The text this morning is from the Gospel of Luke 1:26-38. These are the Words of God:
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name 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 father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered 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. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
It had been 400 years since any new prophecy had been uttered in Israel. After the Persian king, Cyrus sent Israel home from their Babylonian exile, Ezra over saw the rebuilding of the temple and Nehemiah oversaw the rebuilding of Jerusalem—but for centuries now, God had been silent.
Alexander the Great had conquered the Persians, and Rome had conquered the Greeks. Two entire empires had risen and fallen since God has spoken in Israel.
That’s where the Gospel of Luke begins. The first part of chapter 1 records the visit of the angel Gabriel to announce the birth of John the Baptist—the prophet who would be a forerunner of Christ. Now, in verse 26 that same Gabriel appears again.
He’s sent to Nazareth in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Nazareth, you well know was not a metropolitan area. It was more like Chester S.C.
He was sent to a virgin named Mary. And, unlike most fo the medieval paintings youv’e seen, Mary was not a 30 year old woman who looks matronly and pristine. Instead, she would have been closer to 14 years old, and we’re told she was betrothed to marry a man from King David’s lineage—Joseph.
Notice that when Gabriel greets Mary he does so with respect and even honor. He calls her “O favored one.” The King James says, “Highly Favored.” It’s a reminder that Mary, though she was not sinless as the Roman Catholic Church teaches, yet she was a woman who loved the Lord and is one of the most blessed women in history.
When Mary later visits her cousin, Elizabeth, Elizabeth called her “Blessed.” And when Mary composes her famous Magnificat in Luke 2 she says, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.”
The reason, though, for her blessedness, didn’t primarily lay in Mary herself. Mary was born as a sinful human just like you and me. What made her blessed was the second part of Gabriel’s announcement: “Greetings, O Favored one, the Lord is with you.”
In verse 29, Mary has the response that is nearly universal whenever angels show up in the Bible: she’s deeply troubled. Most of the time, when an angel shows us, people fall to the ground because they think they’re about to be killed.
Gabriel then delivers what must have been the greatest announcement in all of history: Mary, though a virgin, would conceive and bear a son. And this wouldn’t be any son—he will be the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give him the throne of his father, David.
Mary, being a good Jew understood the magnitude of this moment. She knew that God made a covenant with David in the Old Testament that one day God would send an heir who would reign on David’s throne and his kingdom would never end.
Mary, of course, needs some reassurance: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” v. 34. Gabriel gives her more information—but ultimately he calls her to faith. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” It’s not so much an explanation as it is a call to believe that God will accomplish what he has promised to do.
“Elizabeth, your cousin who you thought would never conceive is in the sixth month of her pregnancy—and with God, nothing is impossible.”
The angelic visit concludes as Mary submits to the Word of God in verse 38.
The first thing this passage teaches us is that even the delays in history are providential. Even the delays are providential. Yes, it had been 400 years since God has given fresh and new revelation of himself in Israel. The prophets had been silent. There were no angelic visitors that we know of. Two empires had risen and fallen. And many were tempted to ask, “Where is God? Why isn’t he doing anything? He brought us back from Babylon. We rebuilt the temple… why is he silent?”
And yet, Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4-7 that when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his only Son.
The moment Gabriel appeared to Mary wasn’t random. It wasn’t haphazard. Neither was the 400 years of silence preceding that very moment.
As we read through the Bible we see that God is orchestrating all things according to his great power—and he’s even orchestrating the delays. He’s orchestrating the side-tracks. The delays are on schedule. The setbacks are going according to plan.
Joe Posnanski once said, “I never argue with people who say baseball is boring, because baseball is boring. And then, suddenly, it isn’t. And that’s what makes baseball great.”
To apply that quote to our passage we might say that even the boring parts of history are providential. Even God’s silence is fulfilling his purposes.
Two thousand years ago, God sent his Son who lived a perfectly obedient life, died as a substitute for sinners, and was raised. And for the last 2,000 years he has been seated at the right hand of the majesty on high and he has sent his Spirit to empower the church to preach the gospel to every creature.
And that’s where you and I are at in this grand story. Too many Christians have looked at the chaos of the last year and a half and feared that maybe we took a bad detour, when in reality, we’re right where God wants us. We’re right when God wants us.
That is not to say that everything that is happening is good—but it is to say that even tumult occurs within the providential plans of God.
This universe isn’t spinning out of control. There is a firm hand on the steering wheel.
THE LORD IS WITH YOU
Second, blessedness is God being with you. Blessedness is God being with you.
Here in the South you hear people say, “Bless your heart,” all the time. And, if you aren’t from the South you need to know that when someone says, “Bless your heart,” that isn’t exactly a compliment. That’s what Southerners say when they can’t think of anything particularly nice to say.
But when you come to the Scriptures, the word blessed primarily means experiencing God’s presence. This goes all the way back to Numbers 6:
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Blessedness is connected with the Lord being with us; looking upon us, giving us his peace.
As I said earlier, Mary isn’t blessed or highly favored because she was sinless. The source of her blessedness was that the God who made her had come near to be with her.
28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
She wasn’t blessed because she chose God so much as she was blessed because God chose her. Indeed, the child she bore would be called Immanuel which means “God with us.” This greeting of Gabriel contains in it the entire ministry of Christ—why is the Lord with Mary? Why is he with us? Because the Son of God has come in human flesh. Somehow the one who lived in radiance took on human flesh. The one who lived in eternity submitted to the constraints of time and space. Jesus Christ was both complete in divinity, and complete in manhood. This one person, Jesus, had two natures—divine and human. And in regard to his manhood, he was just like us—except without sin.
And he did all this so that he could die as a substitute for sinners and raised by the power of God on the 3rdday.
All this happened, according to the plan of God, in order that God’s presence would be a blessing to us, and not a terror. At the cross, God’s terrible wrath against our sin came down upon Jesus, so that God’s favor and blessing could come down upon us.
Christmas means that God has blessed you if you will receive it. The incarnation of Christ means your sins will be forgiven if you will confess them. Christmas time means that regardless of your outward comforts, regardless of your inner anxieties—the God who is unapproachable has come near to you in his Son, Jesus Christ.
The treasures of a saint are the presence of God, the favor of God, union and communion with God, the pardon of sin, the joy of the Spirit, and the peace of conscience. These are jewels which none can give but Christ, nor none can take away but Christ… the saints can say under all their troubles and afflictions, that they have food to eat, and drink to drink, that the world knows not of; that they have such incomes, such refreshments, such warmings, that they would not exchange for all the honors, riches, and dainties of this world.
QUESTIONING WITH FAITH
Third, this passage teaches us that it’s possible to question God with faith. It’s possible to doubt while still putting your faith in God.
We didn’t read the verses leading up to verse 26, so let me summarize them for you. In that passage, the angel Gabriel was sent to make an announcement to a man named Zechariah. He served as a priest before the Lord in the temple and his wife, Elizabeth, was unable to have children. Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, and just like Mary, Zechariah was troubled.
Gabriel told Zechariah to not be afraid just as he did Mary. He announced a birth, just as he did with Mary – and just like Mary, Zechariah couldn’t understand how it was possible for his wife to be pregnant.
Both Mary and Zechariah question how this will be possible, and yet Zechariah’s disbelief is met with rebuke. Gabriel says that Zechariah will not be able to speak until the child is born because he did not believe.
Now, it’s interesting that Mary had far greater reason to question and doubt. Elizabeth may have been barren, but Mary was a virgin. Which of these comes with greater difficulties to conceive?
So, what are we to make of this? Two announcements. Two questioners. One is rebuked and the other praised? Why? And the answer must be that while Mary had questions, her questioning believed there was an answer in God, and Zechariah did not.
To be a Christian does not mean that you never have questions. There are plenty of doctrines that are over our head. And Christians grow as they ask hard questions about hard doctrines.
So, there is a way to question God in faith, and a way to doubt God in faithlessness. What’s the difference between questions and doubts? Questions have answers and doubts do not.
How can a just God love sinners, is a question.
What if God doesn’t love me is a doubt
So, you may have plenty of questions:
- How is the Bible the Word of God?
- How can God be totally sovereign, yet human being be free?
- How can God be good and loving and allow suffering?
Those are all hard questions. And you ought to ask them without fear. As one pastor said, “Don’t worry whether the Bible can stand up to your question. It’s an anvil that has worn out many hammers.”
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 2 Peter 3:16
Some things Paul writes are difficult to understand
So, don’t despair if there are doctrines you don’t yet understand. Continue reading the Word. Continue worshipping with the church. Trust that even though you have big questions, God has big answers.
THE GOD OF IRONY
Finally, this passage teaches us that God is the God of irony. Think about it. This passage shows us the greatest announcement in history. God is coming.
Yet where is it announced? Not in Jerusalem, not in Rome. It’s announced in Nazareth. It’s a back-woods town. “Nothing good comes out of Nazareth.” It was a common phrase.
And to whom is it announced? There’s no press conference called. There’s no cable news media there with their cameras and microphones. God didn’t invite the Emperor. He didn’t invite any Pharisees. Gabriel comes to Mary all by herself.
And consider the content of this announcement. God is sending the one who will reign forever. His kingdom will have no end—and yet, this ruler will come as a baby. He will come, not in strength, but in weakness. He will come, not with caravans and armies, he will come naked. The one who made the galaxies consented to have his diapers changed.
And, looking back over the Bible we see this is how God always does things.
- Sarah – Barren
- Jacob – second born.
- Leah – ugly sister
- David – youngest son
God is always confounding the wisdom of the wise with folly and the strength of the strong with weakness.
But God doesn’t love irony simply for the sake of irony. The Son of God doesn’t stoop so low just to see if he could do it. Rather, God ordained that stooping low would be the very means that the victory is won.
Christ gains the world by losing heaven. He defeats sin by bearing sin. He overcomes death through death.
In the same way—this Christmas season—do not underestimate the small stuff. Because none of it is small stuff.