The Christmas story begins with an angel's visit to Earth. Mary, a teenage girl who loved God wholeheartedly and devoutly practiced her Jewish faith, still had no idea of the grand plans God had for her life until God sent Gabriel, the archangel of revelation, to visit her one day. Not only did Gabriel surprise Mary by appearing to her, but he also delivered some incredibly startling news: God had chosen Mary to give birth to a baby destined to save the world -- Jesus Christ.
Mary wondered how that could be, since she was still a virgin. But after Gabriel explained God's plan, Mary showed her love for God by agreeing to serve him. This event has become known in history as the Annunciation, which means "the announcement."
The Bible records in Luke 1:26-29: "In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.'
Mary was a poor girl who lived a simple life, so she probably wasn't used to being greeted the way Gabriel greeted her. And for anyone, it would be troubling to have an angel from heaven suddenly appear and begin speaking.
The text mentions Elizabeth, who was Mary's cousin. God had blessed Elizabeth by allowing her to conceive a child despite the fact that she had struggled with infertility and had passed her childbearing years. Elizabeth and Mary encouraged each other during their pregnancies. Elizabeth's son John would grow up to become the prophet John the Baptist, who prepared people for Jesus Christ's ministry on Earth.
The Bible's account of the Annunciation continues in Luke 1:30-33: "But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.'"
Gabriel encourages Mary not to be afraid of him or his announcement to her, and he reiterates that God is pleased with her. Unlike the cute, cuddly angels sometimes portrayed in today's popular culture, angels in the Bible appeared impressively strong and commanding, so they often had to reassure the people to whom they appeared not to be afraid.
It's clear from Gabriel's description of what Jesus will do that Mary's son will be different from any other baby that had ever been born. Gabriel tells Mary that Jesus will be the head of a "kingdom that will never end," which refers to Jesus' role as the Messiah that the Jewish people were awaiting -- the one who will save all people worldwide from their sin and connect them to God for eternity.
Luke 1:34-38 of the Bible records the last part of the conversation between Gabriel and Mary: "'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'
The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.'
'I am the Lord’s servant,' Mary answered. 'May your word to me be fulfilled.' Then the angel left her."
Mary's humble and loving response to Gabriel shows how much she loves God. Despite the difficult personal challenge of being faithful to God's plan for her, she chose to obey and move forward with God's plans for her life. After hearing this, Gabriel could conclude his mission, and he departed.