The Amazing “Backstory” of the Annunciation
In the Gospel account of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) is an astounding event that changes human history. But even more astounding is the “backstory”, for Christ’s eternal plan is revealed.
 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one (translated elsewhere, “Hail, full of Grace”), the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”  And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.  And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For with God nothing will be impossible.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
On the surface, the account of the Annunciation is astounding:
- A being from another world, the Angel Gabriel, shows up.
- Gabriel greets Mary with a very positive greeting, a greeting that seems remarkable to come from an other worldly angel to a simple teenage virgin: “Hail, full of Grace”.
- Each thing that Gabriel says, is more astounding then the last: “…you have found favor with God…”, your son “will be called Son of the Most Hight; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David…rule forever…his kingdom will have no end.”
- Then Gabriel offers an astounding reply to Mary’s concern about being a mother without having had sex: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
- Translation: Mary, a mere woman, will become the spouse of God, remain a virgin and bear a child who is the Son of God!
- Mary’s old barren cousin, Elizabeth is also pregnant. Another miracle!
- Mary, unwavering, says “Yes.” Mary’s reply is marvelous, a reply that should fill us with marvel.
All of this in astounding on a simple reading of the text. But even more so when one understands the backstory.
A “backstory” is a story behind the story, the story that is perhaps hidden at first glance. The backstory of the Annunciation is a backstory like no other. For it is Eternal Truth. Consider:
- Gabriel is an Archangel, the greatest of the angels.
- Gabriel has just announced to Elizabeth, Mary’s elder cousin, that she would bear a child. Prior to that, the last recorded encounter with Gabriel in the Bible was to Daniel, about 500 years earlier. In Daniel 3, Gabriel announces to Daniel that Israel, though in exile in Babylon, would return to Jerusalem and the Messiah would come.
- When Gabriel says, “Hail, full of Grace, the Lord is with you”, he is saying something utterly amazing:
- He does not all her by her given name (Mary), but gives her a new name, “Full of Grace.” To receive a new name in the Bible is a signal of something spectacular is about to happen; think Abram (Abraham), Jacob (Israel), Simon (Peter).
- “Full of Grace” means to be completely graced by God. Grace comes only from God, and it is the perfect favor of God. To be “full” of God’s grace means that there is absolutely no room for sin. Mary, she is finding out, has been singled out by God in an unprecedented way.
- “Full of Grace” comes from the Greek, kaecharitomen, meaning “full of grace”; the word is a perfect present participle, meaning that not only is Mary now full of Grace, but that she has been and will be full of grace. From this, in part, the Church has realized that Mary is the Immaculate Conception.
- The phrase, the “Lord is with you”, brings to mind the great heroes of the Old Testament who the Lord was also with: for example, Moses, Joshua, Gideon; each were chosen by God to play a critical role in God’s salvation.
- When Gabriel says, “You have found favor with God”, Mary is in a very exclusive group in the history of the world, for this great complement bears a great responsibility. Others who have been greeted thus include: Moah, Abraham, David, Moses.
- Special note: Mary is the only female in the Bible to receive this honor by God.
- When Gabriel says, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end”, he is saying something very profound: To reign forever refers to 2 Samuel 7:8-14, when Samuel recounts what the Lord has said to David, promising that David would have an heir who would reign forever.
- Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” This too is astounding:
- For the spirit to overshadow, recalls the great events of Exodus when the Holy Spirit “overshadows” the Ark of the Covenant (Exod 40:35).
- Gabriel is telling Mary that she will be the New Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of God Himself. Mary will hold God in her womb!
- God, mysteriously, will be born a human.
- Mary doesn’t just grudgingly agree, she is firm in her agreement and unwavering. Mary’s “Yes” is enthusiastic and unreserved; exactly how a soul born without Original Sin through the Immaculate Conception would answer.
Now certainly, the above revelation is astounding when the backstory is understood.
But there is more, for there is a backstory to the backstory. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who is being announced as Mary’s Son, has planned the Salvation of Mankind from the beginning! Jesus Christ is the Divine Strategist.
- It is Jesus (as a person of the Trinity, with the Father and the Holy Spirit) who creates Gabriel in the beginning.
- It is Jesus who reveals to King David that from his line a Messiah will be born.
- It is Jesus who sends Gabriel to Daniel 500 years early to announce His coming as the Messiah.
- It is Jesus (again, as a person of the Trinity) who sends Gabriel to His future mother before He is conceived in her perfect womb.
As humans, this is hard to comprehend the ways in which God is working in the world. The more we know about Jesus Christ, the more awed we become.
Get to know the story and the backstory of Our Savior.