Blessed are you O Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has called all things into being through your Word.
“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.”
That’s quite a greeting.
Let’s just back this rig up a bit, because the story gets broken up in our readings, and sometimes a few juicy bits get lost between the sofa cushions. Long before the angel appeared to Mary, God’s messenger visited a priest of the temple named Zechariah: Then there appeared to [Zechariah] an angel of the Lord, When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. ... even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit....Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” ... After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. ... In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. ... Mary and Elizabeth. This is extraordinary. Neither of them, in the ordinary course of things, should be having a baby. Elizabeth is “too old” and Mary is “too inexperienced.” We get the whole age gamut of ridiculous here. It’s almost as if God just doesn’t care what anyone thinks. We know how babies get made. Elizabeth cannot give birth to a child, and neither can Mary. It’s just... silly.
Another interesting bit of this story that we sometimes rush past: Joseph and Zechariah—two men who are able to hear and understand the language of angels. though Zechariah is a little slow on the uptake and loses his own voice for nine months as a result. Have you noticed who else never actually speaks throughout this whole story of the birth of Jesus? Joseph. I know, right? But you can go check: not in any of the canonical Gospel accounts do we hear Joseph’s voice. Not once. We hear that he has a dream, and we hear about what he does, and he’s clearly very important in the story. But his words are not recorded.
This is not the way most Bible stories usually go. So Zachariah gets this really startling message from God, and immediately asks, How will I know that this is so? and Gabriel’s answer is basically, because I told you so. You want proof? ok, how’s this: you can’t speak. How ya like them apples? “Because you did not believe my words,” Gabriel says, “which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
Notice that Gabriel does not say, because you did not believe, we’re taking it all back, no son for you, you unbeliever? Zachariah doesn’t have to believe, or prove that he believes, in order for this to happen. And he will see it happen, he will get the proof he wants, but first, he has to learn to listen. For nine long months he cannot say, “But...” He cannot argue or dispute or mansplain. He just listens and waits. That’s how belief is made sometimes. Just listening, and waiting.
There’s a classic Christmas movie that’s been around for decades, featuring Santa Claus and a little girl named Susie who has never believed in Santa. My very favorite line in the movie comes near the end, with Susie sitting in the backseat of the car and saying, I believe, I believe. I know it’s silly but I believe.
Sometime around the turn of the 14th century, a Dominican monk in Germany wrote these words:
“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.”1
The Son of Man and of God is begotten in us, beloved. And I say to you, Hail. You are full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and men Blessed is the fruit of your bodies, your labor, your life in this world Blessed are you who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what is spoken to you by the Lord our God --even if, especially if, like Susie, you know it’s silly but you believe Blessed O beloved Blessed are you.
1Meister Eckhart, 1260-1328, German Dominican monk