(A) A troubling Christmas announcement: Mary struggles and responds by faith (v.26-38)
We begin this study with an appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary (v.26). We are told that he appears to her "in the sixth month". What does this refer to? If we read the verses before, we realise that it is linked to Elizabeth's pregnancy which was announced before (and we covered last week!). Luke picks up the story where Elizabeth is now fairly advanced in her pregnancy. Furthermore, we are not only told the time, but also the place ("city of Galilee named Nazareth", v.26b), the relational frame ("to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David", v.27).
Mary and Gabriel have 3 exchanges in the subsequent verses (v.28-38). What does Gabriel announce, and what is Mary's response each time?
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (v.28)
Gabriel calls her the favored one, and says that the Lord's presence is with her. Here, "the Lord" is not the covenantal name of Yahweh, but is Adonai.
|"But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. " (v.29)|
How did Mary react? Did she accept everything stoically? The word "but" shows us that it was not so. The words of the angel stressed her out, alarmed and confused her. She did not understand why Adonai was with her and what this all meant.
She was terrified and troubled, and we realise this is how the Bible characters responded to revelations from God and encounters with God. We realise that when God comes into our lives and does something, it should shock and confuse and trouble us! It should never be routine. Bible characters show us that no one normally and naturally has faith.
| “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. 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 jhis father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (v.30-33)|
The angel knows that she is terrified, and offers her words of comfort. He reassures her that she has "found favour with God", is one that is incredibly blessed and loved by this great God. And she is a part of His great plans. Her son, to be named "Jesus", literally means "Yahweh saves".
Do you see that the message of God that terrifies, also comforts! Do these words of comfort, the familiar "Do not be afraid" remind us of someone? Jesus, the baby boy that Mary bears! This is the voice of Jesus Christ again and again, to his disciples during His ministry, after His resurrection, and to us today.
| “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v.34)|
And to this great revelation, Mary had a simple question of confusion. It is not difficult to see why. The angel's revelation of God's plans was anything by ordinary. Not only was she to bear a son, but the way this son was described naturally confused and overwhelmed her! Do you see how real Mary is? More than being pleased that God has given her such a great task, Mary also struggled to understand how it was that she was the one that would play a part in all that God has ever promised and said. God was using her to fulfill His promises and plans for the world. How could this be?
| “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. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (v.35-37)|
The angel answers her question telling her that it is possible because the Holy Spirit is at work. The Holy Spirit will work completely ("overshadow"), and her child will be called "holy". This human child will also be completely God, for holiness is an adjective that is reserved for God and completely encompasses the unique Godness of God. In fact, her son will be the "Son of God".
At the end of these stunning revelations, the angel also tells her about Elizabeth. Elizabeth was an example and testimony of what God could do! This was a God that could do the seemingly impossible of making the barren conceive. Mary was given something that she could check and confirm and be assured by.
|“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (v.38)|
Mary was submissive, yet it is unsurprising if we realise that she is tentative too. In the next verse, we read of how Mary arose and went out to visit Elizabeth, probably to check out the truth of what was told her.
Mary teaches us so many things about faith. In her life, and in this exchange, we realise that having faith is in response to God's revelation, and though we struggle (and we will!) to believe it, we still do try to believe. This means that faith has to be grounded in something that God has said. Faith is never irrational and blind, and is always rooted in what God says first. What does this mean for the way we think about faith? We can never quite "have faith" but rather, we exercise faith and respond by betting and risking our lives on what God has said and revealed through His Son, recorded for us in His word, even if it runs against the logic of the world.
Do you know God and His Word well enough to exercise this kind faith? Mary shows us that to be a Christian is to respond to troubling announcements from God. The Christmas announcement exhorts us to live according to His Word, even if circumstances run contrary, and even if it is confusing.
(B) A joyful Christmas announcement: God’s word is proven true (v.39-45)
Mary goes to pay Elizabeth a visit (v.39-40). We read of the joy of baby John in his mother's womb ("baby leaped in her womb", v.41) and Elizabeth's joy at seeing Mary, the ""mother of my Lord" (v.43), words she uttered when filled with the Spirit. Hear Elizabeth's joy at seeing Mary (v.42-45). This was more than just great happiness at meeting a relative. Joy inexpressible emanated from her words, because she saw how God's Word is so true, and so much at work.
Elizabeth's words help us to see that when God keeps his promises, the people who cling to those promises are filled with such great joy. Joy inexpressible is the result of a faith that perseveres. If we pause and consider for a moment, if we are His people, do we live and die on the basis of God's promises? Does God's promises shape our lives, and influence the way we use our time, our money, our relationships etc? What does it mean to live and die by Scripture?
(C) A Christmas song of faith: faith that leads to joy and worship (v.46-56)
Mary also responds in joy, and sings her song of praise, commonly referred to as the Magnificat. Structurally, her song consists of an an action [expressed in parallelism] based on what God has done for her and what God has done for His people.
In verses 46-49, Mary thinks about her personal life situation. Her soul magnifies the Lord because He has looked upon her and done great things for her. Who was she that he mighty and great One would do great things for a mere lowly servant and include her in His great plans? In verses 50-55, she also looks at what He has done for His people. She remembers His spoken word all the way from Gen 12 and Gen 15, and did great things for His people. He shows strength, but is also a personal God, providing for the personal needs of His people. This is a God that also reverses the natural order of things, choosing to work with seemingly weak or insignificant things in life (like Mary a young girl, Elizabeth a barren woman), and now she believes that this God will work in faithfulness to restore and save Israel.
Mary's Magnificat is all about God's faithfulness. She praises this God that has come to the lowly, the broken, and the forgotten, and He promises to fix everything. He comes to a broken world, a world that is so against Him and He comes to restore this world. Mary sees these, and that's why she can sing with such adoration and joy!
Verse 56 tells us that she stays for John's birth, to see the fulfilment of this promise made to her cousin and to partake of their joy.
But is that it? Soon, we'll learn about the circumstances surrounding the birth of her baby. Undoubtedly she will have the joy of any new mother. Yet, we also know that her special baby also had a special task -- He was born to die. Mary did you know that this was the way that He would save the world and bring about all the promises? Years later, John 19:12-25 tells us that she was there, and she witnessed Jesus dying on the cross. On that cross, despite whatever crushing pain and heartbreak, she encountered and saw Love displayed. he saw her Savior's love. There, a mother's love ended, and the love of a disciple began.
The Christmas story is one of great joy, because it did not merely end with the birth of a baby, but led to the cross. John would prepare the way for Jesus, and He would be led to the cross, so that Mary and the nation, and us could be saved, and we can sing a true song of great joy. Today,
do we live in the light of this joy, and great hope? He calls us today to have the same faith as His mother, even when everything else in this world runs so, so contrary to what He has said. And when we do so, He promises great, unshakeable joy in Him alone.
"And that is what Christmas has become for so many: a joy mirage, or perhaps a joy fantasy... If we want our joy voids filled, we must look less at Christmas and more through Christmas to where indestructible, unspeakable joy really is. "