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Day 2294 – Characters of Christmas-3 Mary, The Simple Girl at the Center of Everything
30th January 2024 • Wisdom-Trek © • H. Guthrie Chamberlain, III
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Welcome to Day 2294 of Wisdom-Trek. Thank you for joining me.

This is Guthrie Chamberlain, Your Guide to Wisdom

The Characters of Christmas-3 Mary, The Simple Girl at the Center of Everything – Daily Wisdom

Putnam Church Message – 12/11/2022 The Characters of Christmas: Mary, The Simple Girl at the Center of Everything   Last week we continued our Advent series as we explored A Christmas Miracle: The Story of Zachariah and Elizabeth.   Today, we continue our third Advent series character as we explore Mary, the Simple Girl at the Center of Everything. Our initial scripture for today is Luke 1:26-45, on pages 1588-89 in the pew Bible. Follow along as I read.  The Birth of Jesus Foretold 26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Mary Visits Elizabeth 39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” The city of Nazareth reminds me of New Concord, Ohio, where I grew up most of my childhood. It is the kind of town you only visit if you know someone who lives there, the place that you only see on Google when you zoom in close. With a church of our size, it is certainly somewhat of a miracle that Sarah Miller is also from there. And yet, this is the kind of town in which the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Son of God.   Nazareth would not have shown up quickly on your map. To get to Nazareth, you had to bypass Jerusalem, the city of David, and the center of religious life among the Jewish people. To get to Nazareth, you had to head straight to the part of Caesar’s empire that was the least desirable: Judea. Nazareth was such a backwater town that the first thing Nathanael, who would become a disciple, said about Jesus was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" In other words, he asked, “Why would I be interested in someone who comes from a part of the world that nobody respects?"   If we could rewrite the Christmas story, this is where we might make most of our edits. You can't have a hero (The Messiah) emerge from a place like Nazareth. It’s like the slang term used for New Concord, which was “New Corncob.” And yet Nazareth is where we find one of the opening acts of the Christmas story.   What's more, Gabriel didn't choose to make this announcement to Herod's daughter or a member of elite Jewish society, but to a poor, possibly illiterate, seemingly unimportant Jewish girl in Nazareth named Mary. As we celebrate Advent this season and examine some characters of Christmas, there is none so unlikely to be at the center of this divine story as Mary. But, of course, Mary was not looking for prominence. Like every other Jewish peasant girl in Nazareth, she lived an ordinary life in an ordinary rural town with unassuming dreams.   From all indicators, her life would not be extraordinary. Instead, she would marry humbly, give birth to numerous poor children, never travel farther than a few miles from home, and one day die like thousands of others before her—a nobody in a nothing town in the middle of nowhere.   And yet it is Mary who receives the first announcement of the Christ child and is chosen by God to bear the Son of God. This tells us something about Mary—her simple faith and willingness to say yes to God—but it tells us more about Mary's God. We often think God works through extreme giftedness or among wealthy and well-connected people. But the Christmas story reminds us that God moves in among those societies usually left behind. The thread of redemption woven (rug) throughout Scripture winds its way through many small towns and seemingly little lives. Nobody knew Mary's name. /Nobody but God, of course. And God knows your name. This is what it means that God is Immanuel. He visits the lowly of station and humble of heart. He dwells among the broken and contrite.   A Shout in the Dark To fully understand Christmas, you must immerse yourself in Luke's setting. This visit by Gabriel to Mary was so improbable, so unexpected. The people of God were weary and oppressed. Once a mighty nation ruled by David and thriving under King Solomon, Israel was divided into two countries, often governed by wicked rulers who would plunder their people and lead them away from worshipping the true God. There would be sporadic revivals and periods of renewal. There was even a return to the homeland and the rebuilding of their city and temple. But never would they return to their former glory. All along, the prophets promised a time when David's kingdom would be restored, when a suffering servant-king would come and rescue them and lead them to peace and prosperity. But it became increasingly difficult to cling to these promises.   Meanwhile, it seemed that the world had moved on. Alexander the Great conquered these lands and established Greek culture and language. Then the Romans conquered the Greeks and, while keeping Greek culture, also instituted their pagan practices.   It also seemed that God had moved on. The prophets stopped speaking to His people. For four hundred years, it seemed as though God was silent. False claims of messiahs would come and go. Then, a revolt by a family named the Maccabees revived fresh hopes of renewal, only to eventually be crushed by Roman power. Now they were ruled by a ruthless and corrupt governor, Herod, installed by Caesar and distrusted by the people.   So when we open the New Testament and peek in on Mary, we find her among a people mostly cynical about the promises of God and ruled by the Romans. Divided by sectarian religious tribes (Pharisees, Sadducees, and loyalists to Rome), jaded by the corruption in Caesar’s palace and among the religious establishment in the temple. Yes, they believed the promises,/ because this is what Jewish people believe. But would the Messiah come in their time, and would He come to them and among them? Mostly, they lost hope. And yet,/ amid this bleak midwinter,/ amid a dark world, /to a people who had lost heart,/ God broke in to announce the coming of the Son of God.   This was Gabriel’s second appearance in the Christmas narrative. Six months earlier, he had appeared to Zechariah, the husband of Mary's cousin, Elizabeth. This was to announce another unlikely conception, the baby who would be John the Baptizer, the last Old Testament prophet, and the one who would prepare the way for Jesus.   Gabriel's presence is significant. His only other appearance in Scripture occurs in the book of Daniel. Gabriel revealed God's plan for Israel's future destruction and the coming of an anointed one. That anointed one would now reside in the womb of this young peasant girl in Nazareth. Gabriel was God's special angelic messenger, sent to initiate the eternal plan of redemption. Finally, after four hundred years, a light dawned again on God's people.   “At Just the Right Time” Mary was surprised, /but this appearance of angel Gabriel was not a moment too soon or too late. We often view the Christmas story as something that happened—and it did—but it is not a story that just happened. God's visit to a young teenage girl in a small town on the backside of the Roman Empire was planned long ago, before the world began in 1 Peter 1:20. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. The apostle Paul, once a skeptic of the Christmas narrative who had his unlikely encounter with God, told the people of Galatia that all of this happened in Galatians 4:4. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.   First promised when Adam and Eve ate the bitter fruit of disobedience, God's rescue of the human race weaves its way through Scripture (rug). God called a family and promised that through Abraham, the nations would be blessed (Gen. 12, 17). Then Abraham’s family became a nation, whose disobedience couldn't nullify God's promise to send a Messiah. And to David, Israel’s greatest King, God spoke of an everlasting kingdom with one of David’s heirs on the throne (2 Sam. 7).   And after David, when the people of God were in distress, scattered and rebellious, disobedient and disillusioned, God spoke a word through His prophets. A new kingdom would dawn, a new King would come, one better than David. And this King would be birthed from a young virgin Isaiah 7:13-14: Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? 14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[a] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).   The world may have been asleep. /Israel may have been unready. /But on that fateful day when God visited Mary, the eternal plan of redemption was on schedule. Gabriel said in Luke 1:31-33: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.   Reflect for a moment on the rich symbolism in these words, in this moment. Mary, a daughter of David about to marry a son of David, would bear the eternal son of David in her womb. But more than that, Mary, a daughter of Eve, would bear in her womb the second Adam, who would come to reverse the curse ushered on the human race and the cosmos by the disobedience of the first Adam. How Can These Things Be? Luke records Mary’s initial response to the presence of Gabriel as somewhat skeptical. This is a natural human response. God had not spoken to Israel verbally or through His prophets for four hundred years. I imagine we would be shaken as well. But the angel's words disturbed her more than anything (28). “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”   Mary was a young unknown teenage girl in a small town. Perhaps she was devout and followed Jewish religious practice, but she certainly didn’t think she was anything special or worthy of an angelic visit. But again, the angel reassured her with these words (30): “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” What does the angel mean here? Most of us interpret this to mean that God gave Mary a special calling as part of His plan of redemption. And this is true. And yet there was nothing in Mary that warranted this kind of special favor. And yet God visited her and chose her to bear His Christ child.   No. Mary knew—and we know too—that favor by God is not earned, nor is it deserved. Yet, just as God visited Mary, we who call ourselves Christians have been miraculously visited by God. So again, we don't deserve God’s favor, and yet like Mary, because of that baby's life, we can be called friends of God.   Mary was powerless Mary’s first words were in the form of a question: “How will this be.” Sometimes we are tempted to confuse Mary’s inquiry with the sinful doubt we find in Zechariah, but they are different. Whereas Zechariah legitimately doubted God's ability to have Elizabeth (Mary's cousin) bear a son, Mary was curious in a good way. In one sense, Mary’s question was unique to her. She wondered how she could conceive a child, having not had sexual relations with Joseph or anyone else. But on another level, Mary's question is the question of the ages. Abraham wondered how God could make him the father of many nations. David wondered how God could continue his throne forever. And the prophets, while delivering words from the Lord, likely wondered how the coming king could be both a suffering servant and a conquering king, both human and divine. The truth is that Mary's question is also our question. These things cannot be done by human means. Christmas is not, therefore, a fable, but a miracle. And this is precisely the answer of the angel. Yes, Mary, /this is impossible with mere human ability,/ but it is not impossible /for the God of the impossible. Mysteriously, the Holy Spirit of God would “overshadow” Mary's womb. This same language is often used in the Scriptures to indicate God’s glory, His shekinah presence. The God who had shrouded Himself in mystery, who could only be mediated through temples and tabernacles, would now visit the flesh of His people.   The incarnation is the work of God. And while only Mary was privileged to carry the Son of God, those of us who know God through faith in the Son have witnessed our own miracles. Nevertheless, our salvation is just as improbable as the birth of Christ. “How will this be” we should ask in wonder. How is it that a holy God could offer salvation to wretched sinners? How can new life be birthed in what was once dead?   Today people are scratching and clawing to find favor with God. They are looking for salvation in politics, in power, and medication. They even look at self-improvement, even religion. But this kind of work cannot be done with human effort. It’s impossible.   The only way to salvation is that the Spirit who overshadowed Mary now dwells in us by faith and is at work birthing new life in God’s new creation people.   What Mary Was Saying Yes To At the angel's words, Mary had a simple response: “I am the Lord’s servant; may your word to me be fulfilled.” In other words, Mary said yes to God. And this was no simple yes. Let's consider what Mary was signing up for.   Mary was saying yes to bearing the shame of an unwed pregnancy at a time when this carried an incredible social stigma. Would her friends and family believe her claims to have been visited by the Holy Spirit? Would Joseph stay with her or put her away? We know the end of the story, but Mary does not.   Mary was saying yes to raising the Son of God. It’s hard enough to raise a fallen child, but imagine the burden of raising Jesus. Imagine her fear whenever He caught a cold or some illness, when He left home to play with friends, or when He picked up sharp tools in Joseph's carpentry shop. Sure, God would ensure that Jesus would only die according to plan, but for Mary, the responsibility of caring for this essential child would be staggering.   Mary was saying yes to a lifetime of roller-coaster emotions. She'd see Him feed multitudes, raise people from the dead, and walk on water. But she'd also see Him be mocked, jeered, and taunted, even at times, by His family and hometown friends. Mary would have to hold Him close and ... would have to let Him go. She'd feed Him and clothe Him and rock Him to sleep. She'd see Him push away and grow into manhood. He'd rebuke her at a wedding.   Most of all, though, Mary knew what was coming. She may not have understood all that Calvary would bring, but she knew enough to dread that day her son was unjustly put on trial by His people, her people. She knew enough to feel the foreboding sense—prophesied by Simeon in the temple— that He'd be beaten senseless, hung on a tree, nails in His hands and a sword in His side. Every parent's nightmare is to see their children suffer, and Mary would live this in the most acutely and agonizing way possible.   So this is what Mary was saying yes to. And yet she said yes. Yes, I will do it, Lord. Mary may have trembled when she uttered those words. And yet she didn't have a choice. She gave the same answer all true believers give when visited by God. If this is true, if the baby in her womb was the...

Transcripts

Welcome to Day:

This is Guthrie Chamberlain, Your Guide to Wisdom

The Characters of Christmas-3 Mary, The Simple Girl at the Center of Everything – Daily Wisdom

/:

The Characters of Christmas: Mary, The Simple Girl at the Center of Everything

Last week we continued our Advent series as we explored A Christmas Miracle: The Story of Zachariah and Elizabeth.

Today, we continue our third Advent series character as we explore Mary, the Simple Girl at the Center of Everything.

, on pages:

 The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

The city of Nazareth reminds me of New Concord, Ohio, where I grew up most of my childhood. It is the kind of town you only visit if you know someone who lives there, the place that you only see on Google when you zoom in close. With a church of our size, it is certainly somewhat of a miracle that Sarah Miller is also from there. And yet, this is the kind of town in which the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Son of God.

Nazareth would not have shown up quickly on your map. To get to Nazareth, you had to bypass Jerusalem, the city of David, and the center of religious life among the Jewish people. To get to Nazareth, you had to head straight to the part of Caesar’s empire that was the least desirable: Judea. Nazareth was such a backwater town that the first thing Nathanael, who would become a disciple, said about Jesus was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" In other words, he asked, “Why would I be interested in someone who comes from a part of the world that nobody respects?"

If we could rewrite the Christmas story, this is where we might make most of our edits. You can't have a hero (The Messiah) emerge from a place like Nazareth. It’s like the slang term used for New Concord, which was “New Corncob.” And yet Nazareth is where we find one of the opening acts of the Christmas story.

What's more, Gabriel didn't choose to make this announcement to Herod's daughter or a member of elite Jewish society, but to a poor, possibly illiterate, seemingly unimportant Jewish girl in Nazareth named Mary. As we celebrate Advent this season and examine some characters of Christmas, there is none so unlikely to be at the center of this divine story as Mary. But, of course, Mary was not looking for prominence. Like every other Jewish peasant girl in Nazareth, she lived an ordinary life in an ordinary rural town with unassuming dreams.

From all indicators, her life would not be extraordinary. Instead, she would marry humbly, give birth to numerous poor children, never travel farther than a few miles from home, and one day die like thousands of others before her—a nobody in a nothing town in the middle of nowhere.

And yet it is Mary who receives the first announcement of the Christ child and is chosen by God to bear the Son of God. This tells us something about Mary—her simple faith and willingness to say yes to God—but it tells us more about Mary's God. We often think God works through extreme giftedness or among wealthy and well-connected people. But the Christmas story reminds us that God moves in among those societies usually left behind. The thread of redemption woven (rug) throughout Scripture winds its way through many small towns and seemingly little lives.

Nobody knew Mary's name. /Nobody but God, of course. And God knows your name. This is what it means that God is Immanuel. He visits the lowly of station and humble of heart. He dwells among the broken and contrite.

A Shout in the Dark

To fully understand Christmas, you must immerse yourself in Luke's setting. This visit by Gabriel to Mary was so improbable, so unexpected. The people of God were weary and oppressed. Once a mighty nation ruled by David and thriving under King Solomon, Israel was divided into two countries, often governed by wicked rulers who would plunder their people and lead them away from worshipping the true God. There would be sporadic revivals and periods of renewal. There was even a return to the homeland and the rebuilding of their city and temple. But never would they return to their former glory. All along, the prophets promised a time when David's kingdom would be restored, when a suffering servant-king would come and rescue them and lead them to peace and prosperity. But it became increasingly difficult to cling to these promises.

Meanwhile, it seemed that the world had moved on. Alexander the Great conquered these lands and established Greek culture and language. Then the Romans conquered the Greeks and, while keeping Greek culture, also instituted their pagan practices.

It also seemed that God had moved on. The prophets stopped speaking to His people. For four hundred years, it seemed as though God was silent. False claims of messiahs would come and go. Then, a revolt by a family named the Maccabees revived fresh hopes of renewal, only to eventually be crushed by Roman power. Now they were ruled by a ruthless and corrupt governor, Herod, installed by Caesar and distrusted by the people.

So when we open the New Testament and peek in on Mary, we find her among a people mostly cynical about the promises of God and ruled by the Romans. Divided by sectarian religious tribes (Pharisees, Sadducees, and loyalists to Rome), jaded by the corruption in Caesar’s palace and among the religious establishment in the temple. Yes, they believed the promises,/ because this is what Jewish people believe. But would the Messiah come in their time, and would He come to them and among them? Mostly, they lost hope.

And yet,/ amid this bleak midwinter,/ amid a dark world, /to a people who had lost heart,/ God broke in to announce the coming of the Son of God.

This was Gabriel’s second appearance in the Christmas narrative. Six months earlier, he had appeared to Zechariah, the husband of Mary's cousin, Elizabeth. This was to announce another unlikely conception, the baby who would be John the Baptizer, the last Old Testament prophet, and the one who would prepare the way for Jesus.

Gabriel's presence is significant. His only other appearance in Scripture occurs in the book of Daniel. Gabriel revealed God's plan for Israel's future destruction and the coming of an anointed one. That anointed one would now reside in the womb of this young peasant girl in Nazareth. Gabriel was God's special angelic messenger, sent to initiate the eternal plan of redemption. Finally, after four hundred years, a light dawned again on God's people.

“At Just the Right Time”

Mary was surprised, /but this appearance of angel Gabriel was not a moment too soon or too late. We often view the Christmas story as something that happened—and it did—but it is not a story that just happened. God's visit to a young teenage girl in a small town on the backside of the Roman Empire was planned long ago, before the world began in 1 Peter 1:20. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. The apostle Paul, once a skeptic of the Christmas narrative who had his unlikely encounter with God, told the people of Galatia that all of this happened in Galatians 4:4. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.

First promised when Adam and Eve ate the bitter fruit of disobedience, God's rescue of the human race weaves its way through Scripture (rug). God called a family and promised that through Abraham, the nations would be blessed (Gen. 12, 17). Then Abraham’s family became a nation, whose disobedience couldn't nullify God's promise to send a Messiah. And to David, Israel’s greatest King, God spoke of an everlasting kingdom with one of David’s heirs on the throne (2 Sam. 7).

And after David, when the people of God were in distress, scattered and rebellious, disobedient and disillusioned, God spoke a word through His prophets. A new kingdom would dawn, a new King would come, one better than David. And this King would be birthed from a young virgin Isaiah 7:13-14:

Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? 14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[a] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

The world may have been asleep. /Israel may have been unready. /But on that fateful day when God visited Mary, the eternal plan of redemption was on schedule. Gabriel said in Luke 1:31-33: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.

Reflect for a moment on the rich symbolism in these words, in this moment. Mary, a daughter of David about to marry a son of David, would bear the eternal son of David in her womb. But more than that, Mary, a daughter of Eve, would bear in her womb the second Adam, who would come to reverse the curse ushered on the human race and the cosmos by the disobedience of the first Adam.

How Can These Things Be?

Luke records Mary’s initial response to the presence of Gabriel as somewhat skeptical. This is a natural human response. God had not spoken to Israel verbally or through His prophets for four hundred years. I imagine we would be shaken as well. But the angel's words disturbed her more than anything (28). “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was a young unknown teenage girl in a small town. Perhaps she was devout and followed Jewish religious practice, but she certainly didn’t think she was anything special or worthy of an angelic visit. But again, the angel reassured her with these words (30): “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”

What does the angel mean here? Most of us interpret this to mean that God gave Mary a special calling as part of His plan of redemption. And this is true. And yet there was nothing in Mary that warranted this kind of special favor. And yet God visited her and chose her to bear His Christ child.

No. Mary knew—and we know too—that favor by God is not earned, nor is it deserved. Yet, just as God visited Mary, we who call ourselves Christians have been miraculously visited by God. So again, we don't deserve God’s favor, and yet like Mary, because of that baby's life, we can be called friends of God.

Mary was powerless

Mary’s first words were in the form of a question: “How will this be.” Sometimes we are tempted to confuse Mary’s inquiry with the sinful doubt we find in Zechariah, but they are different. Whereas Zechariah legitimately doubted God's ability to have Elizabeth (Mary's cousin) bear a son, Mary was curious in a good way. In one sense, Mary’s question was unique to her. She wondered how she could conceive a child, having not had sexual relations with Joseph or anyone else. But on another level, Mary's question is the question of the ages. Abraham wondered how God could make him the father of many nations. David wondered how God could continue his throne forever. And the prophets, while delivering words from the Lord, likely wondered how the coming king could be both a suffering servant and a conquering king, both human and divine. The truth is that Mary's question is also our question. These things cannot be done by human means. Christmas is not, therefore, a fable, but a miracle.

And this is precisely the answer of the angel. Yes, Mary, /this is impossible with mere human ability,/ but it is not impossible /for the God of the impossible. Mysteriously, the Holy Spirit of God would “overshadow” Mary's womb. This same language is often used in the Scriptures to indicate God’s glory, His shekinah presence. The God who had shrouded Himself in mystery, who could only be mediated through temples and tabernacles, would now visit the flesh of His people.

The incarnation is the work of God. And while only Mary was privileged to carry the Son of God, those of us who know God through faith in the Son have witnessed our own miracles. Nevertheless, our salvation is just as improbable as the birth of Christ. “How will this be” we should ask in wonder. How is it that a holy God could offer salvation to wretched sinners? How can new life be birthed in what was once dead?

Today people are scratching and clawing to find favor with God. They are looking for salvation in politics, in power, and medication. They even look at self-improvement, even religion. But this kind of work cannot be done with human effort. It’s impossible.

The only way to salvation is that the Spirit who overshadowed Mary now dwells in us by faith and is at work birthing new life in God’s new creation people.

 

What Mary Was Saying Yes To

At the angel's words, Mary had a simple response: “I am the Lord’s servant; may your word to me be fulfilled.” In other words, Mary said yes to God. And this was no simple yes. Let's consider what Mary was signing up for.

Mary was saying yes to bearing the shame of an unwed pregnancy at a time when this carried an incredible social stigma. Would her friends and family believe her claims to have been visited by the Holy Spirit? Would Joseph stay with her or put her away? We know the end of the story, but Mary does not.

Mary was saying yes to raising the Son of God. It’s hard enough to raise a fallen child, but imagine the burden of raising Jesus. Imagine her fear whenever He caught a cold or some illness, when He left home to play with friends, or when He picked up sharp tools in Joseph's carpentry shop. Sure, God would ensure that Jesus would only die according to plan, but for Mary, the responsibility of caring for this essential child would be staggering.

Mary was saying yes to a lifetime of roller-coaster emotions. She'd see Him feed multitudes, raise people from the dead, and walk on water. But she'd also see Him be mocked, jeered, and taunted, even at times, by His family and hometown friends.

Mary would have to hold Him close and ... would have to let Him go. She'd feed Him and clothe Him and rock Him to sleep. She'd see Him push away and grow into manhood. He'd rebuke her at a wedding.

Most of all, though, Mary knew what was coming. She may not have understood all that Calvary would bring, but she knew enough to dread that day her son was unjustly put on trial by His people, her people. She knew enough to feel the foreboding sense—prophesied by Simeon in the temple— that He'd be beaten senseless, hung on a tree, nails in His hands and a sword in His side. Every parent's nightmare is to see their children suffer, and Mary would live this in the most acutely and agonizing way possible.

So this is what Mary was saying yes to. And yet she said yes. Yes, I will do it, Lord. Mary may have trembled when she uttered those words. And yet she didn't have a choice. She gave the same answer all true believers give when visited by God. If this is true, if the baby in her womb was the Messiah who would save her and all who believed from their sins, then she had to say yes.

And today, that same question is being asked of people like you and me. What will you say to Jesus? Will you say yes? Will you, like Mary, turn your back on your dreams and say yes to the One who died for you?

Mary could only say yes because one day, her son would say yes to God some thirty years later. Mary could say yes to the hard call of discipleship because Jesus said yes to the cup of God’s wrath in the garden. Our yes is made possible because Jesus said yes to the Father. God would sustain Mary, /from a humble teenage girl /in a backwater town /to the mother of the Messiah/ to the pillar of the early church.

Mary's Song

Mary’s first response to the news of the angel was a simple yes. But after visiting her older cousin Elizabeth and sharing her news (perhaps the first person she told besides Joseph) and seeing in this godly mentor confirmation of her calling, Mary penned a song, a beautiful hymn that God’s people have sung for two thousand years.

The Magnificat is not a simple sentimental Christmas poem. It reads like the song of revolution (Luke 1:46-53): (Bulletin insert)

Mary’s Song

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has been mindful

of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

holy is his name.

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful

55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,

just as he promised our ancestors.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Mary didn’t know everything. Mary didn't understand all the angel told her. Like every other sinner, Mary was prone to doubt, worry, and fear. But Mary did cling to what she knew. The child inside her womb was no ordinary child.

He would bring “down rulers from their thrones” and scatter “those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.” This child would save His people, including Mary, from their sins. This child would reverse sin’s curse. This child would rule the nations.

Mary could look back through the pages of God's redemptive history, back to God’s promise to Eve and His covenant with Abraham, and see herself in that story. Mary could see the upside-down nature of God's kingdom, that it doesn’t wind its way first through princes and palaces, but among those humble enough to receive Jesus.

You may feel that your life is insignificant, from the middle of nowhere, from places it seems God has abandoned. But God knows your name. Others may reject you, and you may feel unspectacular, but if you are willing to say yes to God, you can know and be reborn by the King of kings.

Mary has a rags-to-riches story, not because Jesus made her famous but because she, like everyone who receives Jesus, was brought from death to life, from poverty of soul to the riches of heaven. This is not only Mary's journey, but the journey of everyone who encounters Jesus by faith. (bulletin insert)

Next week, for our character study, we will look heavenward and listen to “The Songs of Angels” So please read Luke 2:13-14 in preparation for next week.

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