Luke 1:26–38 (NRSV)
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
In the busyness of this season it is extremely difficult to remember just how amazing it really is. While we are running through stores trying to find the perfect gift, having arguments over how much money is being spent or if we are actually going to buy gifts for that member of the family, making of travel plans and whose family we are visiting on which day, it can almost be overwhelming especially if you work at a place that people frequent during this season. But then there is the flip side of the season that seems to make it all worthwhile. I think everyone should take a toddler shopping for Christmas and just stand in wonder with them as they look at the displays. Yesterday while we were doing the normal holiday shopping we let Albert walk, and the screams of joy over every Christmas tree display was enough to bring a smile to the face of the grinchiest person. But even that does not really hit the deepest most amazing aspect of this season.
Today we meet with Mary in the pages of scripture. As we each consider this passage I would like us each to just empty our minds of the years upon years of Christmas stories and sermons that we each have wrapped up around this story. I want us to do that because to be honest we have become so comfortable with this story that often we forget just how scary, miraculous, impossible, confusing, dangerous, and gracious it really is.
The first thing to consider is the opening of this passage. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee. There is much in just this one verse that we probably overlook or just forget. First off this occurs during the Jewish month of Elul, which is between August and September. Most of us do not grasp the significance of this month, but this month is one that is focused on Repentance and preparation for the most holy holidays of the Jewish calendar Rosh Hashanah the Day of Judgment and Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement. It is said that the name of this month is derived from the verse “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” from the Song of Solomon. Basically this is a month of deep searching, asking for and granting forgiveness, and examination of one’s life and standing before God. There is a reason the writer of the gospel felt it necessary to include the month in the writing, through the naming of the month we are given a foreshadow of the very purpose of this event, Luke is telling us just how much God loves the world and how God is going to provide for atonement.
The second is the fact that an angel is sent. Today there is a resurgence of giving great honor to angels. I have to admit that for many years I had a guardian angel icon clipped to the visor of my car for several years…I don’t anymore because the clip broke, which probably means my driving is too much for the angel. But our culture puts a great deal of energy into angels, we study them, we have given classifications to them, we try to see them, we fear and respect them, but do we really know what or who they are? In scripture we only really meet two angels and a third is spoken about briefly. The two are Gabriel and Michael, the third is the one that rebelled against God. Michael is the protector or the leader of the armies of God for Israel and Gabriel is always a messenger. True there are areas of scripture that state that there are more than just three angels but we do not know through scripture anything about them. Really all we know about angels is that they are sent by God. They can only do what God allows them to do. In this case Gabriel is sent to give a message in a small town in Galilee.
Which raises another question why that small town? Nazareth is not an important place. In fact it is never mentioned in the Old Testament or in the Apocrypha, but it is just north of the most agriculturally fruitful valley in Israel in limestone hills. The people of Nazareth were most likely involved in agricultural or stone cutting trades, which is why most scholars believe Joseph was probably a mason and not a worker of wood since the term translated as carpenter is used for both. This town is insignificant yet it is the place an angel is sent, and the angel is sent to speak to someone that on the surface is equally insignificant.
If we were to look back through scripture to see every visitation by angels throughout the history of Israel who were they sent to? They were sent to speak to the patriarchs of the nation, they were sent to Joshua the general that lead Israel into the promised land, they were sent to prophets, never in the old testament was an angel sent to speak to a woman. I do not mean to be sexist by saying that, I am only trying to show that in most ancient cultures men were seen as greater than women, and the angels were sent to influential men. I want us to keep that in mind, Gabriel was sent not to an influential man, but a woman, a girl actually. An angel was sent to a young lady around the age of twelve who was yet under the care of her father. In light of the culture Mary was a person of very little importance in a town of very little importance, yet God was going to use this town and this woman, beginning in the month dedicated to repentance to show not only Israel but the entire world that humanity is loved by God.
The passage goes on to say that Mary was perplexed, confused, even fearful at this moment is there any question as to why she would have been confused. Imagine a preteen girl standing before messenger sent by God, knowing full well the history and significance of the situation. Never before was an angel sent to someone insignificant. Yet she would have felt far from significant given who she was and where she was from.
The message this angel gave was equally if not more perplexing. Basically saying, “You are so favored by God that you are going to become pregnant today and give birth to the highest King of Israel.” This is where everything gets scary, miraculous, impossible, confusing, dangerous, and gracious yet we have heard and read the story so often we tend to forget it. Consider Mary, a young woman who is promised to a man yet is not yet married. If she were to become pregnant it would be very scandalous. As they courses of history have progressed the taboo has significantly decreased to the point that most people do not even care if a woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock. But in the first century this sort of thing could have dire consequences. A woman caught in adultery could be stoned, and Mary’s father would have the right to demand her life and the life of the father. This angel was telling Mary, “good news! You are so loved by God, he might get you killed.” But this is where it gets interesting, Mary doesn’t care about that part, her question to the angel is how can this be since I am a virgin?
Those that want to discredit the virgin birth will look deeply into the usages of words when it gets to this. They will say that the term translated into English could also mean young woman, or unmarried woman which is true, but the second word translated as virgin in Mary’s question literally means she has never intimately known a man and no man has known her. Impossible, confusing, dangerous, scary, and miraculous. She is faced with death, her reputation could be ruined, and her future uncertain. She had a great life planned for her. She was about to be married to a respectable man in the community, someone that could provide for her every need, and they would have a family and live a happily insignificant life together in the limestone hills of Nazareth, but an angel came to visit.
The amazing story of Christmas is that life is full of surprises, the seemingly insignificant can become the most important thing of all creation, and that God calls humanity to participate in making something out of nothing. The truth is God will usually uses the insignificant to do the greatest things and that usually happens when those called to participate have nothing to offer.
In the month of Elul, God through and angel told Mary, “that she is her beloved’s and her beloved is hers.” She was going to give birth to the king of kings, the son of the Most High, enthroned in the throne of David ruler over the house of Jacob in a kingdom that will have no end, he will be the very Son of God, and His name will be Jesus (Joshua) which means God to the rescue, God the deliverer, or God is salvation.
What does Christmas really mean? It means that nothing is impossible with God. It means that God is our salvation, God is our deliverer. It means that God will see us through if we will turn and follow Him and walk in His ways. It means we have hope, we have grace, and we are loved. It means that God so love the world that He sent His Son not to condemn the world but to save us. It also means that God want us to continue live and share that testimony in all that we do.
Do we live as if that is true in our lives? Do we believe that God can do the impossible through the most unlikely people? I believe that he can. I believe because I have seen him do seemingly impossible things. I come from a background that is not exactly remarkable. I came from an insignificant town in an insignificant state. I was born into a family that has no fame and no fortune. Yet I have seen God do amazing things. I was never hungry even though I grew up poor. God sent me to minister on the other side of the world, he provided all I needed for that journey and more even though there was no feasible way I should have been on that plane. But I am not significant, I had a child before I was married, my ancestor were not always the most righteous either, yet God has called and used us to extend his kingdom.
What does that say to us as a Meeting, us as a community? Though we may not be significant in the eyes of the world God can use us to do the impossible. I believe that God is at work all around us, I believe that God is about to expand his kingdom in a way that history has yet to see, and I believe that this tiny seeming insignificant Meeting which is part of a seemingly insignificant yearly meeting, which is part of a movement that developed into a seemingly insignificant denomination, is going to be right in the front of that great revival. I believe that this small meeting will participate in showing the world around us that it is its beloved’s and the it’s beloved is theirs.
As we enter into this time of open worship and holy expectancy I want us to consider a couple of things. I want us to consider a couple of statements made by Mary whom God called to participate in the changing and redemption of the world. The first is “How can this be.” This is the perplexed statement of those that are unable to see outside of the current situation. The statement of those that cannot see beyond their own abilities. The second is “Let it be.” Let it be is the statement of faith, belief. It is a statement that goes beyond understanding and trust and extends to entrusting the very future and reputation on God. Those are the two statements that are on the minds of each of us here today that are looking forward into cloudy future that God is calling us into. We are asking, “How can this be?” How can we feed the hungry, how can we cloth the naked, provide shelter to the homeless, and care for those that cannot take care of themselves. How can we bring hope to our community when we can barely take care of ourselves? How can we?
With God nothing is impossible. With God a child can be born out of nothing. With God a poor farm boy can go around the world as a missionary. With God an insignificant meeting can do the miraculous. If only we say to Him, “Let it be.”