And the angel said, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Or, as another translation has it, “for no word from God will be without power.”These angelic words of assurance to Mary can sometimes pass our ears quickly. For my own part (depending on my state of mind), they not only pass my ears with haste, they manage to leave behind an echo that always seems to ring a little trite. Yet Luke begs us not to hear them with such haste or detachment.
The first chapter of Luke presents two annunciation scenes, one to Zechariah and one to Mary. Each angelic scene bears an almost identical, four-fold structure, the message with which Gabriel greets both Mary and Zechariah perplexes each of them, and it is my hunch that Luke places these two similarly constructed annunciations next to each other at the opening of his gospel for a reason.
Both Zechariah and Mary question Gabriel; yet the question asked by each is met with—we might be tempted to say—a somewhat disproportionate response. Mary receives a word of assurance, while the angel gives Zechariah not a word, but rather takes Zechariah’s words themselves from him.
No word from God will be without power.
These words to Mary, a glorious ‘post script’ in Gabriel’s reply to Mary, startle the imagination when we read these two annunciations in sequence.
One visited asks, ‘how will I know that this is so?’
The other, ‘how can this be?’
One visited asks for knowledge, a sign.
The other wonders at being.
One visited in the Sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple, amid his priestly duties.
The other in rural Galilee, amid… we are not told.
One fed and trained in the sophisticated scriptural, musical, and liturgical traditions of the Jerusalem Temple; well housed and fruitful in years, whose song is taken from him until the hasty knowledge he sought had ‘come to pass.’
The other fed and carried along by the promises of her people’s story amid the perils of rural and urban poverty in an occupied land; whose voice, like so many, unheard amid the multitude of cultural, political, religious, and economic engines, all rattling claims at her people, her home, her body, her spirit; who is given a song, praising God for what he has done… is doing… and will do. A song formed in deepest abiding trust in God, trust that knows God is never silent, and that no word from God will return to God empty—for God’s gracious purpose will be accomplished.
The proximity of these two angelic visitations in Luke may invite a fruitful exegesis about the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of Mary and Zechariah’s question to Gabriel, but the angel’s reply to Luke’s Mary—no word from God will be without power—causes me to hesitate. For Luke alludes—almost verbatim—another story of divine promises and human concerns, another story of visitation, good news, and fearful doubt. In Genesis 18, after reiterating the promise of a son the angelic visitors of Sarah and Abraham ask a doubting Sarah, as the Septuagint reads, “will no word from God be without power?”
This Advent, I pause here with speechless Zechariah. I’ve known this acutely among musicians, poets, writers, and artists, but I suspect each of us know it: a season where we may find ourselves mute and voiceless—whatever that might mean for you. And yet still we find, alongside the mute Zechariah, that whatever may have caught our voice, God’s gracious purpose still comes to pass. A gracious gift, too wonderful for us to have imagined or borne had God given us the hasty knowledge we had sought.
If you find yourself voiceless, wait in trust. God’s purpose will come to pass as Mary, our spiritual mother, teaches us a song not of hastily sought knowledge but of faithful trust that God’s promises will be.
No word from God will be without power.
ὅτι οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ πᾶν ῥῆμα. This is phrased similarly to Genesis 18:14.
Genesis 18:14, Septuagint.
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