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Blessed Among Women

When the angel Gabriel came to Mary to announce to her that she was the chosen mother of the one who would save His people from their sins, he said to her, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

For some reason, this greeting troubled her. Does it trouble you that it troubled her? Why did it? Maybe there is something in the words that will help us understand.

Gabriel making the Annunciation to the Virgin ...

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The word for rejoice (chaire) seems to have been a common enough term, something perhaps like our word “greetings.”

The word for “full of grace” has the same root as the word for “rejoice,” but it is one of those long Greek compound words that are the bane of first year Greek students (kecharitomene). Charis is the root for both words, which means grace or favor. (I wonder if the Latin borrowed from the Greek for its word for agape love: caritas, charity).

The word family has some charming offspring. According to Kittle, “chara” means joy, “charizomai” means to give freely, “charitoo” means to bestow favor or to bless, “eucharisteo” means to give thanks or to show favor, and “acharistos”, the black sheep, means ungrateful.

In short, knowing how to translate the word in a given context will require not only that you have memorized the word during a vocabulary drill, but also that 1. you have developed a feel for its many shades of meaning by encountering it in many contexts and that 2. your understanding of the set context enables you to rightly judge the present meaning.

Happily, the next phrase is a bit simpler: “the Lord is with you.” Ah, but how the meaning of that word was about to change!

The next phrase is apparently controversial among scholars, but not among the fathers. Gabriel said to her, “Blessed are you among women.”

The first two phrases, “Rejoice, full of grace,” seem to have been more or less conventional greetings. Indeed, most English translations render the second phrase, “highly favored one.” “The Lord is with you,” would seem to provide additional comfort. When the angel says, “Blessed are you among women” it is evident that she has been offered a portion of joy and honor.

Yet she was troubled by his word. Perhaps, then, the conventional greeting carried more weight than originally appears. We might presume that angels are less concerned with the shells of a convention than they are with the meat inside.

Gabriel intended Mary to rejoice. Furthermore, he wanted her to see herself as God saw her: that is to say, as “highly favored.”

I ask you: if an angel said to you, “Rejoice, highly favored one,” what would you think? This virgin (a word repeated twice for emphasis) Mary was troubled.

And the angel said to her, “Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor (charin) with God.” I like to think that Gabriel is speaking gently and carefully to Mary. I like to think that his words are causing her to relax. He proceeds, “And behold,” which I take to mean something like, “Now listen carefully,” or “And get this.”

Behold, he says, “you shall conceive in your womb and bear a son.”

So much for relaxing. So much for rejoicing. So much for being favored by God. Or so it would seem. A woman without faith would undoubtedly laugh first – and then quiver with fear.

Gabriel continues: “He shall be great (megas). And he shall be called the son of The Most High. And the Lord God shall give Him the throne of His father David. And he shall rule over the house of Jacob into the ages. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

One thing the scriptures make clear about our beloved Mother of our Lord (to use the word of Elizabeth) is that she was thoughtful and contemplative. At his salutation, Luke tells us that she “cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.” Later, when the shepherds come and adore Him, Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

I imagine a pregnant silence that filled the room after the angel described the glories of the child to His mother. How many directions the thoughts of this young, pure, godly young lady could have taken her.

Her response implies that she believes him, for she does not dwell on the details of His great glory, but on the immediate reality that she does not “know a man.” “How shall this be?” she asks. Not, so far as I can tell, “How can this be?” but a simple, “How shall this be?” (Pos estai touto).

The Holy Scriptures are filled with breath-taking words that transcend the limits of our understanding. Do any exceed these:

The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee
And the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee
Therefore also that holy born one shall be called, The Son of God.

The archangel Gabriel told Mary that she was “highly favored,” and that she was “Blessed among women.” When she went to see her cousin Elizabeth to tell her the great good news, Elizabeth was in awe at her presence.

“Blessed art thou among women,” she said, “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Mary replied with one of history’s great poems, the Magnificat, named for the opening word in Latin: magnify:

My soul doth magnify the Lord
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my savior

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden;
for, behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

The angel, Elizabeth, and Mary all agreed that she was blessed. Mary saw that, because of her Son, she would be called blessed forever.

The Holy Trinity loved and blessed this young lady, choosing her for that most sacred task of bearing God in her womb and raising Him to be our savior. It is fitting and right that we should bless her, as the angel did. She is more honorable than the cherubim. She is more glorious than the seraphim. This is not mariolatry. Without impurity, without even knowing a man, she gave birth to God the Word. Truly she is the Theotokos – the carrier of God.

In a sense, because she said, “Let it be done to me according to thy word,” she opened the door of salvation for us. Not only Mary, but all who are in Christ are exalted above the cherubim and the seraphim.

Let us not exalt her to a throne she would never accept, but let us also not be afraid to acknowledge how great a thing she did. If we do, we diminish her Son.

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