The gospel for the fourth Sunday of Advent (Luke 1: 26-38) tells the story of the angel Gabriel appearing in the remote Galilean town of Nazareth with news for a young woman named Mary. The story is central to our understanding of Jesus but it also raises questions and tests our faith.


The author of this gospel, Luke, describes Mary as a virgin (a young woman) engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.

This last detail, that Joseph was of the house of David, is significant to the story. The first reading for this day (2 Sam 7:1-11, 16) describes God’s covenant with David. The prophet Nathan had told David, the Lord declares to you (David) that the Lord will make you a house. ….Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.


The angel appearing to Mary came with surprising news.

The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

It was a lot to take in. Gabriel came with five messages woven into his words …1) you have found favour with God, 2) you will conceive and bear a son, to be called Jesus 3) he will be son of the most high 4) heir to the throne of David 5) and reign in a never-ending kingdom.

Any one of these messages might have generated questions. Mary went straight to the central issue on which all the others hinged.

Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’…

She might have added, “and engaged to Joseph”, or, “What do I have to do?”, or “Why me!”

The angel’s message defied Mary’s expectations and plans. In an instant she would have understood the explosive ramifications for her relationship with Joseph and her reputation, to say nothing about how she would raise this child.

The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God.


In the opening verses of this gospel we learned that, In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah... His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. … they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years. (Luke 1:5-7)

Gabriel used this information about Elizabeth’s barrenness, which Mary presumably knew, when he told her, as a proof point of the Holy Spirit’s power, that,  

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.’


Mary believed the angel.

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.

This story of Mary’s conception of Jesus is central to our Christian faith. One of Jesus’ parents was divine and the other human. He included both natures. Yet, conception of a child by the Holy Spirit challenges even faithful Christians based on their understanding of biology.

But there is more than that. Mary’s acceptance of Gabriel’s word was a remarkable example of her openness to the Holy Spirit’s ways of working in her life, especially in the improbable and socially-bending ways. She was asked to defy the norms of her society. The news would challenge Joseph’s love for her.

Furthermore, no one was looking to Nazareth for the arrival of a Savior. It was so distant from the religious, social, political and commercial centres of the country. How could this be possible?

A general expectation was that the Messiah would restore David’s kingdom, probably by force, particularly given the Roman occupation. Except for the connection to David, Mary and Joseph were the furthest thing from the kind of dynastic power that might raise up a military leader.

History, prophecy, politics, society and biology did not seem to align with what the angel had said.


God works in mysterious ways.

In a sense, God needed Mary to say “yes”. Omnipotent God relied on the agreement of his creation to become incarnate.


  • Is the story of Gabriel’s annunciation hard for you to believe? Does it require your understanding? Or do you believe, first, that you can understand?
  • Put yourself in Mary’s shoes at the time of Gabriel’s appearance…as best you can. What are the feelings that go through her as she hears you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David?
  • Do you wonder how Luke came to know this story? Did he hear it directly from Mary? Did he learn it from one of her close friends? Was it part of the lore of the early Christian community that he wrote down?