Well, there you have it then - the prequel to Christmas!
This is the conception story, the one that precedes the birth story we are so familiar with and make such a fuss of with angels and alleluia's and carols.
It always seems a pity to me that this conception story is presented as an exercise of power (albeit disguised as an honour ) that leaves a teenager so terrified she runs off to an elderly cousin seeking comfort and advise.
I wonder why Luke, a third generation Christian and the story teller for today, doesn't have her turning to her Mother, Anna, or even Joseph the older man to whom she was engaged.
And I wonder why Luke writing about 50 years after Jesus death, chose to tell us of a 14 year old peasant girl, to make her the 'corner-stone' as it were for the whole history of Jesus that he is setting out to shape. the gospel of Luke is the gospel set for 2015 so we will be hearing more from Luke.
Initially the story was by way of elucidation for Theophilus, a new Roman convert to Christianity, but as it has turned out, it has also been for us - for Christians ever since!
But this is not 'history' is it? Not 'history' as we use that word today, not the disclosure of an evidence based story with verifiable facts and happenings just waiting to be told. These verses from the first chapter of Luke's good-news are not, after all, excerpts from Mary's pregnancy diary.
The way Christianity grew and took Luke's stories to heart over the succeeding centuries, suggests that the fact this was a 'story' and not 'history' as we know it didn't matter at all. It hasn't seemed to matter for most of Christian history - only for about the last 300 years since the development of modern science. It hasn't mattered for most of Christian history that the Bible is full of story and poetry and hymns and parables, any more than it mattered for the Greeks or Romans that their panoply of gods and goddesses, and the corpus of stories that shaped their world view for a thousand or so years, were what we, somewhat disparagingly, call myths today. They were all truth laden stories that open the depth of human living and potential.
It is clear to biblical scholars and theologians of today, that Luke was not so much interested in presenting facts as he was in creating a story and back story for Jesus, to convince us to listen to the vision of an alternative world that Jesus lived and then died for. The social structure of the world Jesus lived in was not a 'blueprint' from God unable to be changed any more that our contemporary social organisation is a 'blueprint f' from God and unable to be changed. We dream the world we create, we imagine it, and then we work to bring it into reality - there is always a new and better way waiting for us to strive towards.
Luke was an educated man, a doctor it is thought. Today we could be excused if we thought he had attended workshops on growing community movements as well! He certainly seemed to know the importance of creating a vision exciting enough to captivate imagination, and which resonated enough with the deepest anxieties of the people so they would engage with it and 'give it a try. Luke's story attaches the Jesus story, that he is convinced has the potential to change lives, to that of a 14 year old peasant girl, who calls herself a 'servant', and her baby - (there is a human interest dynamic as well!)
It is important, so it seems to me, for us to keep in mind that Luke was not interested so much in Mary's story as he was in persuading new, gentile Christians to attend to the impact of Jesus' teaching, to Jesus vision of a new way of living. Jesus is always his main focus, not the women - though Luke seems to tell us more about women than any other of the Gospels - including the story we have heard today. For Luke's purposes Jesus needs a mysterious conception - a 'virgin birth', - he needs to rise from humble origins, for that is the way for all the great Caesars of Rome, and for other great kings and leaders from around the Mediterranean world who were deified after death.
Notwithstanding this, I want to invite us to consider, just for a moment, a probable unintended outcome of Luke's story telling - and this for me is good news indeed - that even the most unimportant of people, such as an unmarried pregnant girl (at the bottom of the social hierarchy) warrants the visit of an angel, a messenger direct from God. This ordinary girl becomes extraordinary in the story of Jesus that we have been telling for centuries. She may have been just a means to an end for Luke, but, she is very good news for us.
But Luke was focused on Jesus, on telling a story and creating a history for Jesus, a history that would resonate with the expectations of the people of 2000 years ago for their leaders and important scholars, and which would connected readily with the sacred stories and long held hope of the Jewish people. That hope was for a messiah who would come and save the people from their 'captivity' under the yoke of the 'oppressor'.
The vision Jesus proclaims; the Jesus-story that is told in the gospels, invites people to open their minds and hearts to a different vision of humanity and the way we could live together in community.
It invites those who hear the story to find the courage to say 'yes' to the alternative vision that is being proposed for human relationships and for community dynamics.
It is a story that invites people to begin living as though they really do matter, as though God is with them, as though they are favoured.
It encourages those who accept the invitation to live respectfully, to work for healing, to share food, to worry about the widows and the children and to care for them.
It is not a story about passivity (despite the model of women that Luke sets up).
To this end, the story, and the vision it attests to, still has power today: the angels and glad tidings and declarations of favour are for us to be and to embody for one another.
It seems to me, that it is our work to be those angels and the glad tidings and to be respectful companions for each other as we move towards a new and different world. We are encouraged by the retelling of the stories of Jesus to dare to open another new vision for the world for our own time. A vision in which the proud and mighty will fall from office and the hungry will be filled with good things; in which the ordinary can become the extraordinary; in which we dare to proclaim peace and justice, kindness and favour and, like Jesus, to work for it in the face of continuing opposition.