Tuesday, March 27, 2018 7:11 PM
Of course, every Christmas, attention is given by the church to the early chapters of Matthew and Luke.
For anyone interested in Bible chronology, feel free to review the following excursus: The Age of Mary at the Birth of Christ.pdf
Every March 25th, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates one of the 12 Great Feasts, that of the Annunciation to the Theotokos. According to our passage in Luke1:26-38, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce to her that she would conceive and bear a son, even though she was, by vocation (not just circumstance), a virgin. According to holy tradition, Mary was getting too old to stay any longer in the temple. So she was espoused to the elderly widower Joseph when she was visited by the angel Gabriel.
Aside from the account in Luke, the Proto Evangelium (Infancy Gospel) of James also tells the Annunciation story (mainly in the beginning of chapter 11, but I include chapter 10 below just for some context). Note that, in James account, the angel at first surprises Mary outside when she takes her water jug to fill it at the well in Nazareth. Although there are some very early icons that reflect this initial annunciation scene at Mary’s well, virtually the rest of traditional iconography has focused on what happened later. This is because it is only afterward, when she is seated, spinning inside the house, that the “main event” occurs. At that point, the account in the Infancy Gospel basically coincides with what we read in Luke.
(1) Meanwhile, the priests were meeting together, saying, "Let us make a curtain for the
temple of the Lord."
(2) And the high priest said, "Call the pure virgins from the tribe of David to me." (3) And the servants went out and sought and found seven virgins. (4) And the high priest remembered that the child Mary was from the tribe of David and was pure before God. (5) So the servants went out and got her.
(6) And they brought the women into the temple of the Lord. (7) And the high priest said, "Cast lots to see who will spin the gold and the pure and the linen and the silk and the violet and the scarlet and the true purple threads."
(8) And Mary was appointed by lot to the true purple and scarlet threads. And taking them, she went to her house. (9) This was at the same time Zachariah fell silent and Samuel replaced him until Zachariah could speak again. (10) Mary was spinning the scarlet thread which she had taken.
(1) And she took the cup and went out to fill it with water. (2) Suddenly, a voice said to
her, "Rejoice, blessed one. The Lord is with you. You are blessed among women." (3) And Mary looked around to the right and the left to see where this voice came from. (4) And trembling she went into her house. Setting down the cup, she took the purple thread and sat down on the chair and spun it.
(5) Suddenly, an angel stood before her saying, "Do not be afraid Mary. You have found grace before the Lord of all. You will conceive from his word."
But enough background and on to some notes regarding this very intricate structure. And that, in fact, should be our first observation - that the structure in this pericope is actually an amazing combination of several structures, layered and woven together. I have tried to reflect as much of this as possible using both outline and text with colored font. I believe that, although the colored font text (on the right side) reflects one unified multi-term chiasm, the outline also reflects an accurate depiction of what Luke intended to convey - also in one chiasm, but in the classic ABB’A’ format.
The English translation tends to be intentionally literal because I want to note that Luke purposely uses the Greek particle “δε” (“but” or “now”) only four times - I am pretty sure in this case, to signal his main divisions in this chiastic structure. (I used “Now” in the text above to make this transparent to the reader.) BTW, the Apostle Paul also commonly uses “δε” purposely in his rhetoric this way.
Verses 28-30 illustrate the rhetorical layering. These verses are woven into (I count at least) four separate, yet intertwined, structural outlines - all legitimate and useful in their own right.
Both of the inner “B” terms on the left side have classic abb’a’ parallel sub-chiastic structures. Note that the inner “b” terms in both chiastic outlines form the main explanatory portions of the angelic message to Mary. In addition, each of these parallel outlines kicks off with what Mary is considering, such that the rest is a direct explanatory response by the angel.
Note also that the angel uses the word translated “Behold” 2x in this passage (both times, to introduce a main angelic explanation). This word is a marker of strong emphasis in order to prompt attention. It literally means, “look/see” but is intended to make the hearer pay attention (to “listen up” as we say). In today’s vernacular “behold” might be rephrased, “check this out.”
So after hearing both of the Angelic two-part explanations using that same vocab word, it is interesting that Mary then uses this same language in reply. Mary (matter-of-factly) says, “Well, check this out - I am the servant of the Lord. Since, as you say, nothing is impossible with God, then, since I am the Lord’s servant (and so my job is to do what I am told), for my part – okay - let it be according to your word.”
I will let the reader study the outline to further appreciate this great passage of Scripture and to take to heart its truth. It was at this time, at the spring equinox, that the wise men in the east confirmed “his star rising” directly in the east. The astrological signs all pointed to the dawning of a much anticipated new age and also of a new (messianic) king of the Jews. Tradition holds that our Lord was conceived at this time, such that he was born nine months later, on Dec 25th. So the wise men waited and timed their visit to Jerusalem to the correct time. Yet the new age began, not with Christ’s birth, but with his incarnation - when God became man for our salvation!
The troparian for the feast of the Annunciation is attributed to St. Athanasius. The troparian thus says it all:
“Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos
"Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!"