A month after Elizabeth breathed in grace and breathed out the kind of release that comes with a long-awaited, this-is-really-happening exhale of answered prayer, Gabriel was sent on another journey. This time to a small town tucked into the hills of Galilee. Beelining straight to a town called Nazareth. A town that was never mentioned before anywhere in the Bible. A town that, according to most scholars, means literally “built upon a hill” and figuratively “protectress”, “sentinel”, or “watchtower”. And according to some others? It’s derived from a long-ago-used root word for sprout. Shoot. Or branch.
It refers back to the Messianic prophecy that Isaiah spoke of more than once. The one where he described the Messiah that would germinate from a shoot off of the trunk of Jesse, the father of David. The word picture is quite literally a bright and verdant green sprout coming out of an otherwise dead stump. The royalty of the house of David had sat dormant for nearly 600 years. All that was left of the lineage to which those Messianic prophecies were tied was a shorn off stump that was about to grow a Branch, the likes of which nobody had ever seen.
And that Branch, Isaiah said, would grow before Him like a tender plant. Like a root out of dry ground.
And Gabriel went to Nazareth. That little hillside town that symbolized not only a place of protection, but of a growing plant. To that town that would become the home of Jesus. Where He would grow up quietly. Unknown to the rest of the world, but growing up daily before His Father. That little shoot of a town that only about 5,000 people called home. Gabriel went there. And he paid a visit to a chaste and pure woman who had been wooed by a man who was 28 generations removed from, but still sharing the same bloodline as, David – the son of Jesse. He visited a young virgin who had accepted her favorite man’s proposal for marriage with hearts in her eyes and butterflies in her stomach.
When Gabriel entered Mary’s home, he greeted her with powerful and holy words:
rejoice, highly favored one, the LORD is with you; blessed are you among women
He wasn’t just telling her to be happy. To be well and thrive. To let the hope of future blessedness give her joy. He was telling her that we was circled round about by a Shekinah-glory-cloud of favor. And honor. And blessing. Because the LORD was with her. And where the LORD is, the room tends to fill with clouds and smoke.
The term that the angel used had never been used anywhere else in the Bible. It was not seen in the Old Testament. In any of the prophecies. Nowhere in the pentateuch. God was up to something new. A brand new covenant was on the horizon, and new things should be met with new greetings. A handful of years later, after Paul had heard Luke’s meticulously recounted story of these early events, something clicked in him. He understood the impact of what the chief-of-all-angels greeted this young woman with that day. And used the same “highly favored” phrase that Gabriel spoke in his letter to the Ephesians when he broke out into exaltation shortly after the greeting of the letter. Much like Gabriel did.
Blessed by the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, to the praise of His glory, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:3, 6
When Gabriel immediately greeted Mary with an emphatic statement of blessing, he wasn’t just saying that she was blessed among women. He was saying that she was blessed with every single spiritual blessing possible, and that the very grace and favor that is given to every single generation of Jesus-loving people that would ever follow after – the grace that accepts us into the presence of God – was being infused in her. As He secretly weaved together the One that would usher in all that glory and grace inside her. Which was unheard of. You know – because she was a virgin and all.
I can imagine the rush of things that flooded through Mary’s brain at that moment. Gabriel hadn’t even gotten to the “surprise! You’re pregnant!” part yet. But she was stalled at this first part. Troubled by it. Reluctant to acknowledge this strange man’s words as truth in her mind that was probably quickly filling with a movie-reel of reasons as to why, exactly, his words couldn’t possibly be true. All her mistakes. All her failures. All her sin.
But this is the part that I love.
Zacharias was also troubled when Gabriel greeted him. But his trouble was followed by fear. Mary’s was not.
mary rolled it all over in her mind
This is where I identify with Mary. I am a classic over-thinker. I chew on things and camp on them and pick them apart until I can come up with a reasonable solution based on the facts that are presented. As Mary’s mind was troubled, she considered what Gabriel said. She cast his words around in her mind. Turning them around and upside down and sideways. Taking it all into account and weighing it all together to determine if this man was, in fact, what she likely thought he was. Trying to decide if she could judge him (and his words) as reality from their very first meeting. Straight, honest-from-God truth. Because this first impression? It was the foundation for everything that would follow after.
The second that Mary opened that door, her life would never again be the same. And she considered it all. Without fear.
LORD, as I examine things in my own life, weighing truth against opinion and trying to see what floats. Trying to discern what is, indeed, honest-from-You truth, I pray that I would react as Mary did. Thoughtfully. Carefully. And thoroughly. And that I would judge the people you send to speak into my life as reality. Give me the discernment to recognize You in those moments. And to allow myself to see me as You see me. The same way that Mary could.