Nativity decorations: manger with baby Jesus / Joseph & Mary / Shepherds / Animals Camels, Sheep, Horses / NO MAGI…
Nativities also have angels, but typically they’re placed on the peripheral. However, angels are not an afterthought. They are at the center of every nativity story: with Zechariah & Elizabeth (Lk 1:11-20), with Mary (Lk 1:26-38), with Joseph (Mt 1:20-25), with shepherds (Lk 2:9-15), with Joseph & Mary to flee to Egypt and later to return to Nazareth (Mt 2:13-19).
Here’s a painting illustrating one of the angelic scenes:
The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937). Tanner was one of the first African-American renown painters. He has several paintings that are stunning with depth and meaning. In this painting, Mary is sitting calmly and compliantly on her bed. But she also looks curious and perhaps confused. A blazing light is shown before her, undoubtedly from the angelic visit announcing the virgin Mary will bear the Son of God. The other details give us insight into the story – an untidy bed and a wrinkled carpet.
Maybe these last details are merely noticed by a Type A person. But, I believe the artist wants us to see this aspect and know divine encounters will not leave us without some disruption.
Today we will explore more of this angelic visit with Mary and how it provides meaning in our life today.
EXAMINE Luke 1:26-38 Christmas Angels Comfort
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
32 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,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 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.
36 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.
37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
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.
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a place and to a person.
“to a city of Galilee named Nazareth”
Luke notes the small town in the larger city of Galilee because non-Palestinians would not have heard or known about the town (Lk 2:4, 39, 51; 4:16). Nazareth was remarkably unremarkable. Its estimated population was less than two-thousand people. It was hill country with the city on slopes. Being called a “Nazarene” was likely a slang term to describe one coming from obscurity (cf. Jn 1:46; Acts 24:5), or perhaps in contemporary language called a “hick or backwoodsman” with “unpolished dialect, a lack of culture, and quite possibly a measure of irreligion and moral laxity.”
God’s angel bypassed popular Judea for poor Galilee and passed over bustling Jerusalem for insignificant Nazareth and avoided the holy temple for a humble home. God was sending His Son, the Messiah, to the unknown and undeserving. The fact that God sent His Son to a place apart from Himself and heaven’s glories is remarkable on its own. God does not abandon the world’s disarray or darkness but enters in to deliver it.
- What places seem ignored or disregarded?
– SP is not… but what about our cities, our rural areas (Western MD – Bruce Outreach Center), and third world nations?
- Who are the undeserving and underserved in our world/community today?
(children, elderly, disabled, minorities, unborn)
- What place has God sent you?
- You are known somewhere and a stranger elsewhere. Where do you want to be known?
- Pastors at funerals need to ask questions of family to know a stranger. Or they just know bc you are known.
- Parents, your children will be known somewhere and strangers elsewhere. What type of community do you want to influence your children?
- God has placed our church in a community. God has also given us the Great Commission of making disciples throughout the world. So, we don’t have the option to choose “Jerusalem” or “Samaria,” or “the ends of the earth”; we must choose all simultaneously. YET, we must start where we are – the near has some sort of priority over the far or we will not have integrity for our extended influence.
- You are known somewhere and a stranger elsewhere. Where do you want to be known?
Beyond place, the angel appeared to a person.
“to a virgin named Mary, betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David”
Mary was a virgin/young maiden and could be 12-14 years old. Mary’s virginity is emphasized throughout this passage (1:27, 34-35). This doctrine is important – for if Jesus were merely transitioning as an adult man from Heaven into earth then we would doubt His humanity; and if Jesus were merely a byproduct of natural conception between Joseph and Mary then the divinity of Jesus would be disregarded. Yet, in the virgin birth Jesus retain full humanity and divinity.
- There’s a lot of talk about Mary. And being in Maryland, there’s a lot of confusion. We should respect Mary but not revere her. She is undoubtedly a treasured example of devotion to Jesus, but we should not go beyond Scripture to elevate examples of faith beyond what they were intended. Mary needed a Savior as much as any of us (Lk 1:47; Rm 3:23), and there is only one mediator, without co-mediation (1Tim 2:5).
- God’s work in Mary’s life reminds us
1) God has plans to work with young people. If young people can learn algebra and trigonometry, biology and chemistry, then certainly they can learn theology and have a ministry. Don’t underestimate what God can do with a young person’s faith.
– – -> Teens, notice that Mary doesn’t use youthfulness as an excuse for delaying maturity.
2) God has plans for women and not just men. In many churches, only men are viewed as gifted and granted ministry roles. And the reality is that churches are filled with women who have performed majority of the work. Certainly, we should affirm the Bible’s delineation of roles between men and women. But, it should not go without saying that women have a prominent role in the life of Jesus for service, witness, and faith. Let us lift up our ladies to serve the Lord to their fullest capacity.
– – – > Mary’s greatest influence: as Mom to Jesus, Jude, James – each wrote a book of the Bible.
- Joseph was of the house of David
- Jesus was connected to legal (adoptive father) line of Messiah through Joseph and the royal line as well through Mary. Luke’s genealogy goes further than Matthew’s, back to Adam to show the Messiah is for all humanity. That Jesus has a genealogy at all shows that He is real and true, unlike the mythical gods of Greek and Roman religions.
- In application, what person has God…
- Sent to you / Who shared the gospel with you?
- Sent to you / Who is helping grow your faith? Who’s your personal pastor / mentor / coach? Who is your Paul?
- Sent you to / Who are you helping grow in faith? Who is your Timothy?
The angel Gabriel extended God’s comfort in the midst of uncertainty.
Mary and Joseph grew up in a nation enslaved to an oppressive army in Rome. While they were free to worship, much of the religious system was corrupt with the powerful Pharisees. While they were independent, they still had the worries of any young couple trying to accomplish their dreams and afford their desires. During their uncertainty, God had plans with even more challenges for them.
Isn’t that strange, that when we have uncertainty overwhelming us, God sometimes gives us more challenges? Why does God operate that way? For sure, God does not always bring on our burdens. Other times God is abundantly gracious to answer prayers and bring clarity to our circumstances. But what do we do when it seems problems pile upon each other? How should we respond?
– Illus: When a woman is in labor, she is hurting in pain. Today in the birthing rooms are machines that chart the depth and duration of contractions. During labor, the nurses, doctors, and family members (husband) do all sorts of things to support the pregnant mother in labor.
– A good husband is present with his wife, holding her hand, wiping her forehead with a cool cloth, patting her back and shoulders. Typically the wife is not supposed to eat, so guys – we don’t eat… in front of her!
– Nurses and doctors can give support with extra comfort pillows or blankets, and medicine (praise God for that epidural).
But all those things cannot change the pain but they can comfort the person.
Likewise, seldom does God remove all our problems, but He provides comfort through answers to prayer and people in our life. We all have to endure the birthing process of life’s changes to become mature and complete in our character.
We can learn from Mary:
- Mary was troubled but tried to discern what the angel communicated. She asked questions. She sought support from family and friends. She pondered (Lk 2:19). Responding to God in uncertain circumstances reveal what our life is concentrated. Mary’s heart is concentrated on God long before this moment of uncertainty.
- Questions > accusations. Why do we often assume the worst about people instead of taking time to listen and learn? We should seek understanding before we seek to be understood.
- Is your response to challenges to complain or question, to worry or to work it out?
- Discernment comes from discipline. Mary didn’t just gain perspective in the moment, but she was obviously a woman of discipline: humble, faithful, Godward.
- Psalm 77:12 “I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.”
- Psalm 119:15 “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.”
– – – – – – – – – –
Holiday season needs spirit of discernment with all the extra people and pizazz.
– Purge Perfectionism. Keep it simple. The glamor and glitz of Christmas can be off the charts. While decorations and dinner spreads make things look nice, the most important is presence over performance. Being > Doing. So, don’t try to be perfect, be present.
– Stay Flexible. Traditions are important, but sometimes surprises or emergencies happen. Even more, sometimes those leading the traditions each year are no longer present for a variety of circumstances. So, be flexible and willing to move forward or make new experiences and traditions.
– Reclaim the Reason. Holidays are holy days. We must remember the reason for the season and not allow the busyness to distract from essentials. Take time to pause and pray, to read and reflect on the Scriptures, and to worship in the wonder of Christ.
– – – – – – – – – –
- Many people have this view: “Behold, the Lord is my servant, let it be to me according to my wishes.” Mary contrasted human perspective with faith. She submitted herself to God. She understood she was the servant and whatever God spoke or presented, she yielded in trust that God is wise and good. And she’s not passively yielded but actively participating in what God wants to do – even though she doesn’t have all the answers. Mary had little information but great faith.
We’re not supposed to obey God only when we have all the answers; we are called to obey God no matter what, because He has all the answers.
Luke 1:45 “Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would do what He spoke”
—– Jesus voiced prayer like mother Mary (Lk 22:42)
“the angel said ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”
The Holy Spirit is our comforter. Mary couldn’t fully explain the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in her life. And if we are honest, we can’t either. Yet, we have this certainty that we are children of God because we believe God hears our cries for Abba Father (Rom 8:15-17).
Some of you do not have comfort in uncertainty because you don’t have the Holy Spirit. You doubt God, distrust people, and drift through life without any assurance.
Our cue from the angel Gabriel is not to fear but seek the favor of God. Let it be known that you yield to admitting need of God’s grace.
Gabriel predicted the impossible.
- Zechariah and Elizabeth were advanced in years and barren…. But God gave them a child.
- Mary was a virgin…. But God incarnated a child.
- Jesus would be the sinless Son of God to live, die, and resurrect… and He did.
What is the prediction of your life?
- Past? No, bc regrets can be redeemed with forgiven sins in Jesus. (Rom 8:1)
- Future? No, bc our desires can be deceived and not achieve what we hoped (Prov 3:5-6)
- Present walking with Jesus.
In one sense, salvation is a one-time experience – yet it is also an ongoing posture toward and pursuit of God.
God’s prediction for your life is to live in the present and hear the voice of God calling you to receive Him.
 I. Howard Marshall, New International Greek New Testament Commentary, Luke 1:26.
 Craig Keener, The Bible Background Commentary NT, Luke 1:26-27.
 Craig Blomberg, New American Commentary, Matthew 2:23.
 Holman Bible Dictionary: Nazareth, p.1178.
 Marshall, Luke 1:27 παρθένος.