When we are opening presents around Christmas, I’m the guy that likes to try to guess what it is before I open it. I will look at the shape of the box, shake it a little, smell it and feel how much it weighs to help determine what might actually be inside. The detective in me can’t resist. Sometimes I’m right, but most of the time I’m wrong. Either way, I’m usually confident about what I think is in the present even when I have no clue.
I think we do something similar with the Christmas story. We kind of have an idea of the Christmas story. We shake the Christmas story and hear a little bit of it around Christmas time. We look at the shape of the Christmas story seeing the major figures and getting some idea of the big picture of the Christmas story with Mary, Jospeh, baby Jesus, shepherds and wise men. But the only way you can truly understand and appreciate the Christmas story is to unwrap it, open it up and look closely at the contents.
Today, we are going to unwrap a little bit of the Christmas story and look at some details and see what God has actually given to us. So, here we go.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” 34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” 35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.” 38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38, NLT)
Let’s walk our way through the story, make some observations and draw some life lessons along the way.
Luke tells us in verse 26, In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee…. Gabriel had just completed a mission that God sent him own dealing with Zechariah and his wife having a baby (Luke 1:11-20). Gabriel is now sent on another mission. This time he was sent to Nazareth.
Today Nazareth is a large bustling town no different from others in Israel. In the days of Jesus, Nazareth was nothing. Nobody of importance came from Nazareth nor lived there. At the time of Jesus there were about 400 people who lived in Nazareth. There was only one well for the entire village.
- Archaeologists tell us homes in the village were only 500 to 700 square feet. That is 25 feet by 25 feet. The main business in Nazareth was growing olives and grapes on the nearby hillside. Nazareth was inhabited by the destitute and poor. It was a city full of nobodies going nowhere (at least that was its reputation). Jesus grew up in that dirt-poor forgotten town.
- While Nazareth was nothing, it was three miles south of a major city named Sepphoris. Three miles may sound close to you and I, but that would have been about a 40 minute walked wherever they went. Most people walked wherever they went. That would be like our drive to Columbia. Travelers used Nazareth like a gas stop. It was a place to get a Red Bull and a donut while topping off your camels when heading out of town (if you had a camel).
- Over the years Nazareth had developed a bad reputation. It was a small town of uneducated and poor people. This is why when Philip told Nathanael about Jesus for the first time and that Jesus came from Nazareth that Nathanael said, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46, NLT).
For the rest of Jesus’ life, He would be known as Jesus of Nazareth. This is encouraging. God looked around to decide where His son would be born. He didn’t choose a beautiful city like Jerusalem or Rome. He chose an out-of-the-way hick, rural town with a terrible reputation that would forever be associated with the name of His precious Son.
Doesn’t that tell us a lot about God? God loves small towns that nobody else notices. He loves simple places and simple people like you and me. I find that incredibly encouraging. You don’t have to be in a big city, to be a part of something big. Just as God was at work and up to something significant in the little town of Nazareth, He is up to something significant in our little town as well.
Our story continues. Luke goes on to say in verse 27 that the angel Gabriel specifically went to Nazareth to [visit] a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. We learned about Nazareth, our location, now let’s meet our characters.
Let’s talk about Mary. More than likely, Mary would have been illiterate, unable to read or write. Very few women were given a formal education during the time of Jesus, especially in a poor rural village. Her only connection to God would be listening to God’s Word read in the synagogue each week. What I find impressive is she took following God seriously. She apparently paid attention in church and wasn’t texting her friends, chatting, or making a to do list when God’s Word was being read or explained.
Mary also would have been very young. She would have been around 14-16 years old. God has a different perspective on teenagers than we do. We barely trust a 15-year-old girl with our car, but God was about to entrust His only Son to this girl.
Listen very carefully, if you are a teenager you need to know that God has high expectations for you. He has a purpose for you and it’s significant. God’s plan involves you being used right now, where you are as a student. God is not waiting for you to get older before He uses you, He wants to use you right now. God can use you in a big way right now. Real life doesn’t start after graduation. Real life starts right now. I am convinced God loves to use young men and women in a big way even when they are in junior high or high school. One of the things God uses Mary to do is to remind us of this.
So, this Mary was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. Who was Joseph?
- He was young. If Joseph was the average age of young men getting married during Jesus’ day, he would be around 19 years old.
- He was poor. Because of the type of offering, he would give later in the story, we know that he was poor.
- He was a hard worker. He was a blue-collar carpenter. At the time they didn’t make a whole lot. He also was a descendant of King David. However, Joseph was an ordinary guy, who worked hard.
- He was a good man. When Joseph thought Mary was unfaithful to him, he didn’t want to shame her but wanted to divorce her quietly. He didn’t want to get revenge on a girl he thought cheated on him.
- He was a spiritual man. When he was later told in a dream by an angel of the Lord to marry her, he obeyed. He went through the rest of his life with people wondering why he married a pregnant woman that was unfaithful to him before their wedding night or having people assume they slept together before their wedding night. For them that was huge. Jospeh stood by her and protected her and baby Jesus from public shame. He was Mary’s support system when nobody could understand. He was an amazing guy, the down-to-earth unsung hero of the Christmas story.
- I think Joseph is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. He doesn’t get Christmas songs written about Him. Nobody sings, “Joseph, did you know?” they sing, “Mary, did you know?”
Some of you may relate to Joseph. You are that down to earth, blue-collar person that obeys God behind the scenes. You are not the one in the spotlight, but in the shadows hammering away helping others do what God has called them to do. God is going to use Joseph to provide protection, comfort, love, shelter, food, clothing, and a donkey. Some of you are looking for something big to do for God, when God simply wants you to love and support the people who are in your life. Your ministry is not somewhere down the road, but sitting right next to you. It’s the people God has placed in your life.
Back to verse 27. Luke tells us they were engaged. Some translations used the word “betrothed” (NASB). To be engaged or betrothed during Joseph and Mary’s day meant you were legally married. You were a married couple.
- However, you did not live together, and you did not have intimate relationships. Marriage customs during that time were different than ours today.
- This engagement period lasted one year. It began with the groom’s parents approaching the bride’s parents, requesting their daughter’s hand in marriage for their son.
- The groom’s parents paid the bride-price to the bride’s family so the legal transaction for marriage was complete at the engagement. This is similar to my wife. A chief in Africa offered Pam’s parents two-hundred cows as the bride-price. In Africa, that is a high-dollar bride. I got myself a 200-cow bride! Woowee!
- The engagement for Mary and Joseph was witnessed by a rabbi or priest. They served as the ancient version of a public notary.
- After the bride-price was paid at the engagement, there was a one-year period of engagement which culminated in a wedding party that lasted seven days.
- A husband and wife were legally married once engaged. The only way to break off an engagement was with divorce papers.
Engagement was an exciting time for a young woman in the ancient world just as it is an exciting time for young women today. A young woman had a year to plan her wedding and the weeklong celebration that went with it. Like many brides she would dream about the wedding, life together, their children, and the other things that come with it. She would talk to her friends about getting married, having babies, and giggle about it all. Full of excitement and anticipation of the great days ahead. This was Mary. The teenager who couldn’t wait to get married.
But then something happened in verse 28, Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!
The word “Greetings” simply means “rejoice.” It means “I have good news for you.” The angel describes Mary as “favored” and tells her “the Lord is with you.” Gabriel was saying, “Mary, the Lord has chosen you for a special assignment. You have been set apart for something significant. He has placed His favor on you and is about to do something incredible with your life and through your life.”
Instead of getting excited about this Luke tells us in verse 29 that Mary became confused and disturbed. I think her reaction is understandable. I can hear Mary saying, “Gabriel, you don’t know what you are talking about. You’ve got the wrong girl. You are at the wrong address. I am a teenage girl who lives in Nowhereville called Nazareth. They won’t even let me drive a camel. Why would I find favor with God?”
Gabriel was at the right address, and he was talking to the right girl. Here is the good news he came to deliver to Mary in verse 31, You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” This is packed with meaning, but we don’t have time to unpack it all. However, the one thing I do want you to see is she would conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name him Jesus. The name Jesus means God saves or God is salvation. This is the same thing that an angel of the Lord told Joseph. In Matthew 1:21 the angel said to Joseph, “She will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (NASB).
We don’t know how much of this she understood. Like many of the disciples, I think she couldn’t put all the pieces together for quite some time. For her, she needed to hear the announcement and remember it later and it would make sense down the road. What we do know is Gabriel told her the child she would conceive would be king forever and his kingdom would last forever, and His name would be Jesus. This is a king unlike any other. Now Mary has a question, which I think is quite understandable.
Her question is in verse 34, Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” Mary’s question is one of mechanics. If we were to put this in today’s language she is saying, “How is this possible? I am a virgin. I am not going to have any hanky-panky until after the wedding in about a year. And I’m not going to sleep around and cheat on Joseph either. The last I checked virgins don’t get pregnant. Besides Joseph and I are saving ourselves for each other for the honeymoon. So, how will this happen?”
Based on some things Mary says in other parts of the Bible, we know she had a good grasp of what the Bible (Old Testament) taught; however, the dots were not connecting on this one yet. In the Old Testament, God inspired Isaiah to speak about this ahead of time. God’s son would be born from a pregnant virgin. Isaiah 7:14 says, “The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)” (NLT).
Back to Mary’s question. Mary did not question whether this was going to happen, but how will this happen. She believed the angel, but here problem was with logistics. Here is a lesson from this. It is OK to trust God and still have questions. Mary trusted God but didn’t understand the mechanics and logistics of how God will accomplish His purpose in your life. It is OK to trust God and still have questions about things.
- If you have questions on the mechanics of how God fit all the animals on Noah’s ark that is OK. God only asks you to trust that He got the animals on the ark and that He kept His word.
- If you have questions about how God divided the Red Sea so Moses and His people could walk across on dry land, that is OK. God only ask that you trust Him knowing that it happened.
- If you have questions about how God caused a virgin girl to become pregnant and remain a virgin that’s okay. God only ask that you trust Him knowing that it happened.
- If you have questions about how the death of Jesus paid the price for your sin, that’s okay. God only ask that you trust Him knowing that it did.
- If you have questions about how Jesus resurrected from the grave that’s okay. God only ask that you trust Him knowing that it happened.
- If you have questions about how and when Jesus will return that’s okay. God only ask that you trust Him knowing that it will happen.
Questions about the mechanics of how God does things, that is OK.
Mary had a logistical question and Gabriel gave her an answer beginning in verse 35, The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.” Two things I want to highlight for us.
- Gabriel tells Mary that the power of the Most High will overshadow This is the angel’s way of saying, “This is going to be a miracle. It’s supernatural in origin and divine in its essence.” Then the angel told Mary that Elizabeth had become pregnant in her old age. The angel just told Mary two things that seems impossible. Mary would become miraculously pregnant and remain a virgin, and Elizabeth nearing the end of her life has become pregnant and will give birth in about six months. The angel gives Mary a very general logistical answer.
- Then the angel ends with this statement, For the word of God will never fail. Some translations word this statement as, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (NASB). Either way, they mean the same thing. When God says something is going to happen, it will happen. The word of God will never fail, never be wrong, never be mistaken. The reason why the word of God will never fail is because nothing is impossible with God.
I think God is trying to teach us something here. God loves to do the impossible because it makes His name famous. It demonstrates His sovereignty. It reveals his power. It displays His glory.
- God’s glory and power were on display when He told Noah to build an ark because there was a great flood coming. God gave Noah the blueprint on how to build the ark. God gave Noah the time to build it (120 years). God brought all the animals He wanted on it. They just showed up. God shut the door to the ark Himself. God brought the rains and the floods. What others thought would not and could not happen, happened. Why? For the word of God will never fail. Nothing will be impossible with God.
- God’s sovereignty and might were demonstrated when He told Moses and the Israelites to cross the Red Sea. God divided the sea and made the bottom of the sea dry so they could walk across on dry land. It happened just like God said it would. The word of God will never fail. Nothing will be impossible with God.
- God’s greatest display of strength and power was when Jesus said he would die, but on the third day arise from the grave defeating death, sin, and Satan with one mighty blow. It happened just like He said. The word of God will never fail. Nothing will be impossible with God.
When God tells you something has happened or will happen and it seems impossible to you, remember that what seems impossible to you is easily possible to Him. God’s word will never fail. God’s word will not fail Mary, will not fail Elizebeth, will not fail Joseph, and will not fail you. When God’s Word says if you call upon the name of the Lord for salvation and place your faith and trust in Him then you are rescued from your sin, saved from your sin, and pardoned from your sin and you become a child of God and you have a home in heaven. The word of God will never fail. Nothing is impossible with God.
Back to Mary. The angel Gabriel answers her question, but look at how she responded in verse 38, Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. Let me tell you how we normally hear this and then let me share with you what she means by this.
- Here is how we hear Mary, “Oh, this is wonderful! This is a great opportunity for me to serve the Lord. Everybody is going to be thrilled about this. Joseph will be excited about raising the Son of God. My parents and friends are going to celebrate with us because of what God has said and doing. What a joy it is to serve the Lord!” That is what some of us hear, but that is not what Mary is saying.
- What was she really saying. To understand what she was saying we need to take her statement and place it in the context of her culture. Here is what you have.
- There was a provision in the law that allows those in authority to make an example of an adulterous woman. They could dress the woman in rags, abuse her verbally and physically then tie her up in the center of town for everyone else to see and mock. It was total public humiliation that was intended to discourage other women from considering adultery. Mary knew that was a possibility. However, she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
- She is smart enough to know that when she would tell this to Joseph that Jospeh would be heart broken. It would sound too crazy and outlandish for it to be true. Joseph may end the engagement and divorce her. Yet she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
- She fully understood that her family and friends and others in her small village of Nazareth would question her purity and integrity for the rest of her life. Imagine the shame and mocking Mary would have faced and nobody would believe she was still a virgin, but yet she still said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
- I think Mary knew that she may lose everything that was important to her. She was this very young lady who was dreaming about her weeklong celebration at her wedding, how she was going to be this example of godliness for her community and the other girls growing up around her, and how her and Joseph would get married, have children, and grow old together. But she knew all this was in jeopardy because of what the angel had told her but she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
What did Mary mean with her statement to Gabriel. I think she meant, “I made a decision to serve the Lord. If this is what He wants me to do, I will do it. Even though I don’t understand everything that you have told me today and I don’t like the possible consequences of all this, may everything you have said about me come true. This is going to be difficult. This changes everything for me. God I love you, you have favored me, and I’m going to receive it.”
When you unwrap the Christmas story you get a complicated and wonderful story. You get a real-life story, with real people, with real needs, and real emotions. But at the heart of the Christmas story, we have a real Savior that was given to us to save us from real sins so we could experience real life in a real heaven. Let the Christmas story drive you to be faithful, obedient, and committed to the Lord regardless of the consequences.