Forming Faith Blog

Unexpected Visitors (December 20, 2020)

The unexpected visitor, the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary.
Image: Philippines Mosaic at the Church of the Annunciation (Nazareth). Photo credit: Brooke Obie.
Expectations of the Messiah

One of the promises spoken through the prophets to the languishing people of Israel was about deliverance and a deliverer. “There will be a time,” proclaimed the prophets, “of freedom and plenty, when God’s peace will be supreme.” Not only that, but this peace will be brought by a king who will rule with justice and righteousness. The people took these prophetic words and others like them to describe a coming king, an anointed one, a messiah. They held on to hope, an expectation of the coming of this messiah.

Unexpected Visitor: Gabriel

It was in the context of these messianic hopes that our story begins. A young girl is waiting to be married. To others, and possibly to herself, she was unimportant, just another Jewish girl. All we know of her life up until now is that she is a virgin (young woman) and that she’s engaged to be married. [It happens that I am writing this post on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. With all respect to our Catholic siblings, I believe that Mary was no more special than any of us, or any of her contemporaries. God chose her not because she was special or good enough, but because she was ordinary. She was “one of us.” As with most things God does, it was an act of grace.]

Then, the unexpected happened: an angel visited this girl. Even more unexpected was what the angel had to say: God had chosen her to become the mother of the promised messiah, who will be the Son of God.

Unexpected Visitor: Holy Spirit

This leads to the second unexpected visitor, the Holy Spirit. It is God’s Spirit who will visit Mary and create a new life in her womb. No one would have even imagined by the people expecting a messiah. The messiah would be sent by God, yes, and it was likely thought that this messiah would have a miraculous birth like Isaac and Samuel. In fact, such a miraculous birth was currently taking place with Mary’s relative Elizabeth. But that was not God’s plan for the messiah.

Unexpected Visitor: Mary

The third unexpected visitor is Mary herself. She appeared on her relative Elizabeth’s doorstep. Before Elizabeth could wonder what kind of trouble Mary had gotten herself into, John leaped in her womb. Through what must have been the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, she correctly interpreted this as a sign that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah. This provided Mary confirmation that what the angel had announced to her had come true.

Expectations Reversed

Mary responded to this with a song. Perhaps she was familiar with the song of another mother with a miraculous baby, Hannah. Perhaps she wasn’t. The themes, though, were very similar. God is great and holy. This Holy One can, has, and will turn our expectations—and our world—upside down. Those who are powerless will be empowered, and those who have power will be brought low. The positions of the haves and have-nots will be swapped. Our expectations that the world will continue as it has before will be overturned. [Personal opinion: the Magnificat is considered optional in the lectionary, but I hope that everyone includes it. It’s too wonderful and important to leave out.]

Free Resource

This week’s free resource “The Evening News” challenges participants to retell this story in a fun, creative manner.  This activity is from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th) Narrative Lectionary curriculum. It has been adapted so that it can be done in large and small groups, in a classroom, at home, and even online.

May God surprise you with unexpected blessings.


Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

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