Advent Angel Sighting #3

Please read Luke 1:26-38 in your Bible.

Advent Angel Sightings 2_final (1)

 (Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

In March of this year it was announced that a statue titled “The Virgin and Laughing Child” is actually a work of Leonardo Da Vinci.  It is said that he created the work in 1472, when he was 19 or 20 years old.

The statue depicts a woman holding a young child whose face bears an obvious expression of delight.  Religious art scholar Diane Apostolos-Cappadonna sees the charming sculpture as an expression of Da Vinci’s Christian faith.  She concluded the article, “Simply put, Leonardo illustrated how Jesus’ humanity came from his mother and his divinity from God.”

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/what-leonardos-depiction-of-virgin-mary-and-jesus-tells-us-about-his-religious-beliefs/

CONTEXT: Gabriel’s appearance to Mary followed his appearance to Zechariah six months earlier.  While the two accounts have many similarities, we will focus on the aspects of Mary’s account that are unique.  In the process we will continue to learn about angels and also appreciate the very positive example Mary has set for us in regard to our own obedience to God.

Mary had a faithful response to God’s message.

  1. Mary’s unique situation.

Of the six birth announcements delivered by angels, Mary and the unnamed mother of Samson (Judges 13) are the only women to receive one.  John Nolland wrote that while this section is similar to the other five birth announcements, it is also similar three passages where God called Moses, Gideon, and Jeremiah to do special things.  Mary is being told a lot more than “Congratulations!  You’re having a baby!”  After all, her child would be the greatest human being ever born.

Unlike the men, Mary was not afraid at the angel’s appearance, but was GREATLY TROUBLED by his words (29).  She must have realized in an instant that normally a man required to make a baby: she was troubled to think who this man might be and how this would affect her betrothal to Joseph.

Mary alone was said to have FOUND FAVOR WITH GOD (30).  While this can be assumed in the other four situations, it is not directly stated by the angelic messengers in the other birth announcements.  However, the emphasis of the word FAVOR is on God, not Mary.  Contrary to the belief of our Catholic friends, there was nothing superhuman about Mary.  The word meant “furnished with grace.”  Grace is always about the giver, not the gifted.

Grace is received because the giver decided to give it, not because the gifted deserved it.  The Bible teaches we are saved by grace.  It is not by our works, but by God’s love that we enjoy salvation.

Finally, Mary’s is the only virgin birth – ever (34).  People allege there are virgin births in other religions or in mythology, but none of them are in analogous to what Luke tells us about Jesus’ birth.

  1. Mary’s faithful response.

She started out TROUBLED and wondering but ended up trusting God.  I wonder how reassuring Gabriel’s explanation was (35-36).

In those days the Holy Spirit was not often mentioned, so that alone might have put Gabriel’s explanation outside Mary’s frame of reference.

She must have wondered what the word “overshadow” meant.

As it was used in the Bible, the term “overshadow” simply referred to the presence of God.  For example, in Exodus 40:35, the word referred to God’s presence in the form of a visible cloud that “overshadowed” the tabernacle.  Gabriel’s use of this term was meant to remind Mary of the cloud and to reassure her that her pregnancy would be miraculous, a creative act done by God Himself.

Verses 32-33 and 35 promise her child will be the greatest man to ever live. In her circumstance, would that be comforting, exciting, or intimidating?

Gabriel relates news that Mary possibly did not know: her kinswoman Elizabeth was having a miraculous baby of her own.  Knowing she was not facing this on her own must have been encouraging to Mary.

Surely the most convincing thing Gabriel said to Mary was his assurance, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD (37). It was in response to this statement that Mary declared her willingness to serve.

Without understanding everything that would be required, Mary simply obeyed (38).  She understood her role in all this: not the center, but a SERVANT.  “MAY IT BE TO ME AS YOU HAVE SAID” communicates wholehearted acceptance of God’s will.

“Parthenogenesis” is the $10 term used in biology to refer to the development of an egg into an organism without fertilization.  There are animal and insect species that reproduce in this way.  However, science alone cannot explain the Virgin Birth.  Indeed, it has often been denied on a scientific basis.

This doctrine is one of central importance to our faith, so we should be unwilling to surrender it just because science can’t account for it.  The Virgin Birth is a handy example of an issue where faith has to trump science.  It is a belief where the question of “how” – as Mary asked it – is not at important as the question “why” – as Gabriel explained it.

Mary had a faithful response to God’s message.

Biology aside, this passage stresses the historical fact that Mary was a virgin when Gabriel brought to her God’s message of her holy Son.  (So much so that it’s stated twice in v. 27!)  I believe this is important for several reasons, one of them being that in the cultures of this day, it was widely believed that the father actually made the baby, the mother merely incubated it.  Believing that, people would naturally assume that Jesus inherited a sin nature through his earthly father.  However, as there was no earthly father, Jesus did not start out life hampered by a sin nature as you and I did.  So when Paul wrote GOD MADE HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US, SO THAT IN HIM WE MIGHT BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD (2 Corinthians 5:21), he affirmed that Jesus did not even have a sin nature.  Jesus was innocent from birth and maintained His purity throughout life.

What we learned about angels in this passage is that they are likely to take a hand when events are of historic importance.  The birth of the one and only Son of God is obviously important.  Based on the dialogue Gabriel had with Mary we may note in addition to delivering messages, angels are often called upon to explain the message to their human recipients.

Mary is a fine example for all of us to follow because obedience preceded understanding.  That’s what faith does: it allows us to obey God even when we don’t understand all the implications of His will.  Mary asked the “how” question and received a full answer, but it’s unlikely she knew in that moment all that being suddenly pregnant would cost her.  It’s unlikely she knew or cared about the biology.  When she was reminded that “Nothing is impossible for God,” she accepted that statement at face value and moved forward to obedience.  Similarly, we must never allow worldly thinking or fear stop us from being faithful to obey God’s call.

 

Resources:

Unmanly Men: Refigurations of Masculinity in Luke-Acts, Brittany E. Wilson

Word Biblical Commentary #35a: Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez

“Virgin and Laughing Child” is unveiled as Leonardo da Vinci’s only surviving sculpture

Advent Angels Sightings #2

Please read Luke 1:5-25 in your favorite Bible.

Advent Angel Sightings 1_final (1)

(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

There’s at least one thing very wrong with the mythology of Santa Claus. “According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December.
“Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring. Therefore, according to EVERY picture depicting Santa’s reindeer in late December, EVERY single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen, has to be a girl.
“We should have known… ONLY women would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night and not get lost.”

https://www.favecrafts.com/Entertaining/A-Great-Bunch-of-Funny-Christmas-Stories

It’s strange that so many people make such a fuss about a mythical figure like Santa and neglect the historical person of Jesus Christ.  The gospel writer Luke was concerned with writing an accurate historical account of the life of Jesus.  To cover the subject as thoroughly as possible, he began with the miraculous circumstances surrounding the birth of the man who would introduce Jesus to the world as the Messiah; John the Baptist.  Our second advent angel sighting involves that moment of history.

CONTEXT: What we learn about Zechariah (5-11).  NT Professor Brittany E. Wilson has found in Luke a portrayal of Zechariah as an ordinary man suddenly caught up in a historic situation.  Perhaps you can imagine his disorientation.  Wilson identifies three markers in the text.

1 = His ethnicity.  Zechariah was a Jew.  In the Roman Empire, all conquered peoples were second-class citizens, but Jews were the butt of additional ridicule.

2 = His vocation. While priesthood normally earned a man some respect, Zechariah lived in the hills of Judea, not the city of Jerusalem, so the circle of respect was smaller, his service in the temple far less frequent.  Also, as v. 5 reports, Zechariah could trace his ancestry only to Abijah, while his wife could go all the way back to Aaron, Moses’ brother and the founder of the priestly line.  She had the better pedigree!

3 = His age and impotence.  Much has been said over the years about the scorn a barren woman had to endure in this culture.  But the husband did not escape unscathed.  Childlessness could be as demeaning a status for the husband as it was for the wife.

We balance these three observations against v. 6, where Luke identified both Zechariah and Elizabeth as UPRIGHT as the both kept God’s commands BLAMELESSLY.  Human nature has not changed in 2000 years, so we can assume that in Zechariah’s time as today, the UPRIGHT and blameless people tend to be overlooked.  The “squeaky wheels” tend to attract attention.  Also, God’s choice of Zechariah to occupy this historic place in His plan is foreshadowed by his selection by lot to offer incense in the temple.

Most of us ought to be able to identify with Zechariah.  He was an ordinary guy – why should he be visited by angel?  Being chosen to offer the incense was akin to winning the lottery; Zechariah’s focus was on that when he was blind-sided by an angelic visitation.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not doubtful – response.

  1. Zechariah’s response was doubtful.

As is always the case in these biblical angelic accounts, Zechariah’s initial reaction to Gabriel’s visitation was surprise and fear (11-13).  And, as always, the angel says, “DO NOT BE AFRAID,” but goes on to announce something surprising and fear-inducing (13-17)!

At this point, Zechariah had a decision to make: would he accept the angel’s message or would he believe and accept Gabriel’s message or doubt and reject it? (18) Using Zechariah as an example, let’s examine the continuum of belief.

– At the right end of the spectrum, we have BELIEF is intellectual agreement with and full obedience to the message of God.

– In the middle, we have DOUBT.  Doubt is an intellectual struggle with the message of God.  Doubt by itself is not bad, but if the struggle is either never resolved or is resolved with unbelief, it becomes a sin.

– UNBELIEF is at the left end of the continuum.  Unbelief is an active rejection of God’s message.  Believers can occasionally be guilty or mistakenly fall into unbelief, but are not characterized by it.  When it becomes chronic, settling into a character flaw, unbelief is the worst sin, the unforgivable sin (see Matthew 12:31 and Mark 3:29).

Zechariah’s response was a temporary form of the third option; an ill-considered decision to not believe Gabriel’s testimony.  It was an objection in the form of a question.  Otherwise the disciplinary act of rendering him mute is inappropriate; it’s too harsh.  Most convincingly, Gabriel himself condemns Gabriel’s unbelief in verse twenty.

Zechariah’s punishment is unique in this situation.  In the Bible there are five other birth announcements similar to this one.  In none of those cases, is objection met with divine discipline.

– In Genesis, the birth of a son is promised Abraham and he objected twice.

– In Judges, a son is promised to Samson’s father – Manoah – and he objected twice.

– In Luke, both Zechariah and Mary object to the birth announcements they received.

– In Matthew, Joseph did not argue with the angel who told him about Jesus.

Abraham, Manoah, and Mary were not punished for their objections or questions, yet Zechariah was.  Since God knows our hearts, we have to assume what is unstated in the text: Zechariah chose unbelief.

  1. Gabriel countered with discipline.

Gabriel pulled rank on Zechariah (19). “I AM GABRIEL,” he said.  As he was a priest, we can assume Zechariah’s familiarity with what we call the Old Testament.  He must have known the name Gabriel and its significance in Daniel (see last Sunday).  In fact, there are several parallels between Zechariah’s experience and Daniel’s.

He continued, “I STAND IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.”  This statement implies a place of honor and high rank among the heavenly race of angels.

“I HAVE BEEN SENT TO SPEAK TO YOU AND TELL YOU THIS GOOD NEWS.”  There are a couple implications in this clause.  First, Gabriel informs Zechariah that God personally sent him with this message.  Second, the message is GOOD NEWS, not bad news.  Gabriel could have said, “Hey dummy!  I just told you some good news!  Why do you want to argue with me?”  In fact, as Gabriel said in v. 13, this GOOD NEWS came as an answer to Zechariah’s prayers.  Why pray for something and then disbelieve it when it arrives?  We would never do that, right?

Gabriel administered a punishment to fit the crime: Zechariah was struck mute, unable to announce the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to him (20).    Gabriel specifically identified Zechariah’s sin as unbelief = “YOU DID NOT BELIEVE MY WORDS.”  To paraphrase, Gabriel said, “You did not believe my words so you forfeit the power to use words.”

In that culture as well as in ours, words are power.  The ability to speak to a situation, to make an announcement, to express an opinion, is a kind of power.  So the punishment of Zechariah is a kind of disempowering him.  The Greek word for mute can also mean deaf.  It is possible Zechariah could neither hear nor speak.  If so, this is a great Scripture passage for ASL interpreters like our Melanie!

God did everything Gabriel announced he would do (20-25), proving yet again God’s trustworthiness.  In verse twenty, Gabriel predicted, “WHICH WILL COME TRUE AT THE PROPER TIME.”  This is in reference to Zechariah’s loss of speech continuing until the birth of his son John.

There were witnesses of Zechariah’s speechlessness.  The same group of worshipers mentioned in verse ten were still there in verses 21+22.  They were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the temple and pronounce the customary blessing found in Numbers 6:24-26.  When he finally emerged from the temple, he was unable to speak and could not pronounce the blessing.  Zechariah’s punishment for unbelief was to be unable to announce Gabriel’s good news and to be unable to perform his priestly duty, a double whammy!  Notice how Luke really emphasized Zechariah’s being muted: HE REMAINED UNABLE TO SPEAK (verse 22).  Relying on impromptu sign language, Zechariah was somehow able to communicate to the people he had received a vision.

In verses 23-25 we see Gabriel’s prediction COME TRUE, just as he said.  Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth became the speaker for the family and she praised God for showing favor to her.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not doubtful – response.

          A new truth we learn about angels in this passage is that God deputizes them to dispense justice on His behalf.  Gabriel presented his GOOD NEWS to Zechariah and when the priest responded with unbelief, Gabriel dispensed a punishment in the form of making Zechariah mute.  So angels are more than just messengers, they appear at the authority of God Himself and wield that authority in human affairs.

A new truth we learn about God in this passage is that our obedience is not required to advance his plan.  Zechariah’s moment of disbelief did not cause God to stop, throw up His hands and say, “Well NOW what do I do?”  No, Gabriel immediately informed Zechariah the will of God was going to be accomplished.

The new truth we learn about ourselves in this passage is that belief ought to be an all or nothing proposition, but we try to pick and choose what we want to believe.  Consider this; Luke identified both Zechariah and Elizabeth as faithful people, even blameless in their obedience to God’s law.  And yet, Zechariah chose to disbelieve Gabriel’s promise of a son born to him in his old age.  Zechariah was guilty of sin by thinking he could pick and choose between God’s messages which he would believe and which he would not.  His punishment fit his crime and serves as a warning to all of us not to follow his example.

None of us knows why Zechariah chose unbelief in this situation, but the text makes it abundantly clear that’s exactly what he did.  Similarly, we sin when we think it’s up to us as individuals to decide which parts of God’s will we want to accept or reject.  That kind of nonsense thinking is what our culture teaches.  The Bible teaches that God is truth and truth is available for discovery, but not for us to determine it.  Zechariah became right with God and regained his ability to speak just as Gabriel had predicted.

 

Resources:

Unmanly Men: Refigurations of Masculinity in Luke-Acts, Brittany E. Wilson

Word Biblical Commentary #35a, Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief, A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez

Advent Angel Sightings #1

hand it to you

Please read Daniel 8:15-27 in your Bible.

A man who lived on Long Island, New York ordered an expensive barometer.  It was advertised as a precision scientific instrument, a reliable guide for predicting the weather.  When it arrived he was extremely disappointed to find that the dial was stuck, pointing to “Hurricane.” After shaking the barometer very vigorously several times, its new owner sat down and wrote a scorching letter to the store from which he had purchased the instrument.  The following morning, on his way to his office in New York, he mailed the letter. That evening he returned to Long Island, to find the barometer missing – along with his house! The barometer had been right. There was a hurricane!

When we receive bad news we have an unfortunate tendency to blame the messenger.  That tendency is at play in Daniel, the scene of our first Advent Angel Sighting in this series of messages.  Daniel lived during the time the Old Testament people of God (Judah) were conquered by the Babylonians.  They suffered this setback in fulfillment of God’s prophecy of 70 years of captivity in a foreign land.  Daniel was the best and brightest young men of Judah.  The Babylonians cultivated his leadership skills and gave him considerable authority in their government.  The story of the lion’s den is a small part of the life of this extraordinary man of God.

CONTEXT: Chapter eight records the second of Daniel’s prophetic visions.  This one involved a supernatural ram and goat locked in an epic struggle.  The appearance of the angel Gabriel is to explain the meaning of the imagery employed in chapters two and seven, which were beyond Daniel’s understanding.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.

  1. Angels are God’s messengers:

their messages can be disturbing.

Here in Daniel eight we learn two things about angels. The first is that angels can take on the appearance of a human being (verse fifteen refers to Gabriel as ONE WHO LOOKED LIKE A MAN).  The Hebrew word for MAN (geber) is literally, “strong man.”  The visitor is named Gabriel, which means “man of God.”  Note the similarity of geber and Gabriel: we could translate his name as “strong man of God.”  If it helps, picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in a robe.

In the Old Testament, only Daniel names angels.  Those named are Gabriel and Michael.  The fact that they are named distinguishes them from the innumerable host of angels and may imply they are of a superior rank.

Notice how Daniel down-plays this event: the angel Gabriel “looks like a man” and the voice of God “sounds like a man’s voice.”  But there is no doubt this is a divine visitation.

Secondly, angels are messengers who deliver God’s messages to people.  As we read in verse sixteen, “GABRIEL, TELL THIS MAN THE MEANING OF THE VISION.”)

Daniel was disturbed by the vision and the visitation.  In verse seventeen he wrote, I WAS TERRIFIED AND FELL PROSTRATE.  Elsewhere in the Bible, we see this self-humiliating pose as typical when approaching royalty.  This was how Esther approached the king in Esther 5:2.  The Apostle John took this position when he encountered the SON OF MAN (Revelation 1:17).

We see this again in verse eighteen: I WAS IN A DEEP SLEEP, WITH MY FACE TO THE GROUND.  This wasn’t a sudden urge for a nap or a swoon. This word for SLEEP is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe a trance-like state in which a prophet receives a vision.  The fact that Gabriel lifted Daniel to his feet with a touch is another detail that gives this scene a supernatural quality.

The encounter took its toll on Daniel, as we see in verse 27: I, DANIEL, WAS EXHAUSTED AND LAY ILL SEVERAL DAYS.  I WAS APPALLED BY THE VISION THAT WAS BEYOND UNDERSTANDING.  We’ve all had the experience of having a nightmare that affected us so profoundly we lose sleep over it.  But not many of us have been so deeply affected that we were ILL for DAYS afterward.

But why was Daniel APPALLED at the message he’d received?  That Hebrew word can also be translated as “desolate, devastated, wasted, helpless,” so it is an extreme condition.  The simplest explanation is that he understood verses nineteen to twenty-five as warning of additional persecutions that would befall God’s people. He may have understandably felt they had already suffered enough and was saddened to hear more was to come.

What can we understand about this vision?  This passage, like all of Daniel’s visions, has been the subject of much speculation by people looking for clues to the end times events that are part of our future.  Based on the text alone, there are three things we can say with certainty.

Firstly, the vision looks to the future from Daniel’s perspective: to THE TIME OF THE END (verses seventeen and nineteen), a time in the DISTANT FUTURE (v. 26).  The expression THE TIME OF WRATH is used four ways in the Old Testament:

– One, for God’s wrath against His people for their unfaithfulness.

– Two, for God’s wrath against the foreign nations who made themselves enemies of His people and persecuted them.

– Three, the term marks the end of one historical era and the  beginning of another.

– Four, the end of reality as we know it; the putting away of the physical universe to replace it with an eternal creation.  We are tempted to assume the vision depicts God’s WRATH against the wicked at Judgment Day, but we need to be careful to note the context and determine which of the four meanings is appropriate to the text before and after it.

Secondly, verse 25 tells us this vision depicts the victory of God over the forces of evil in the world.  The fact is that the time of evil is limited and that God will win.  Apocalyptic literature like Daniel’s visions are given to encourage the faithful to resist the temptation to give up.  We are to be steadfast in our faith because we are assured the time of our trials is limited and that the end of the story is that God wins.

Thirdly, as this vision was BEYOND the UNDERSTANDING to a great man of faith like Daniel, we must approach it humbly.  As God gives us wisdom to attempt to understand it, we must give grace to others whose interpretations may not agree with ours.

  1. How are we to react to disturbing messages?

We can do no better than to follow Daniel’s example – humble yourself and pray (as we read Daniel’s prayer in chapter nine).  It was humbling for Daniel to admit he could not UNDERSTAND all the implications of this vision.

Chapter nine records a prayer of worship, recounting God’s mighty deeds on behalf of His people in times past.  It’s as if Daniel is reminding God He has been merciful with His people in the past in the hope He will show them mercy in the present.

In the Bible anyway, angel sightings are almost always shocking events.  Again, following Daniel’s example, we should be shocked into action, not frozen with fear.  Notice in verse 27 that the vision laid Daniel out for SEVERAL DAYS, he GOT UP AND WENT ABOUT THE KING’S BUSINESS.

After the vision had been explained to Daniel, the angel Gabriel ordered him to SEAL it up until the time the prophecy was fulfilled.  This command was a common feature of apocalyptic literature.

However, Daniel obeyed this command in an interesting way.  He did not put a physical seal on it, but a linguistic one.  Chapters two through seven of Daniel were written in Aramaic, a commonly used language in Daniel’s time, one his Babylonian captors would have readily known.  From chapter eight on, Daniel wrote in Hebrew – his home language – something his Babylonian overseers would not likely have been able to read.

The Apostle Paul would come along 100s of years later and explain the MYSTERY of the Gospel, revealing God’s plan for salvation as realized by Jesus Christ.  In effect, he was opening and explaining the salvation significance of OT prophecies like Daniel’s.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.

          Preparing this message, I searched “angel sightings,” and as you can guess, there was quite a variety of stuff on the web related to that title.  One website had a page where they had photographic evidence of the existence of angels.  Another one offered similar claims of sightings of Santa Claus.  This is a problem that occurs when we try to convince people of the reality of spiritual things by using earthly means.  I wonder why an angel would bother to mask his appearance to the naked eye but allow his picture to be taken.

It is a hard balance to achieve, but I believe it’s good to retain a healthy dose of skepticism when people want to use science to prove faith.  Angel sightings and miracles are a couple instances where the line gets blurred and it makes me skeptical about the means and the motive.

So we will limit our search for angels to the pages of Scripture.  My prayer is that our search will be part of for our Advent search for the Christ child, our personal spiritual preparations to celebrate His birth.  Keep your eyes and your heart open to God’s messages to you in this Advent season.

 

Resources:

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Daniel, A. R. Millard

Kingdom Come, Sam Storms

The Daily Study Bible Series, Daniel, D. S. Russell

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Daniel, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/19164/in-september-1938-a-man-who-lived-on-long-by-stephen-wright?ref=TextIllustrationDetails

Little Lady, Big Plan

(Read Luke 1:26-38 (NLT).)

Mary Had a Little Lamb (Christmas version)

~ Author Unknown ~

Mary had a little Lamb, He was born on Christmas day.

She laid him in a manger bed To sleep upon the hay.

Angels filled the night-time sky And they began to sing.

Shepherds heard them all proclaim The birthday of a King.

Wise men saw a blazing star Up in the sky that night.

They followed it until they found The King of love and light.

Mary had a little Lamb, But He wasn’t hers, you know,

He was the very Son of God, The One who loves us so.

The Father of this little Lamb Loved the world so much

That He sent his only Son to earth So we could feel His touch.

He came to give us joy and peace And take away our sin.

So when He knocks on your heart’s door, Be sure to let Him in.

Why do I love this precious Lamb? What can the reason be?

The answer is quite plain to see, It’s because He first loved me!

(“Mary Had a Little Lamb (Christmas version)” retrieved from http://www.empoweringchristianwomen.com/2007/12/mary-had-little-lamb-christmas-version.html.)

The little lady had a big SPIRIT .

          Luke tells us more about Mary than the other Gospel writers. Let’s examine what we can learn.

1:27+34 = She was a VIRGIN. This is the most important fact about Mary.  The Bible makes it very clear that Joseph is in no biological way the father of Jesus.  The birth of Jesus was supernaturally accomplished, a fact that establishes His nature as divine, His identity as the Son of God.

1:27 = She was ENGAGED to Joseph.  Joseph provided a name and home life, protection for the baby, and was a man who obviously nurtured Jesus, teaching Him his trade. Though his role was a supporting one, Joseph was nonetheless essential for God’s plan.

1:28 = She was a FAVORED WOMAN.  Let’s remember the purpose of the Gospels is to tell us about Jesus.  What we can learn about Mary serves that purpose. Even though she was a peasant girl in a neglected corner of the ancient world, she had found great FAVOR with God.  That reflects favorably on her moral character; it also reflects favorably on her spiritual life.

This does not, however, justify making Mary some sort of super-saint or demi-god.  She was a woman whom God chose for this task.  Being chosen doesn’t necessarily prove that the person was the most qualified in any sense that we can observe; God picks people to do His will on the basis of what He knows.  Favor is bestowed, not earned.

1:28 = The LORD was with her.  This may have been the most encouraging thing Gabriel said to Mary.  In effect, he said, “All will be well; God is with you to protect and empower you.”  The Apostle Paul would later write, FOR I CAN DO EVERYTHING WITH THE HELP OF CHRIST WHO GIVES ME THE STRENGTH I NEED. (Philippians 4:13)  That sounds a great deal like verse 37 as well.

1:38 = She was faithful and obedient.  This is seen in her own words:

  • “I AM THE LORD’S SERVANT”
  • “I AM WILLING TO ACCEPT WHATEVER HE WANTS”
  • “MAY EVERYTHING YOU HAVE SAID COME TRUE.”

In that moment Mary could not have grasped all that this decision would mean to her.  But that’s what makes her an even better example of faith; she took God at His word and trusted Him to handle the details.

1:46-56 = She was humble & faithful to see the personal implications of what she’d promised.  She referred to herself as “HIS LOWLY SERVANT GIRL.”  SERVANT is a polite translation; t word means slave!  LOWLY means “humiliated.” She used strong language, suitable to conveying deep conviction.  Mary’s devotion to God is not diluted by ego or self-interest.

“GENERATION AFTER GENERATION WILL CALL ME BLESSED” Her cousin Elizabeth had, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, just blessed her (see 1:41-45). This meant that Mary understood and appreciated her absolutely unique place in history and in God’s unfolding plan.

“HE’S DONE GREAT THINGS FOR ME” is written in the past tense, so I speculate that Mary is looking back at her life prior to Gabriel’s visit and concluded she had already been blessed.  But it’s also clear that Mary is thinking about the angel’s promises and she counted it an honor to serve the Lord in this way.

2:19 = Mary remembered what the shepherds said about Jesus.  More than that, she TREASURED them in her HEART.  These promises would be a sentimental and spiritual foundation to which she could return again and again in the years ahead, when the actions of God did not make sense to her.

2:35 = Simeon prophesied the grief she would feel at Jesus’ crucifixion.  When you consider all that had been said about Jesus – starting with Gabriel and the shepherds – and all He had done, the tragedy of the cross must’ve felt like unkept promises to Mary. I wonder if she recalled this warning at that time.  If it made any difference to her.

John reveals a little more information about Mary in the narratives of two incidents that bracket the ministry phase of Jesus’ life.

John 2:1-11 = Mary goads Jesus into performing His first miracle; water into wine.  Her method is indirect; she alerts Jesus to the problem and instructs the servants to do as He directs them.  And yet, despite the “stage mother” kind of approach, Jesus’ first miracle was for HER.

John 19:26-27 = She was at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion; that took extraordinary courage, given Simeon’s prophecy 33 years earlier.

God’s big plan: our SALVATION.

          Gabriel’s words promise that her child will be the greatest man ever born.

1:32 = VERY GREAT is a paraphrase of the Gk word megas, which is familiar to us as a prefix.

1:32+35 = SON OF THE MOST HIGH.  This is a round-about way of saying “Son of God.”  “Son of” does not in any way mean less divine, it is to be understood as fully divine.  In ancient Israel, the phrase “Son of God” was also used to refer to the king.  So this phrase has both theological and historical meaning.

1:32 = THE LORD GOD WILL GIVE HIM THE THRONE OF HIS ANCESTOR DAVID.  David was seen as the ultimate king and the promise of an eternal throne was seen as being fulfilled by the Messiah.  This particular expression is unique to Luke’s Gospel.  It’s interesting that these items are found in the only Gospel authored by a Gentile.

1:33 = He shall rule Israel eternally. This too, is an expectation associated with the Messiah.

Mary understood that part of God’s plan involving her baby was nothing less than a new world order. She reveals this understanding in the song called “The Magnificat,” in vs. 46-56.

1:49 = HE, THE MIGHTY ONE, IS HOLY. “Mighty One” is also a term used for the rulers of Israel and for God.  Mary’s song emphasizes God’s power wielded on behalf of His people.

1:50 = HIS MERCY…GOES TO ALL WHO FEAR HIM. God’s MERCY specifically refers to the way He keeps the covenant even when His people break it.  He is always faithful; he does good to the undeserving

1:51-53 = He will turn the usual world order upside down to deliver those oppressed by it.

  • He SCATTERS T PROUD & HAUGHTY.
  • He deposes PRINCES to exalt t LOWLY.
  • He has SATISFIED T HUNGRY, but sent the rich away with nothing. (See Luke 16:19-31.)

1:54-55 = He will keep all the promises He made to His people.  Though the times may have indicated otherwise, God honored his promise and delivered His people.  His means of deliverance, a baby born to a peasant family, was not what they expected or desired.

Dave Berry, a popular modern humorist wrote, “You can always tell the Christmas season is here when you start getting incredibly dense, tinfoil-and-ribbon-wrapped lumps in the mail.  Fruitcakes make ideal gifts because the Postal Service has been unable to find a way to damage them.  They last forever, largely because nobody ever eats them.”

(Joyful Noiseletter, Nov./Dec. 2012, p. 4.)

As proof that Dave Barry wrote truthfully, consider the following tale of woe surrounding the world’s oldest fruitcake; 136 years old!  On November 28, 1878, (remember that date) Fidelia Ford baked a fruitcake for Christmas.  Not long afterward, she died.

The fruitcake was never eaten and has been passed on by Fidelia’s descendants, all of whom have died too.  The most recent inheritor of the cake was Morgan Ford, Fidelia’s great-grandson.  In 2003 Morgan was a guest of Jay Leno on the Tonight Show.  Jay dared to sample a bite and declared that it needed “more aging.”  Morgan ate some too.  Ten years later, Jay Leno had to turn over the Tonight Show to Jimmy Fallon and Morgan Ford had died.  Draw your own conclusions about the wisdom of eating fruitcake.

How about something more lasting and more savory than fruitcake?  How about having the faith Mary has demonstrated?  What do we have here? A lady who was little in the eyes of the world – had the world taken notice of her at all – whom God chose to occupy a unique and pivotal place in the history of creation.  Mary is not to be idolized, but her example is one we can all aim to follow. After only a single question, maybe a moment’s hesitation, she chose to obey God’s will.  Mary didn’t sit around to estimate the cost; she quickly and unconditionally obeyed God.