The Annunciation: Deepening Your “Yes”

“And Mary said, ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.’”
Luke 1:38

(Taken from the original version of the book. SCROLL TO VIEW ILLUSTRATION.)
It was a moment when all of creation held its breath, and we call it The Annunciation. Everything, literally everything, depended on the response of a young woman named Mary in an overlooked, poor, little dusty village in a small inconsequential nation. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) said that at this moment heaven and earth held its breath. What would Mary say?

God gave the archangel Gabriel the mission of making this “announcement,” and Gabriel did so in a remarkably odd way. First, he did not use the traditional Hebrew greeting of “shalom.” Instead, he said, “Rejoice!” Traditionally, the translation is “hail,” but this is not a simple hello. It is a word that marks a joyous occasion. It is the same word he used with the shepherds. The opening word, therefore, sets a tone for Advent that we should always maintain. Rejoice!

A second oddity is that Gabriel did not say her name. “Hail Mary” is our usual translation, but not the actual words of the archangel as we have them in the Greek text of Luke.
The third oddity is that instead of her name, Gabriel called her “full of grace.” This phrase is a single Greek word, and the form of the word is very important. Technically, it is a perfect passive participle, and it means that Mary had been fully graced by God. She was truly full of grace. It’s the only time we find this word in this form in the New Testament. God had given Mary a special and matchless measure of grace that no other human being has ever received. She is the most exalted of all human beings in all of history.

Mary’s response to this unusual greeting is deep, profound, and telling. When angels appear to humans in the Bible, the initial response is almost always fear. Mary, by contrast, was “greatly troubled.” The word for troubled evokes agitation and to be stirred up. The greeting of “full of grace” was perplexing, for in her humility, she never conceived of such a lofty designation. The point here is that she did appear to be fearful. Mary had an innate closeness to God. While an angelic appearance was probably unique, Mary lived with a sense of the closeness of heaven that none of us have experienced.

She “considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.” This word means to have a mental dialogue. Mary immediately began to think deeply about what this strange greeting meant. She was known for pondering things in her heart (Lk. 2:51). Mary was not a simplistic young teenager. She was a thoughtful and uniquely grace-filled young lady whom God had specially created to be a fit vessel for the forming of the incarnate Lord. She strikes us as highly intelligent and perceptive. She is an incredibly special person.