.com/advent.
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