How is your Christmas planning going? I can tell you that here at church everything is scheduled out and ready to go. On Friday at 1:30 p.m. we will help pack food boxes at the Marion Ministerial Alliance food pantry. On Saturday at 6:00 p.m. we will have the congregational Christmas party. On Sunday at 3:00 p.m. the youth will shop for and wrap gifts for children in foster care, and the congregation has already donated money to pay for the gifts. Next Saturday at 9:30 a.m. is the rehearsal for the Sunday school Christmas program, which will then take place during the Sunday school and Bible class hour the next day. The mid-week Advents services for the next two weeks are all planned, as are the services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Christmas is a time of tremendous planning and preparation. It is here at church, and of course, it is for you as well at home. You plan where you will be spending Christmas. You prepare as you strive to get all of your Christmas shopping done. You prepare as you put up the Christmas tree, the decorations around the house and lights outside. You plan what you will be having for the holiday meals.
We expend tremendous energy planning and preparing to celebrate Christmas. And yet the text for tonight reminds us about an important fact. For Mary the first Christmas was entirely unplanned. It was something for which there had been no preparation on her part. Instead, God acted in a manner that was surprising in several different ways. In those surprises we learn about how God works. And in Mary’s words we see how faith responds to God.
Luke begins by telling us, “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.” We meet Mary, who is a virgin betrothed to be married. In the setting of first century Palestine, this description tells us that she was probably in her early teens. She lived in Galilee, in the northern part of Israel. However the man she was betrothed to marry was from the house of David – a lineage that originated in the south – in Judah … Bethlehem to be exact.
A woman – and a young unwed virgin at that - living in a village in Galilee. She is the picture of someone lowly and unimportant. A nobody. Yet we learn in our text that all of that changed in an instant. It changed when the angel Gabriel was sent to her with an announcement.
He said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Just like you, angels did not bring announcements to Mary all the time. She was frightened as she tried to understand what was happening and what it meant.
Gabriel responded with an assuring word: “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 his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
The angel declared to Mary that she would give birth to a son – a royal son who would be called the Son of the Most High and would rule as the descendant of King David. Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah.
Mary was a nobody, not royalty. She was about to marry Joseph – who was a carpenter, not a prince. They lived in Nazareth, not in the Jerusalem where a king would be found. So many things about this did not add up. But apparently what really caught Mary’s attention was the question of how this was going to happen. Though betrothed to Joseph, she apparently did not think Gabriel was talking about a child produced by that marriage for she asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
Gabriel’s answer must have taken Mary’s breath away. He said, “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.”
Gabriel said that there would be nothing normal about this pregnancy or child. Mary the virgin would conceive through the work of the Holy Spirit, and would give birth to a holy child – the Son of God. A miracle would take place, because for God, nothing is impossible.
This is not what Mary had planned. This is not something for which she was preparing. This news was utterly unexpected. It was a surprise to her. And frankly it is surprise in another way. God announces through Gabriel that he is fulfilling the mighty and awesome promises that he had made in the Old Testament about the Messiah. He is sending the descendant of King David who will reign forever. And he says that he is going to do this … through Mary. He is going to carry out his mighty saving act by means of a nobody.
Everything about our text is unexpected and surprising. It’s not what Mary is planning. But it is what God has planned. It is not at all the way we expect God to do things. But it is the way God chooses to do things.
And we need to take note of this. For often, this is how things work in our lives. There are circumstances and events that we have not planned on happening. There are times that we find God is guiding our lives in ways that we did not in any way expect. There are times when we are confronted with the truth that we are not in charge. We don’t like that. We especially don’t like it when this brings changes that we consider to be undesirable or difficult. At those times, the temptation for us is to doubt God; to express our displeasure with God.
Mary hadn’t planned on being pregnant with the Messiah – the incarnate Son of God. Her life would never be “normal” again as she gave birth to and raised a son who could call God “Father” in a way that no other being in the universe can. She would follow his ministry until she saw him die on a cross. And then on Easter she would learn that her son had begun the resurrection of the Last Day. She would find herself worshipping her son as God because he is the Son of God.
Gabriel described Mary as “favored one.” He meant that by God’s grace he had chosen to bless her with the role of being the mother of Jesus the Christ – with being the mother of God. It was something that would transform her life – and not always in ways that we would consider desirable. And what was Mary’s reaction? She said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She received this role in faith, trusting in God’s word.
Mary is the model for us of how we are to respond to the unplanned and unexpected circumstances and occasions of our life. She responded in faith as she acknowledged that she belonged to God and his will; as she expressed the wish that things be done according to God’s word.
Our text leads us to respond in this way as well. Yet in doing so we are aided by the fact that we have seen what God has done through the Son of God conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. In Jesus Christ we have seen God work in an unexpected and surprising way.
Yes, the One conceived in Mary is the Son of the Most High. Yes, he is the Son of God. And yet he will submit himself to suffering, humiliation and death – even death on a cross. He comes to bring God’s mighty act of salvation, and yet he does it in the midst of rejection and weakness. The eye test says that there is nothing “good” about Good Friday.
Yet in this case sight is deceiving. For what appears to be weakness and failure is in fact the Father’s will for your salvation. It is surprising and unexpected, yet it is God’s will. It is God’s plan. And the confirmation of this is found on Easter. Jesus dies because of the sin of Adam; he dies because of your sin. But he rises from the dead as the second Adam. He comes forth from the tomb and begins the resurrection of the Last Day.
Because you have seen God work in this manner in his Son Jesus Christ, you are now able to trust in him when the circumstances of life are surprising and unexpected. The Spirit of God uses the good news of this Gospel to strengthen your trust; to increase your assurance.
Your life is now shaped by what God has done in Christ. Jesus becomes the One through whom you view all of the things in life that you experience. The death and resurrection of the incarnate Son of God for you enables you to say with Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”