This Advent season we are looking at the message of the angels to the various principal players in the account of the birth of Jesus: Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds. Last week Zechariah was asked to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. This Sunday we look at Mary’s call to be available for the birth of the Messiah.
We don’t know a great deal about Mary,
God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. (26-27)
We are given four facts:
- Mary was from Nazareth. You may remember Nathaniel’s comment when he was told about Jesus, “can anything good come from Nazareth?’ (John 1:46) No one imagined the Messiah coming from Nazareth. I suspect Mary may have concluded that the Messiah would never be born to someone like her who was from Nazareth.
- She was of the line of David (part of the royal line)
- Mary was engaged to be married. This “engagement” was different than the engagements we think about. This engagement was like a contract. It was so binding that people considered you married even though you did not live together or have any physical or intimate contact.
- Mary was a virgin. She had never been with a man. This was not an exception, it was the norm at this time. In other words, there was no way for her to become pregnant apart from a miracle.
That is all that we know for sure. Some suggest Mary was in her early teens 13-15 years old since that was often the time when girls would be married off. This makes her response to God’s request that much more amazing.
Mary was going about her business when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. We don’t know what Mary saw we only know what she heard.
Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you! 29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
The first thing Mary is told is that she is favored. That was good news because the first response to seeing an angel might be that God is coming to us in judgment. Second, she must have been confused because Mary (in her mind) was a nobody. She was from Nazareth and a very young girl.
The angel did not waste any time but got right to the point. Mary was going to have a baby. This was no ordinary baby. The child would be Named Jesus and called son of the God Most High. In other words, He would be called God’s Son. His Kingdom would last FOREVER. I don’t think Mary missed what was being said. She was to be the mother of the Messiah.
God had been silent for 400 years and now He appeared to Mary and announced the Messiah was coming! I am sure her head was spinning. Mary tried to take it all in. She was confused. How could this happen? She was not involved with Joseph. She had probably been to her PE health class and learned that you don’t have babies unless both a man and a woman are involved. So . . . she asked Gabriel to help her understand the logistics.
Are you surprised by the response of Gabriel? Last time someone asked what seemed a very similar question (Zechariah) Gabriel rebuked him and declared Zechariah would be unable to speak until the birth of his son. Why didn’t God respond to Mary the same way as Zechariah? The answer is that two people can say the same thing yet say something entirely different. It would seem Mary was asking for clarification, Zechariah perhaps was doubting God’s ability to do what He said He would do. It’s a little like the difference between a person who says they are sorry for what they did and does so with a humble, repentant, and sincere heart, versus the one who says they are sorry but you can tell that they are only sorry about the consequences or avoiding a payment or fine, or they are saying they are sorry because they “have to” do so. Both are saying the same words but they are saying is two very different things. Gabriel responded differently to Mary because she apparently had a different attitude than Zechariah did.
What the angel says next is beyond comprehension.
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.
I cannot imagine that Mary understood what “the Holy Spirit will come upon you” meant, but she didn’t ask any more questions.
Notice what Gabriel does next. He encouraged Mark to go visit Elizabeth her relative. This visit would give Mary support and verify what the angel had said. Elizabeth was six months pregnant and she was a walking testimony to God’s power to do anything.
Later in the story, we learn that when Mary came to visit Elizabeth John the Baptist jumped for joy inside Elizabeth. Elizabeth affirmed and confirmed everything Gabriel had said to her.
Mary’s response is the kind of response God desires from all of us: “May it be to me as you have said.”
Mary didn’t resist even though saying yes would be costly. Her reputation and her future could take a big hit. It was going to cost her to say yes to the Lord. (There is a lesson here for us). Think about the price that would have been obvious,
- The story would seem ridiculous to Joseph. It could end her marriage before it truly began.
- She could face public condemnation and even be killed for her supposed adultery. People would assume things about her that just were not true. It would be a scar she would wear all her life.
- It could be a mess for her parents who undoubtedly arranged the marriage
- Mary was very young and may have felt very ill-equipped to handle this task.
- This son would be known as an illegitimate child throughout his life.
We can come up with dozens of reasons to not agree to God’s request to serve Him. Mary found the one good reason TO serve Him: He is God. Before we will ever serve the Lord effectively we need to be clear who He is. Mary may have been a teenager, but her theology (her understanding of God) was solid. She knew that if God is God, then we should serve Him in any capacity.
Mary did not understand how God was going to do all of this. She said “yes” anyway. The Lord reminded Mary, and through her reminds us, that God’s Word NEVER fails. God does not promise what He does not deliver.
Lessons for Us
Let me draw some applications for us today.
God Works Best Through Unlikely People. We are spectacularly ordinary. We do not feel qualified to serve God in big ways. Women were almost never in a genealogical record yet in the record of the descendants of Christ yet as you read through the genealogies in Matthew you notice the mention of four women: Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth and Bathsheba.
These were not just any women. Tamar became pregnant by her father-in-law, Rahab was a citizen of Jericho and known as a prostitute. Ruth was a young widow from Moab (a foreign country). Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, had an affair with David and it cost her husband his life. These unlikely women are all listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Where others tend to mention only those ancestors with sterling pedigrees, the family line of Jesus seems to emphasize the underside. Most of the women in the record (Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth) were gentiles To the Jews, these people unclean. Yet they are highlighted in this record of Jesus’ ancestors. Why?
Tim Keller writes,
What does it mean? First, it shows us that people who are excluded by culture, excluded by respectable society, and even excluded by the law of God can be brought in to Jesus’ family. It doesn’t matter your pedigree, it doesn’t matter what you have done, it doesn’t matter whether you have killed people. If you repent and believe in him, the grace of Jesus Christ can cover your sin and unite you with him. In ancient times there was a concept of “ceremonial uncleanness.” If you wanted to stay holy, or respectable, or good, you had to avoid contact with the unholy. The unholiness was considered to be “contagious,” as it were, and so you had to stay separate. But Jesus turns that around. His holiness and goodness cannot be contaminated by contact with us. Rather his holiness infects us by our contact with him. Come to him, regardless of who you are and what you have done, no matter how morally stained you are, and he can make you as pure as snow (Isaiah 1: 18).
God used these unlikely people to accomplish his purpose. You may feel like a person who has nothing to offer – but God can use you. Before He can do so, you need to let Him in. Like Mary, you need to say yes to the work He wants to do in you.
Mary gave herself to the Lord without condition. We, on the other hand, are prone to give God conditions under which we will serve. We tell God when we are available, what we do, and how long we will do it. Mary took a different approach. She served the Lord and let everything else fall into place. We talk about the risks that Mary was willing to take, but I don’t think Mary saw these things as “risks.” She knew if she was following the leading of the Lord, she was where she needed to be, and the other things would fall into place.
It has been pointed out that the distance between the earth and sun in 93,000,000 miles. It this was represented by the thickness of a sheet of paper then the distance from the earth to the nearest star would be a stack of papers nearly 70 feet high. That number continues to grow when you think about the Milky Way (300 mile high stack of paper) and that there are more galaxies in the universe than we can number. If Jesus holds all this together, as the Bible says, we should realize that He is not OUR assistant, we serve Him. He is Lord in a way that is far superior to us. He does not speak to us as one making suggestions . . . He speaks as Lord and King. Mary, even at her young age, understood this.
Second, we are reminded that our God is the God of the impossible.
Are you facing some impossible situation or task in your life? Are you overwhelmed academically? Is your job situation difficult? Is debt squeezing the life out of you? Are the demands of your job so great that you no longer feel like you have any kind of life of your own? Do you have relationship problems? Are your children rebelling? Are Doctor’s visits resulting in more and more bad news? Do you face a seemingly impossible mess legally? Do you need to retire but have to keep working to survive?
It is the impossible situations that provide the stage for God to work in His most profound ways. Is it possible that your impossible situation is an invitation from God to trust Him more completely?
What if God is calling you to simply give Him some space in your life that will allow Him to work in you? What if the whole point of “impossible situations” is to remind us that He is bigger than our problems? Like Mary, the process may be painful and it may be difficult. However, God is faithful. He will not disappoint us. He calls us to trust Him even though we do not understand what is happening or why.
Finally, we should seek the faith of Mary. We must strive to say yes to God. It is staggering to ponder that Mary was likely in her early teens. She had a faith that should inspire us.
It should be easier for us to believe. We have so much more information. We know who Jesus is and what He did. We have the testimony of the Resurrection. We have the centuries of history to build our faith upon. Yet, let’s face it, there are few who can equal the faith of the mother of Jesus.
Tim Keller shared that he went to a conference when he was younger and the speaker said there were two questions we must answer before we will be willing to truly follow the Lord in all things:
- Are you willing to obey anything the Bible clearly says to do, whether you like it or not?
- Are you willing to trust God in anything he sends into your life whether you understand it or not?
If you can’t answer these two questions in the affirmative, we were told, you may believe in Jesus in some general way, but you have never said to him, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Those questions were startling to me, but to this day I believe they are accurate indicators of what Christians are being asked for.
If you are going to develop this kind of faith you will need to
- Focus on God’s strength rather than your abilities.
- Believe that He can use anyone . . . even you.
- Trust His Word over your understanding.
- Flip your priorities so the things of God come first rather than trying to fit God into your schedule.
- See others not in terms of labels and stereotypes but people that can be used by God.
You may resist all this saying, “but I don’t know what God wants me to do.” I know this: the first thing He wants you to do is to turn to Him for forgiveness and new life. He calls us to acknowledge that we are a mess and that Jesus is the only One who can make us right again. Then once we have acknowledged the truth He calls us to come and follow Him. We are called to trust what He says and where He leads. What God wants from you most of all is a relationship with you.
The best gift for Christmas is the one that is standing right in front of you. The best gift was the sacrifice of Jesus for your sake and mine. If you haven’t already done so, the first step is to say, “Lord, I have nothing but broken pieces to offer you. I give you what I have. I come seeking the grace of our Lord Jesus. I want His death to pay for my sin. I want His resurrection life to run through my feeble frame. I want to be your follower. Help me to follow fully.
I don’t know where God may lead you after this. But I know this: wherever He leads you will be the greatest adventure of your lifetime. And who knows, God may just use you to change the world; just like He did with Mary.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), Lk 1:35.