Advent 4B - Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26–38 (NIV)

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a Son, and you are to call Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, 33 and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His Kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

            God asks the impossible. “Impossible,” as the atheists and sceptics try to tell us. God asks us to believe that an un-married peasant girl was the mother of His only Son, Jesus Christ, some 2000 year ago.

            Let’s look at this girl. Perhaps 14-18 years old - probably closer to 14. She’s engaged – committed to remain celibate until her marriage to Joseph. The marriage hadn’t occurred yet and it certainly hadn’t been consummated. And God wanted her to be a surrogate mother.

            To strain our credibility, God sent the angel to tell Mary that she was in God’s good books and that she was going to receive a special gift from Him. God, through His Holy Spirit, was going to make her pregnant by a Divine miracle.

            Now we have to ask, where’s the favour in being pregnant? Fancy being sick most mornings, then as time goes by having to get up in the middle of the night to go the loo, looking like a whale for a while, and the pain in child-birth?  

            We’ve hardly started to look at the complications for Mary yet. Surely at such a tender age a girl’s body isn’t ready for the stresses and strains of bearing a child - she isn’t in the peak of her womanhood yet. And yet this is what God tells Mary she is going to do.

            And then there’s the social and cultural environment to consider. Remember she’s not yet married - and pregnant. The eye-brows are raised, condemnation and judgement would be tough.

            Mary’s engaged and premarital sex is unacceptable - that’s adultery - the law of adultery in - Leviticus 20:10 says, ”‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbour—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

            If Mary had a child conceived before marriage it would at least be considered illegitimate by the gossips and scandal mongers in the community. What future for a child with this stigma in such a moral community as Israel where purity was regarded highly?

As it was, questions were raised later in Jesus’ life about His parentage as we read in Matthew 13:55 (NIV) 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?

            Surely too, a young couple just starting out, they couldn’t afford to begin a family immediately. They’re both peasants with no prospect of becoming wealthy. How are they going to support the child?

            And who would take a heavily pregnant girl on a trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It was a walk of some 120 kilometres over rough roads.

            When God told Mary she was going to have a baby by miraculous means, it’s hard for us to believe He was serious when we look at all the factors involved in the whole process. Only a miracle could make it all happen and work out. No one would seriously consider such a scenario for a new life?

            Yet God asked Mary to believe the impossible and deliver His miracle to the human race - to us. He asks us to do the seemingly impossible too, by believing such an incredible story and then to deliver the message to our families, community and nation. This is a story of myth and legend, yet God calls us to believe and respond to it as truth and fact.

            God calls all humankind to believe that His only Son, Jesus, the Saviour of the world came to us by miraculous means, that Jesus is truly God and truly human.

            The angel told Mary that the baby she was to carry was going to be “great”. We can use words like: worthy, important and significant to describe Jesus’ greatness.

Jesus was going to impact the world like no other man - and He has. His name is so powerful that the world wants to edit it from the community, ban the news about him from the public places and silence His followers.

            Mary’s Son is the “Son of the Most High”, the “Son of God”. Jesus isn’t merely a man elevated to a godly status by humanity. He sits at the right hand of God. His position in God’s Kingdom is one of pre-existence - before time. Jesus was before time began, as we confess in our creed: “Being of one substance with the Father.” Jesus wasn’t an after-thought of God.

            Jesus, in his humanity, is a descendant of His ancestor the great king of Israel, David. God associates Jesus with the greatest of Kings to fulfil the prophecy that David’s kingdom would last forever and reach its fulfilment in his descendant, the Messiah, the Christ.

            Jesus credentials in regards to ancestry, and His claim to authority in God’s Kingdom, stretch back to the foundations of Israel in His ancestor Jacob and God’s promise to Adam and Eve. His authority and rule covers all of God’s people from the beginnings of history until eternity.

            The angel’s message to Mary inspires her to believe the impossible, to see Almighty God at work in her life for her people. The angel ties her heritage, illustrious as it is, with her humility, as base as it is, to fulfil humanity’s search for meaning and purpose, hope and love.

            In the baby, Jesus, we have meaning for life, in that, God identifies with us in life by being born like us.

The purpose for life we find in the service God offers us through His Son - setting us free from our sin and the power of death - death which limits us to an average three score and ten years of seemingly pointless struggle. What is life if all we do is shrivel up and die?

            God gives us hope in the birth of a baby. As someone once said, “A baby is God’s way of saying it’s not time for the world to end.” And so we can hope.

            And humanly speaking what greater image of love is there than that of the love of a mother, enduring pain and suffering to give life, to nurture a helpless child to become independent and live a meaningful productive life.

            All this, and more, God brings to completion in this baby - the promised one- Jesus, Immanuel - God with us.

            Will our faith be like that of Mary, who when God sends His messenger to her with a plan for her life said, “May it be to me as You have said.”

            Do we trust God to be able to say to Him, “May it be to me as You have said”, when: He forgives us our sin through Jesus death and resurrection?

            “May it be to me, as we hear God speaking through His Word in the Bible with wisdom for how we are to live with each other, taking seriously God’s Word for our new life in Jesus, willingly obedient to all God’s teaching and instruction for us and the world as Mary was?

            Do we trust God to be able to say to Him, “May it be to me as You have said”, when: God promises us His peace in the words of Jesus, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

            Do we trust God to be able to say to Him, “May it be to me as You have said”, when: God calls us to eternal life.

            Amen.