The Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and bear a son. His name will be Immanuel.
I would love to spend time unpacking the implications of this prophecy for the original hearers, but that would take us from our goal this morning, which is to talk about the person of Mary, which is who this Messianic prophecy is about. Isaiah, 700 years before Jesus would be born, predicted his birth. Not only that, but he told us his name, “God with us.”
There are all kinds of thoughts a feelings about Mary as a person, which we will get into, but I want to think for a moment about the name we have, “God with us.” Names used to mean something. In Biblical times people chose names carefully, not because they were trendy or sounded cool, but because of what they meant. The child’s name would be Immanuel. The child’s name would not only be his name, but a representation of God’s physical return to earth. Since the days of Adam and Eve God had not walked the earth. He would appear in visions and dreams. Certainly Moses saw something as God moved passed him, but in a literal sense, God had not walked the earth. That would change.
God was coming here. God was coming to earth. God would be with us.
The virgin will conceive and bear a son.
There’s a wonderful discussion about the birth of John the Baptist in this chapter that we simply don’t have time to cover today, but I encourage you to read it. There are so many miraculous things that happen in the pages of scripture that sometimes we overlook some of them. Because the first chapter of Luke also deals with the birth of Jesus, I think we sometimes jump right over John, which is a mistake because the story of his birth is wonderful.
I was reading in a commentary while studying for this message and I was reminded that the Bible is always the story of God. Whether we’re in the Old Testament talking about the nation of Israel, or in the New Testament talking about the church, the story is always about God. We’ve been talking about the characters in the Christmas story. Whether it’s the shepherds in the fields, Joseph, or Mary, however, the story is still about God. With the shepherds it was how God announced the birth of his Son to regular people, foreshadowing the people with whom Jesus would spend most of his time. Last week with Joseph we mentioned how God’s timing is impeccable. He did things at exactly the right time in order to protect the infant Jesus and his family.
With Mary it’s similar. The story is about Jesus. The song says, “God sent his Son, they called him Jesus. He came to love, heal, and forgive.” God sent his Son. Mary was the vessel chosen by God to bring Immanuel into the world.
Luke says that the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth. Wouldn’t that have been a cool job? In the previous two stories, we were simply told that an angel came. Here we have the angel’s name. I can’t possibly understand heavenly things and thinking about angels makes my head hurt because they are so other-worldly, but wouldn’t it have been cool to get that job?
“I want you to go to Nazareth in Galilee. Find a young girl named Mary. She’s betrothed to a man named Joseph. She’s a virgin. Tell her that she’s going to give birth to my Son, Jesus.”
When Gabriel reached Mary, I imagine he could barely contain himself. We’ve already seen the kind of fear angels inspire, think about an excited angel. If you notice in scripture, he didn’t start with the words “Fear not.” I wonder if he was too excited and forgot. Instead he just shows up and begins with “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
Max Lucado wrote a fictional account of Christmas called “Cosmic Christmas.” In this short book he attempts to capture the atmosphere that must have been felt in Heaven and behind the scenes in the spiritual realm while the birth of Jesus took place. We’re going to deal with some of this next week, so I don’t want to get too deep, but concerning Mary, can you imagine the esteem in which Gabriel held her? She was going to give birth to the Savior of the world! “Greetings, O favored one!” She was the one.
It was at this point that Gabriel noticed she was a bit troubled. Either she looked confused or she was cowering in a corner. Whatever the situation, though, Gabriel noticed and then said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”
Then she spoke up and said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
Last week when talking about Joseph, we mentioned how scripture stated that he was an honorable man. It seems that when God chooses to use a person, he judges their character. Were they perfect people? By no means. Were they sinful? Of course. But God used them because of their character. Joseph was an honorable, faithful man. Mary was innocent and pure. Beyond that, though, she was humble. In verse 35 we hear the angel tell her how this miraculous conception would take place. God would make it happen.
There is a beautiful juxtaposition of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. They were both miraculous. I think that’s why Luke chose to write about both in this one chapter. John’s mother and father were old. They had given up on the opportunity to have children. Elizabeth was considered barren. But God intervened. It was so shocking that Zechariah, her husband, questioned the angel who told him. Because of his lack of faith, he was unable to speak until the child was born.
It seems that the Bible is about God and his work among us. God intervened and a child was born to Elizabeth. His name was John. He came to prepare the way for Jesus. He came to call the nation of Israel to repentance so they might be able to accept their Savior for who he was. God intervened.
Isn’t that the way he always does things? God intervenes. Perhaps things aren’t going well and then something miraculous happens that makes things better. Perhaps someone is living life within their own power and something tragic happens to draw them back to God. God intervenes.
An old woman became pregnant, but as shocking and unexpected as that was, it was at least plausible. She had a husband. It was unexpected and shocking, but sometimes strange things like that happen. What was less likely, however, was that a virgin would become pregnant. In fact, it couldn’t happen. There was no way. There are some natural laws that always work, after all. A virgin can’t become pregnant. It’s not possible. Unless God intervenes.
A virgin was going to become pregnant. What was unthinkable would happen, but no one was going to believe it. It wasn’t going to be understood and like so many things that people can’t understand, it was going to be explained away. Firstly it was going to be explained away by Joseph. He was going to make the assumption that everyone else would and, because he was honorable, was simply going to not marry her. He was going to put her away quietly, but not draw any undue attention to her.
It was going to be misunderstood by her parents, who would be ashamed because their daughter was going to be caught pregnant out of wedlock. I’m not a parent, but I’ve worked with enough parents to know that you never think it’s going to be your child. It’s not going to be your child that gets caught with drugs. It’s not going to be your child that’s pregnant or the father of some girl’s child. It’s not going to be your child. For Mary’s parents, it was their child. They didn’t understand.
It was going to be explained away by neighbors and friends. Of course they knew what happened. Maybe they thought Mary wouldn’t want to marry Joseph so she rebelled. She got back at him and her parents before they were married so she wouldn’t have to marry him. She refused to accept societal norms and just had to be her own person. Teenagers always think they know best, after all. Society wasn’t going to understand. Then, when Mary ran off to her relative, Elizabeth, they all knew why.
Do you ever wonder what went through Mary’s mind at this point? She was young, don’t forget. It was like it had just been yesterday that she had been playing with her friends. She probably didn’t plan her life this way. Like most little girls, perhaps she imagined the man she would marry. Maybe she thought about who he would be, what kind of life they would have together. It’s safe to assume she never imagined this.
I wonder what went through Mary’s mind. This was a lot to take in. It’s sometimes hard to grasp context and length of conversations in scripture sometimes. This is 13 verses. It doesn’t really take us that long to read it. I wonder if the conversation was just a couple of minutes long or if it took a while. Just thinking about the amount of information Mary had to process is staggering. I wonder what she thought about. Her response in verse 38, though, is what is amazing.
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
This past Tuesday night, after our small group, it was discovered that we have a Kinect for the Xbox. This is an attachment that uses infrared and photographic technology to allow you to use your body as a controller. You don’t have to hold anything, you simply move and the sensors pick up your movement and translate that onto the screen. It’s really quite amazing.
Anyway, this was discovered and it was suggested that it might be fun to play. One of the games we bought to play was a dancing game. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “of course you bought a dance game.” When you think about me, I know you think, “He’s got moves.” Well I don’t. I know that’s shocking to you, but I am not a dancer. No, the dancer in the family is Amanda. She’s always loved to dance and tries hard to make me a dancer, so we bought this game. I like competition, so she thinks that if she can get me to compete with her, maybe I’ll like to dance. Maybe so.
So we put in the game. It turns out that there’s a song that Trent Cayce knew quite well. He challenged Luke to a dance battle, but Luke didn’t know that Trent knew the dance. I promise there’s a point to this story. Unbeknown to Luke, Trent is prepared for the dance battle. He went first. We all watched mesmerized at Trent’s graceful moves. He nailed the dance. It was a sight to behold. Then Luke’s turn came up. In light of the knowledge he now had, he didn’t want to compete anymore. Why? He didn’t want to be embarrassed by not being able to do the dance like Trent.
Now this is a funny story with little meaning in the scope of human life, but I think it illustrates a universal truth about us as people. We don’t like to be embarrassed. We don’t like to be thought less of. We don’t like to be made fun of. If a dance battle was enough for Luke to back down, what does that say about Mary? I’m not bringing this up at all to make fun of Luke. I certainly would not have wanted to compete against Trent in a dance battle, maybe pick-up sticks or something, but definitely not a dance battle.
When I think about Mary, though, I marvel at her humble acceptance of what God was doing in her. Perhaps we can imagine the scorn she faced. Perhaps we can imagine the scandal. But unlike situations we can imagine, none of this was her fault. None of it was even true. Beyond thinking of herself as a victim, however, she told Gabriel, “let it be as you say.” She accepted the scorn. She accepted the scandal.
How often do we simply accept life? Last week we mentioned how life doesn’t always look the way we expect it to. Things do always work out like we think they will. We can either bemoan the fact the life is hard or we can embrace life for what it is and strive to be faithful with whatever we’re given. Is life fair? Of course not. Life isn’t remotely fair. One of my dad’s favorite things to say to us when we thought something wasn’t fair was “into every rain a little life must fall.” My dad is clever like that. We can sit in a corner, close our eyes, plug our ears and say “go away, world, go away, world” or we can stand up and continue to be faithful. Mary had no reason to be pregnant. She was a virgin. The scorn and the scandal weren’t her fault, but she accepted them because God had a bigger plan. She trusted that she really was favored by God, that God really would use her. I think this is why God chose to use her in the first place, because she was humble.
I want to close this morning with this passage in Galatians. Paul, speaking of being heirs of God, uses the birth of Jesus to illustrate his point. Again, this brings us to the timing of God. Verse 4 says “when the fullness of time had come.” God does things when he’s ready to do them. As a former music minister in traditional churches, I used to direct choirs. There was a Christmas musical we did that had a song called “At the Right Time.” The first verse was “at the time of God’s own choosing, he came. When we the fight were losing, he came. Long before we knew him, when we were lost in sin; at the right time, at the best time, he came.”
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” This son was not born because of anything man did. Instead it was born because God intervened in the life of a humble girl.
My question for you today is this: when God intervenes in your life, what it your response? When God shows up in unexpected ways, what do you do? I’m afraid that sometimes we cry that life isn’t fair. I’m afraid that sometimes we fight what God is trying to do. I’m afraid that sometimes we run from God. I’m afraid that sometimes we don’t respond very well.
Mary’s life didn’t go like she expected, but it was the right time. Everything was right in that moment. She was betrothed to an honorable man. A tyrannical government was going to call for a census that would draw them to the right city. A madman was going to drive them to Egypt. As much as was wrong with that moment, everything was right.
The characters in the story sometimes get the most credit, and truly these characters were special. The shepherds were special precisely because they were not special. Joseph was an honorable man. Mary was humble. The truly remarkable one here, though, was God. It was the right time. He chose the right people. Immanuel would come. God would once again be with us. His name would be Jesus because he would save the people from their sins.
As much as it didn’t make sense, it was the perfect time. It is God’s story, after all. He gets to tell it.