Bonjour! Ni hao. When you learn a new language, one of the first things that you learn is how to greet someone. Some cultures have interesting greetings. Both the Korean “annyeong haseyo” and Arabic “As-salāmu ʿalaykum” mean “Peace be upon you.” I traveled in the former Republic of Georgia, and was greeted by “Gamarjoba,” which translates to “Victory to you.” What do we Americans have? We have “hello”...whatever that actually means.
The gospel of Luke pursues a theme of greeting in its opening chapter:
1:28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 1:29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
1:40 Mary entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.
1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting…
1:44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears…
Why this preoccupation with greetings? What do greetings represent? They have a fundamental social function as moments of connection and welcome. A warm greeting with a smile can cheer up an otherwise dreary day, while an icy reception can deflate even the most confident among us.
Luke uses the recurring greetings to introduce an underlying theological theme of hospitality. It presents Advent as a divine act of hospitality. Here, in this initial Advent story, God is literally saying “hello” to humanity. Even better: Peace be upon you. Victory to you. Grace for you. All the salutatory blessings we hope for in a greeting are gathered in God’s Advent greeting to you.
To hear more about this divine hospitable greeting that is both compassionate and contagious, listen to the sermon.