Another Christmas will soon be upon us and our routine is pretty much the same, though last night we did do things a little differently. But most things are the same. How many of us have put out the same Christmas decorations as last year, and the year before? Christmas dinner may be the same. Our hymn selections are the same.
We can’t help being creatures of habit and we run the risk of celebrating Christmas as if it were ordinary. We’ve done the ‘Christmas thing’ so many times before we no longer think deeply about its meaning and its relevance for our lives.
So maybe it is a good thing to get a pin and prick ourselves, and shock ourselves into realizing again that the Christmas story is not ordinary. There is nothing like it. It should astonish us; it is a one-of-a-kind story.
It is so unique, so special, so powerful, that it requires angels at seemingly every turn to announce what is about to take place. Zacharias the priest is in the temple for the burning of incense when the angel Gabriel appears to him. Do you remember Zacharias’ response? It was no ordinary encounter. He was terrified. The shepherds in the field were terrified. The whole experience was nothing short of overwhelming for those who experienced it.
Gabriel’s next appearance is to announce the impending birth of the Messiah, and again we are surprised. The announcement comes in an unlikely context, to an unlikely recipient, by an unlikely means.
Please read Luke 1:26- 27. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
The reference to “the sixth month” is likely a reference to the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, which is described, in the preceding verses.
The reference to “Nazareth” sounds ordinary enough to us today, but if we were 1st Century Jews, it would have been shocking and scandalous. The common expectation was that Messiah would be from Judea, which was, ‘the heartland of God’s work through the centuries’. Instead, God chose the city of Nazareth, described as ‘a shoddy, corrupt halfway stop between the two port cities of Tyre and Sidon, (and) overrun by Gentiles and Roman soldiers’. Nathaniel said in John’s Gospel, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46).
And we must not forget that Mary was an unlikely recipient of this grand announcement. It would appear from her circumstances, she was as a young peasant girl, probably a young teenager.
Martin Luther, commenting on God’s choice of Mary, remarked, “Gabriel might have gone to Jerusalem and picked Caiaphas’s daughter, who was fair, rich, clad in gold embroidered raiment and attended by a group of maids in waiting. But (instead) God preferred (to choose) a lowly maid from a (despised) town.”
Two thousand years ago, an unlikely teenager from an unlikely town experienced the effects of the first Christmas.
Gabriel greets Mary, in V.28 – saying, “Hail, favoured one! The Lord is with you“. Now, it is interesting, of all the angelic appearances at the first Christmas, Mary is the one person not portrayed as being terrified. Luke writes she was “greatly troubled” but not necessarily by seeing an angel, but more by what the angel said to her. As V.29 “(she) kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be” (1:29).
So Gabriel attempts to put Mary’s mind at ease – this is what he says in V.30. “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end” (1:30-33).
The child promised to Mary is no ordinary child. Gabriel promises that the child “will be great“(1:32). How great is great? Before I was a Christian, I remember being asked – “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” and my answer was, “I believe He was the greatest person who ever lived.” That was my answer as a non-Christian. I felt convinced that if the international dating system was based on Jesus birth, He had to be the greatest Person who ever lived. But I was just so far off the mark. “He will be great”, said Gabriel, – Why? Because He “will be called the Son of the Most High “(1:32).
We are not merely celebrating the birthday of a great Person, or a great prophet or a good moral teacher. The Son of the Most High God is about to enter human history. The Eternal Son of God, who exists outside time & space, is about to enter into time & space, and He is going to do it in a most unexpected way: Jesus, God’s Son, will be conceived in a virgin’s womb.
We cannot separate the virgin birth from our belief that Jesus is the Son of God. There are some who do, but they are fools, and they are kidding themselves. The words of Gabriel do not give us that option.
Mary responds to Gabriel’s question in V.34, by asking, “How shall this be, since I am a virgin?” This question is quite different to Zacharias’ question. She is not disbelieving, she just wants more information. It’s a question of biology.
Gabriel in effect says, that God who created biology, is simply going to amend the process. He says in V.35 “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“.
We want to emphasize that Jesus is fully God, but we don’t want to forget that Jesus was also fully human. The angel says to Mary, “you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son.” It is significant, that the Son of God was conceived. Conception took place. There was no sexuality involved, as some perverted and sick people have asserted, that God committed fornication or rape. Conception took place without the normal biological laws, just as Jesus walked on water, without the normal gravitational laws. And the result was, Jesus was conceived, and eventually born.
Has it occurred to us, that Jesus did not have to come to us this way? The Son of God could have simply appeared on earth, as He did on many previous occasions in the Old Testament where He appeared in human form as “the angel of the Lord”. There was no human mother involved, and no human birth, yet He manifested His presence. The difference was, He was manifested as an angel, not as a human.
But at the first Christmas, Jesus is manifested as a human. He is conceived and born as a true human person. He does not cease to be God, but He is also fully human. He was born as humans are born—through the womb and birth canal of a human woman. The angel said, “You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son“.
The Bible says, “God was manifest in the flesh” and that is what we celebrate at Christmas. As the author of Hebrews describes Him, “(Jesus) is the brightness of God’s glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power.“(Heb. 1:3).
Because this is true, and Jesus is fully God, we should do more than celebrate His birth. We must worship Him. We must turn to Him as our Saviour from sin. And we must follow Him daily as the Lord of all things. Christmas is a time when we need to remind ourselves we need to submit ourselves to Jesus.
For us, it means we obey Him, by being content. We sing in that chorus – “I’ve quit my struggles, contentment at last, Jesus is Lord of all.” Have you ever thought of contentment, as an act of obedience? It is an act of worship. There are so many people who celebrate God’s love in giving His Son, that they don’t think more about how to respond to that love.
Mary’s response to the message of the gift of God’s Son, was submission and contentment. V.38. “May it be done to me according to your word”.
Have you ever said, and can you say today, ‘Lord Jesus, I am Yours. May it be done to me as You have said’?
Mary’s faith led to tremendous blessing. And we should want that for ourselves and for our family. We need not wait for an angel’s appearance. We have the testimony of God Himself, given in the Person of Jesus His Son. It is preserved in His sacred Book. The Word of God, is as precious as Christ Himself. If we don’t see it that way, I pray God will open our eyes. One of Jesus’ names is “The Word” – “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
Christmas should remind us, Mary’s words of faith should remind us, to begin each day praying, ‘Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.’ Does that scare you, to pray such a thing? The fact is, it is going to be this way, whether we like it or not. The difference is, to some it will be an act of worship and adoration. It will be the obedience of contentment. To others it will be resentment & forced submission & discontentment.
Just as on the last day – “every knee shall bow.” Every knee. Every…! Not one omission. Some will bow in worship and adoration, and others will bow in terror.
So Christmas has a message. The message is, – bow to the King. Submit to His purpose for you. Don’t be afraid to say as Mary said, “May it be done to me according to your word”.
Recognize that God has called you to fulfill His purpose in you. Give yourself over to that purpose. Trust Him to work it out in His time. Indeed, Christmas is our reminder that God has a plan—He has a good and perfect plan for each of His children. May it be done to us according to what God has said in Christ. Amen.