ANGEL ANNOUNCES – Mary Sings – Joseph Prays – Shepherds Come – God with Us – Kings Journey
My son and I were shopping at the Stuff-Mart this week (inspired by Veggie Tales' Madame Blueberry video). William had some allowance money that was burning a hole in his pocket and he wanted to purchase several toys to round out his collection. As we were comparing what pieces to buy he matter of factually pointed to one toy and announced: "that's what I am getting for Christmas." I asked him how he knew this to which he confidently replied: "because its on my list." When I asked with whom he had shared his list he said: "I'll put it together tomorrow!" Now that's confidence!
Today we begin telling the familiar story of the Incarnation ("God becoming flesh and blood and moving into our neighborhood" as Eugene Peterson puts it). This story begins with the angel Gabriel stepping into the life of a teenage girl named Mary living in the tiny village of Nazareth located in the outer limits of the King Herod's Judea, a backwater place within the mighty Roman empire. This is how Luke tells the story:
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”b 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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 ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”c 35 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 bornd will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Gabriel announces that God is about to do a wonderful thing in the world and to that end tells Mary three things she needs to know:
- The angel announces: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God" (Luke 1:30). I have never been a teenage girl, but I am pretty sure that Mary was afraid! And to be honest, if I walked in and found an adult conversing alone with my teenage daughter I would more than a little bit upset. Today we wrap all this passage up in an intellectually stimulating theological conversation about the virgin birth and the incarnation. But to be honest, this had to appear like a real mess to Mary. Can you imagine the thoughts that ran through her head? "I'll just tell mom and dad that an angel made me do it. And when they ask about who the father is, I will calmly tell them that God is in control – in fact he's the daddy! And Joseph, well he'll understand." And then to "help" Mary, Gabriel adds that Elizabeth, Mary's older and barren cousin is already pregnant. To which Mary must have said: "and what does that do for me?" The point for us to ponder with Mary this morning is that the angel tells us when we are attempting the impossible or miraculous for God, we are not to fear. "No Fear" Mary as you bear God's son. "No Fear" Joseph as you train up this child in the way he should go. "No Fear" Elizabeth and Zechariah, the Lord has answered your prayers. "No Fear" church, "you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you" (Philippians 4:13).
- The angel then announces: "and now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son" (Luke 1:31). This is a crucial part of today's word – God came to live with us in the person of Jesus. Yes, Mary gave birth to God's son. But Mary and Joseph raised a son who played with the other kids; skinned his knee and cried when he fell; was the smartest kid in the temple (to be sure) but still just a kid who grew in wisdom and stature; learned the carpenter trade from his father Joseph; was tried unjustly before Pilate; executed between two thieves, and buried. Just human stuff through and through. Here I need to grasp the mundane nature of this One we call the Savior of All. He was flesh and blood. He was born like us, lived like us, ate like us, was tempted like us (yet without sin), and died like each of us will. God chose to live as a human – don't miss this! God is saying in Jesus that the way we live, move, and have our being is okay! There is nothing bad or harmful in being human, we just messed it all up in a garden long ago. But in Jesus, God sends a second Adam to undo the mess made by the first Adam and that is great news!
- Finally, the angel announces: "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:32). Now I occasionally enjoy a good argument, but the issue that emerges from this announcement takes the cake. The early church took the better part of two centuries to figure out that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. Now the math doesn't work well on this, that is 100 percent human plus 100 percent divine equals 100 percent God-Man. But the church suggested that Jesus had to be fully human because we knew the agents of his birth (Mary) and death (Pontius Pilate) and stated this in the Apostles' Creed: "born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried." Having nailed down the first half of the equation, then the church wrestled with the question of when did Jesus become God? The answer was Jesus "always was, is, and will be" God. The Nicene creed states it this way: "true God of true God, begotten not made … by whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible." For me the interesting God-movement is that God became flesh with us and there was not a movement like the flooding of the earth, the burning of a bush, or the parting of the seas. Just Jesus … and isn't he enough?
So there we are. We are not to be a people of fear! We know that God is with us, because in Jesus God took on human form. And as a human, lived, dead, and was lifted from the grave that we might have the Godlife now and always! Fear Not, God is with us, and God redeems us.