I Love the gospel of Luke! I find the Gospel of Luke to be extremely profound in it’s first two chapters. Luke does more with the nativity and the one year leading up to the nativity than any other gospel writer. And within these nativity and pre-nativity stories is great theology which sets up an understanding of who Jesus was and is today. So, we’re going to read what the Angel Gabriel first said about the baby who would be born to Mary. From there we’ll be able to match scripture with our own understandings of who Jesus is, for sometimes we allow things other than scripture to form our theology. Even more than Jesus, we get Jesus’ Mother wrong. In fact, I’d say we don’t get Jesus’ mother at all in Protestant theology. During the reformation there was such a strong reaction again the deification of Mary that anything pointing toward Mary as one of the greatest disciples has been missed. Today we’ll also think about Mary, who she was, and why we she is so important to Luke and his gospel.
The First thing we learn from this passage is that Jesus will be the long awaited King of Israel who rules in the line of David. The birth of Jesus is the inauguration of a new king. Jesus is the king of an ancient Kingdom founded in the people of Israel.
It’s very interesting to me that the one things that the Angel teaches about about the Messiah is that he will be King.
Since the time of David Israel and Judah had placed their hope in God’s king on earth.
In Psalm 2 David says:
7 I will proclaim the LORD’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
8 Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
From the beginning of the monarchy the king was called the “son of God”. Those years with David and Solomon as king were the glory years of the kingdom. Those were the good old days that every Jew looked back to with imaginative, generational memory. They longed for a time when their king was the most powerful, when they were the dominant people in the land, and when they could freely rule themselves and worship God in the temple however they pleased.
But that reality was very far off. The kings of Israel went down hill quickly following David. Not even Solomon ruled as effectively as David. And soon after, the kings were either incompetent leaders or downright evil. Along with these bad kings came bad religious practices. Bad priests administering their religion. And repeated conquering by other kingdoms and empires. For the thousand years leading up to Jesus’ birth around 75% of the time the Hebrew people were under the rule of foreign powers, oppressed and defeated for nearly a millennia! The reality of a powerful kingdom for Israel was very far off.
The people of Israel were still waiting for a King like David to save them from their enemies. Many things that happened in Jesus’ life and that are recorded in scripture point to the people’s desire for a powerful king who would overthrow the Roman Empire. The people of Jesus’ day were looking for a political king and a political kingdom. They had been awaiting the return of a king like David for centuries.
Jesus would fulfill the prophecies that a king in the line of David would return to rule over all the earth. And yet, His kingdom would not be a political kingdom. The Kingdom that this king would bring is much bigger.
Advent is the season during which we await the full realization of the kingdom of God. I think we often forget that our work to bring about God’s kingdom is work done for a reigning King. This is what I want us all to dwell upon in Advent, the return of the King.
What I gain about Jesus from our passage today is that Jesus is the king that the Hebrew people had been waiting on for generations. Jesus’ life and ministry demonstrates that he is in fact the Son of God, the King of a kingdom bigger than David’s kingdom. Jesus’ life demonstrated what kind of King he would be and how his people would carry on his work. As Bill Mallonee says, The cross was the place of his coronation speech, and the ascension into heaven has placed him on His throne next to God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is King and we are again awaiting his return to rule over his people. Advent is the season during which we await the full realization of the kingdom of God
Advent is a great time to place ourselves humbly under Christ’s kingship. One of our greatest examples of how we do that is found in the person and action of a young girl.
Who is Mary?
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Mary was probably only 15 or 16 years old when the angel came to her. She was a young girl, promised to a slightly older man in marriage. Mary and Joseph were living during a one year period of betrothal when Mary lived probably with friends. All of her possessions were Joseph’s, but they were not yet together.
According to the angel Gabriel, Mary was a girl who God found to be “highly favored”. I’m intrigued by that. What was so special about Mary? Had she really been through enough of life to be chosen by God to bear God’s son? To this young woman, probably a very devout Jew, the idea of bearing the “song of God,” as in the next king of the Jews, was probably not a new idea. The whole nation was awaiting the next “king David” to save them from the oppressive Roman Empire.
But Mary was perplexed when she heard the words of the angel. She could not be the mother of the next political king of the Jews. She was not married yet! She was engaged, and unlike most people today, men and women waited until their wedding day to have sex. There was no way she could become pregnant.
The word used for virgin in the Greek is παρθένον , and in Hebrew Almah, both actually mean young girl. Basically, young women were virgins, so it could be translated either way. During biblical times a young woman would be stoned to death if she were to have sex before marriage. No questions would be asked of the woman, the sentence was quick and lethal.
I was just reading the news this week and heard about a woman in Afghanistan who had been stoned to death along with her daughter. She was a widow and her neighbors reported her to the Taliban as potentially being involved in adultery. Another woman was set free in Afghanistan by president Hamid Karzai this week after being arrested for adultery because she had been raped by her cousin’s husband; a convicted criminal. Thousands of women are in prisons across the Middle East for these reasons. These are the kinds of punishments that Mary had coming to her mind when she was told she would become pregnant.
Can you imagine her feelings? This really hit me in a powerful way this week. Take a moment and dwell upon this reality.
It seems clear that the angel Gabriel was frightening. His presence was scary, but the idea of becoming pregnant before marriage was even more scary. Mary, hearing the words of the angel, would have known that her likely fate would be death.
After hearing the details of who the King would be and what her sons name would be, Mary asks “How will this be since I am a virgin” – if you ask me, that’s a pretty good questions!
Now for the angels response. 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[a] the Son of God.
And I love that the angel goes on to explain about Elizabeth and her extremely unlikely pregnancy. It’s almost like the angel is saying to Mary, really, he can do it. Let me talk you into this.
See, Mary could have said no at this point. God never forces a decision upon us. Mary is chosen among all women to bear the Christ Child, and yet she is free to choose. Bernard of Clairvaux, a trappist monk of the 10th century, wrote that the pause between verses 37 and 38 is holding the crux of human history on it. Will Mary, the chosen one of God, the one who is most favored by God, be willing to risk her life to bear God’s only Son? Bernard says that all the angels in heaven gasped after hearing her question and Gabriel’s response, we might even call it Gabriel’s plee! And you can imagine the celebration when she agrees to allow God to do what she knows God can do.
Now, I don’t care if we’re Presbyterian, or Catholic, or evangelical, or whatever… this passage of scripture should lead us to desire to be like Mary. Mary, the Mother of God, should be lifted up as the archetypal follower of Jesus and the first follower of Jesus even before she bore him to the earth.
Mary seems to be so in tune with the will of God that she is indifferent to what may happen. This doesn’t mean she doesn’t care, it means that her will has become one with the will of God. It takes years and years of spiritual discipline and prayer to develop a life with God where his will is all that matters. It’s really easy to say that we just want God’s will, until things in life don’t go the way we would prefer. But for Mary, life is being thrown completely up in the air. The potential of a happy life with her new husband is very much in question. The question of whether she will live or die is up for grabs, the massive problem of telling Joseph this crazy story about an angel and a subsequent baby still lies ahead. And yet, this young woman of 16 years, is able to say that she only desires God’s will to be done. It is no wonder why Mary was chosen and why Mary is highly favored by God. There’s something special about this young women.
As we contemplate this pregnancy and the coming birth of this King, you and I are called to be like Mary in her response to the coming King. We are called to lay down our hopes, dreams and desires for life so that we may take on the hopes, dreams and desires of our King. Jesus is now reigning over his kingdom and we are his brothers and sisters in this occupied land. We are the ambassadors of the king and we are living in a creation in need of this King’s salvation.
But, are we waiting for the king to do things that he might never do? Are we serving the king in ways that he does not intent? Are we like the Jews of Jesus’ day who were so fervent in their religion that they missed the king when he showed up? What are the chances that you and I might be missing the king and missing out on his kingdom?
Today is not the day to define the kingdom of God in our lives today, today is the day to dwell upon Mary’s response when she realized she did not know the answers to her biggest questions.
When you and I are able to be like Mary and Lay down our lives at the feet of the King who already laid his life down for our salvation, we can be sure that we are not missing the work of the Kingdom. When we can truly be like Mary and say “Let your will be done,” we can know that God will be “well pleased” with us and our response to his call in our lives.