This will be part 1 of a 20 part series of the Mysteries of the Rosary. Each article will take one particular Mystery and serve to be a reflection of that Mystery. I pray that these reflections, which will not have any particular pattern or theme themselves, will accomplish at least one of the following goals: 1) to encourage others to pray the Rosary, 2) to help those who already pray the Rosary to meditate and ponder some aspect of these Mysteries that may enlighten them as to the will of God in their lives and in salvation history, and 3) to grow in our love for God through some small measure of understanding in the Truth He has revealed to us.
Let us start from the beginning:
The 1st Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation of the Angel to Mary
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ And the angel said to her in reply, ‘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, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.’ Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” –Luke 1: 26-38
Much happens in this passage; as a result, there is a lot that can be discussed. For example, this passage is often used as evidence of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity and her Immaculate Conception. These and other aspects of the above scene, however, are simply too numerous to talk about in one article. It is enough to recognize that though the two figures in discussion here are the angel Gabriel and Mary the Virgin, the entire scene focuses on the Christ, a proclamation of the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’ (Isaiah 7: 14).
From the very outset we see that the angel was sent by God. This combined with the greeting Gabriel gives to Mary reveals that God Himself has chosen Mary for an incredible task, hence her being ‘greatly troubled’ about the greeting given to her. The angel, sensing Mary’s understandable confusion, urges her not to be afraid, for she is to bear the Son of God, and God will never leave her to complete such a task alone.
What is it about this child that makes him so special, though? What is so amazing about the coming of Jesus that God feels particularly inclined to send His messenger to a small, poor town called Nazareth and give some small poor woman special graces to receive and accept this vocation?
The angel proclaims the answer immediately: that he will be a new King of an eternal kingdom (‘of his kingdom there will be no end’), that he will reign over and fulfill the Kingdom of Israel (‘he will rule over the house of Jacob forever’), and that he will be given this kingdom directly from God the Father Himself (the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father).
Powerful words, but it remains to be asked: How exactly will this Son of God accomplish such a lofty feat? How is it that this person will be able to establish himself as ruler when centuries have passed by with no King of Israel even in existence?
The answer to this lies in the heart of the passage: that this Son of God is establishing the fulfillment of the Davidic Kingdom.
Why else would Luke tell us that Joseph is ‘of the house of David’ if not to ground the angel’s later statement that the Son of the Most High will receive ‘the throne of David his father’? The necessity in Luke’s Gospel of the connection between the kingship of David and the Kingship of the Messiah is contained deep within the background of Jewish history. In particular, Jesus’ Kingship must have a relation to the Davidic Kingdom because the Davidic Kingdom was the only kingdom that had both a ruling and a priestly function.
The Levitical tribe, while obviously made up entirely of priests, were not kings in and of themselves; this differentiates Jesus from the Levitical tribe, despite Jesus being the fulfillment of the Jewish Priesthood.
But Jesus could not be merely a king either, for he has come not just to be a king in order to rule but to be a priest in order to sacrifice. That was the essential difference between King David and his predecessor, King Saul: one was a king, but merely so, and thus was reprimanded for making sacrifices like a priest (1 Samuel 13). The other was a priest-king. ‘You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek’ (Psalm 110: 4). Melchizedek is described in Genesis 18: 14 as being both a king and a priest. This is why David, in being in the line of Melchizedek, was not reprimanded for making a sacrifice in 2Samuel 6: 17-19.
Thus to say that David is ‘in the manner of Melchizedek’ entails that he not only rules over his kingdom, he also sacrifices for God’s people.
Thus to establish the Son of God as inheriting and fulfilling the Davidic Kingdom is to establish the Son of God as both a king and a priest, and that his kingship will endure for all time (‘you are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek). He will be a new King over Israel, but at the same time his domain will expand to universal proportions. He will be a new High Priest, but his sacrifice will be a once-for-all sacrifice for the kingdom in which he rules, the sacrifice of his very self for the hope of eternal salvation for all. He will be a Son of David, but he will be greater than David by being a Son of God.
Amidst this stunning revelation Mary has but one more question, perhaps to help quiet her curious mind, perhaps out of a lack of understanding. In response, the angel explains the divine source of the conception, detailing that the same divine source recently worked a miracle in her elderly cousin, and thus could easily work one in her. Mary, with quiet humility, accepts the will of God, the conception of this priest-king that will rule the heavens and the earth, with the same simple words that we should all proclaim as we prostrate ourselves before His radiant glory: ‘Let it be done to me according to your word.’
Thus ends the first Joyful Mystery.