Text: Luke 1:26-38
Introduction: According to a legend, Satan and his demons were having a Christmas party. As the demonic guests were leaving, one grinned and said to his liege, “Merry Christmas your majesty.” At that Satan replied with a growl, “Yes, and keep it merry. If they ever get serious about it, we’ll all be in trouble.” I know that you are here this morning, because you’re serious about Christmas. You understand that it is not primarily about the presents under the tree, but about the birth of the Son of God in a small and little-known village called Bethlehem. This morning at the start of Advent Season in which we celebrate the 1st coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we’re going to consider what it must have looked like to some of the key characters in the Christmas story. We’ll start by considering Mary, the mother of Jesus. Let’s see what the Scriptures tell us about this special woman.
Mary is only mentioned five times outside of those passages related to the birth of our Lord (See John 2; Matthew 12; Mark 3; John 19; Acts 1). While much has been attributed to her throughout the ages, the Bible limits us to relatively few observations about her.
- She was a peasant woman (Luke 1:48 — …for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed). Most commentators take this to be referring to her humble rank in society. It’s very likely she was from a poor family.
- She came from a small, seemingly inconsequential town (Luke 1:26-27 — In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary). And it was Nathanael, one of Jesus’ disciples who said of it, “Can anything good from Nazareth?” This statement probably reflects local rivalry between villages, and from John’s perspective, demonstrates the humility of Christ that He would be known as Jesus of Nazareth.
- She was a virgin. The word ‘parthenos’ meant ‘unmarried woman’ and carried with it the idea that she had never been involved in a sexual relationship before, which Mary affirms in Luke 1:31-34. The angel said to her, “You will conceive and bear a son.” Mary responded, “How can this be since I am a virgin?”
- She was betrothed to Joseph (See Luke 1:27). Betrothal was a formal and legally binding arrangement between a man and a woman that were intended to be married. It could only be broken by a legal procedure and the issuance of a certificate of divorce.
Here are a few teachings that have been circulated about Mary that are not found in the Bible:
- She was born without sin and preserved that way throughout her life. On December 8, 1854 Pope Pius XII declared that Mary was sinless, unlike the rest of humanity with the exception of her son. RESPONSE: Romans 3:23 says we’ve all sinned, including Mary. She even spoke of her need for a Savior in Luke 1:46-47.
- She never died. This claim was made by Pope Pius XII in 1950. RESPONSE: The wages of sin is death — Romans 6:23.
- She intercedes for believers. RESPONSE: Jesus alone is the mediator between God and man (See 1 Timothy 2:5). That’s why we pray in His name. It’s also reflected in the fact that He intercedes for believers (Romans 8:34 — Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us).
- She is an eternal virgin. RESPONSE: The Bible tells us that she was the mother of several other children in Matthew 13:55-56 — Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?
While Mary was not what many have claimed her to be, she was a young, godly Jewish woman that was chosen by God for His purposes. Now let’s consider three attributes this young teenager possessed that made her so useful to the Lord on the first Christmas.
- Mary walked by FAITH. Luke 1:26-37 records a conversation the angel Gabriel had with Mary while she was betrothed to Joseph. He began by saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” The word for “favored” is taken from the Greek word for “grace.” It means unmerited blessing. Gabriel was telling Mary that she was graced/blessed by God for a very special purpose. Out of all the women in the world at that time, she had been chosen by Him to play a central role in bringing salvation to man. What an honor! Who wouldn’t want to be the mother of the Christ child? Certainly she must have jumped at the opportunity. After all, how much faith does it take to receive such a great blessing from God? But let’s think about it from her perspective for a moment. Submitting to the Lord was not without its challenges.
- First, she had to trust God that she would not be put to death for her pregnancy. Twice Gabriel used the word “favor” to describe the blessing she was about to receive (1:27 & 1:30). And as we consider it from our point of view, it really was God’s grace. Mary was chosen to be the one to carry in her womb the Son of the Most High God. But did her family and friends. Did they see it the same way? Remember for a woman betrothed to one man to be found pregnant by another was an offense punishable by death according to Jewish Law (See Deuteronomy 22:23-24). In the eyes of those who would doubt her claim of having received this announcement from Gabriel, she was not going to be honored, but condemned as a promiscuous woman. When the angel spoke, his words were not going to maker her life easier, but much harder as she had to trust that God would preserve her life. This would require real faith that God was working out His plan for His purposes. Fortunately, when we read the first part of what has become known as the Magnificat, we see that Mary did trust His sovereign plan (Luke 1:46-47 — And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior).
- Second, she had to trust that God was able to make it happen (Luke1:34-35 — And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “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). Note Mary’s question again. “How will this be,” she asked, “since I am a virgin.” Obviously, her inquiry was somewhat different than the one that Zechariah, the priest, asked when the same angel announced that his wife would give birth to the forerunner of the Christ. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Can you see the subtle yet importance difference between the two answers? Whereas Zechariah questioned if God could do what He promised, Mary only questioned how He would do it. For doubting, God took away Zechariah’s speech until after his son was born. Mary, on the other hand, merely wondered what path the Lord would take to bring everything about since she was a virgin. Talk about a woman of faith!
- Mary relinquished her FREEDOM (Luke 1:38 — And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her). This young girl was forfeiting any right she might have had to choose the kind of life she wanted for herself. From this point on, her will was only to do God’s will. Now think about some of the implications of this.
- She had no choice about what was to happen to her. The word that she uses to describe herself means slave or bondservant. It can be used of someone who voluntarily becomes the servant of another or of someone who is drafted into slavery. In this case, Mary didn’t volunteer for the position of being mother of the Messiah. She was chosen by God as part of His divine plan and, as far as I can tell, had no say in the matter. She was part of the fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 7:14 — Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. God never consulted with her about it, or presented any other options. He chose her and that was that.
- Her only choice was how she would respond. Once she heard the words of the angel Gabriel Mary chose to submit. As a matter of fact, she made it clear that she fully supported what God was going to do. “I am the Lord’ servant. May it be to me as you have said,” she responded. With these words, Mary was acknowledging her submission to God’s purpose and her role in achieving it. Illustration: Like He did with Mary, God often raises people up for duties that we would not choose for ourselves. This was true of William Wilberforce. The movie Amazing Grace details his efforts to end the British Transatlantic slave trade during his tenure in Parliament in the 19th century. One scene depicts a dinner party held in Wilberforce’s home, at which a group has gathered in an attempt to convince William to take up the challenge of political activism against the slave trade. Wilberforce asks, “ Equiano, what business brings you to London?” “My business is you, Mr. Wilberforce,” he replies. “What?” Wilberforce responds. “You wish to discuss something with me?” “No,” Equiano replies. “We do not want to talk, because we hear that you are a man that doesn’t believe what he hears until he sees it with his own eyes.” Thomas Clarkson then clears the table in front of him, rises, and unpacks irons and chains from a duffle bag. Holding the chains, Clarkson says, “These are for the legs; these for the arms. This is for the neck. Works like this: when the slaves leave port in Africa, they’re locked in a spot 4 feet by 18 inches. They have no sanitation, very little food, stagnant water. Their waste and blood fills the hole within three days and is never emptied. These irons and chains are to keep them from throwing themselves overboard.” Now Equiano, a former slave, speaks. “The chains are not unlocked until they reach the plantations in Jamaica. Around half of the slaves are dead. In the market, they stuff knotted rope up the anuses of those who are sick to disguise the dysentery. When you reach the plantation, they put irons to the fire, (Equiano opens his shirt to reveal a branding) and do this, to let you know that you no longer belong to God but to a man.” “Mr. Wilberforce,” Clarkson asks, “we understand your problems choosing whether to do the work of a man of God, or the work of a political activist.” To which Hannah More responds, “We humbly suggest that you can do both.” Knowing that this was the reason that God had put him on the earth, Wilberforce took up the cause at great personal expense to himself. Mary, the teenager from Nazareth betrothed to a common carpenter, was no different. When called upon by God to serve the cause of His Kingdom, she never hesitated though it cost her the freedom to choose her own path in life.
- Mary offered up her FUTURE HAPPINESS. In Luke 2:22ff we read about a man named Simeon who was described as a devout man waiting for the consolation of Israel. He was promised by God that he would not die without seeing the Lord’s anointed. When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus at the temple for purification, the Holy Spirit revealed to hm that the child he held in his arms was the one! That’s when he spoke some difficult words to Mary: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” What did he mean when he said this last part – a sword will pierce your own soul too! Simeon was prophesying that because Mary was the mother of Jesus, her life would contain great pain. Did this play out the way he said it would? Yes
- Her soul was pierced when Jesus chose His Heavenly Father over Joseph and her. Luke 2:41-50 records that as a twelve-year-old, Jesus and his family went to Jerusalem for Passover. When it was over, his family left but Jesus remained at the temple sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions. When his parents realized He was missing, they returned and searched until they found him. I’m sure they were worried and perplexed that Jesus would choose to remain in Jerusalem while they headed home. How did Jesus respond? “Why are you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” His point was that they should have known where to look for Him. All they had to do was go to His Father’s House. In effect, Jesus was saying He was where He belonged.
- Her soul was pierced when Jesus left home to begin his ministry, never to return again. After the people of Nazareth threatened to throw him off a cliff, Jesus passed through the crowd and went on His way. No where in the gospels does it record that He ever went home after that. In fact, He said of Himself, “The Son of Man has no place to lay His head” in Luke 9:58.
- Her soul was pierced when Jesus mildly rebuked her at a wedding in Cana (John 2:3-4 — When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come”). Many people are uncomfortable with the language Jesus uses her when speaking to His mother. It was it way of declaring that she was not able to manipulate or persuade Jesus to perform her agenda. This must have hurt her feelings as I’m sure it would my own mother had I said something similar to her.
- Her soul was pierced when Jesus denied her any privilege from being His mother (Mark 3:31-35 — And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother). Mary thought her now famous son would drop anything to be with His mother, but Jesus wanted her and everyone else to know that the family of God was more important to Him than His earthly family. More pain!
- Her soul was pierced when Jesus suffered and died on the cross (John 19:25-27 — …but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home). Her perfect son was about to die and all she could do was stand by and watch it happen. I cannot imagine the pain she must have felt.
Application: What makes Mary’s story so remarkable is not that she was somehow very different from us, but that she was so much like every one of us. She was a normal human being who simply chose to trust God and forfeit her freedom and at least some of her happiness along the way, so long as His purpose was accomplished.
- Will you offer Christ your faith? We all must learn to trust Him to work in ways that are for the ultimate good, though they may not at first glance seem that way to us.
- Will you offer Christ your freedom? Knowing that His purposes will always be accomplished, I encourage you to submit to His will as it is revealed to you.
- Will you offer Christ your happiness? The goal of the Christian life is not happiness. It is eternal significance. Mary gave up the former so as to help bring about the latter. So, should we.
Conclusion: A fascinating study was conducted by Bernard Rimland, director of the Institute for Child Behavior Research. He found that ‘the happiest people are those who serve others.’ Each person involved in the study was asked to list ten people he knew best and to label them as happy or not happy. Then they were to go through the list again and label each one as selfish or unselfish using the following definition of selfishness: a stable tendency to devote one’s time and resources to one’s own interests and welfare—an unwillingness to inconvenience one’s self for others. In categorizing the results, Rimland found that all of the people labeled happy were also labeled unselfish. He wrote that those “whose activities are devoted to bringing themselves happiness…are far less likely to be happy than those whose efforts are devoted to making others happy.” Mary had to cast aside her own pursuit of happiness in order to serve God and bring blessing to others in being the mother of the Christ-child. Only later did she experience happiness as she witnessed the resurrection of her beloved son (See Acts 1:14).