Every year when the Christmas season comes around, preachers search for different ways to present the wonder of the Incarnation. As wondrous as the God-in-flesh-holy days might be, this sanctified season is a reminder that it repeats itself every twelve months.
One of the approaches a preacher might take is to explore the life of the mother of Jesus, Mary and the other Marys—Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Salome. A series titled, “Mary Christmas!” might be an innovative way to communicate the message of the gospel through the narratives of these Marys.
Below is a suggested framework for a series that takes an unusual and unexpected path to Christmas Day. The sermon series begins with Jesus’ mother Mary’s Immaculate Conception and ends with the three Marys at the tomb as they encounter the resurrected Lord Jesus.
Mary at the Immaculate Conception
Luke 1:26-56 describes the predicted birth of Jesus Christ: He would be born to Joseph a descendant of David, and to Mary, a virgin, who by the Holy Spirit would bear her Son. This Mary was visited by an angel and told that she would give birth to a Son who will be given the name Jesus. And, according to this angel, Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High and the Son of God. This same Son will reign by God’s power on the throne of David. Finally, as Mary was informed of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, she obediently gave herself to God’s will.
The Immaculate Conception is foundational to the deity of Jesus Christ. This text reveals an obedient, faithful lover of God, convinced to follow the dictates of heaven, no matter what the consequences.
Mary’s obedience in light of this miraculous experience underscores for us this truth: We serve the Son of the Most High God who came to save us from our sins.
Mary at the Birth of Jesus
Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-20) demonstrates that God chose the lowliest to show in his holiness that Jesus Christ is Savior to all kinds of people. Here were Joseph and Mary, a working-class, even a peasant-class couple, yet deemed by God the Father as worthy to parent his Son, Jesus the Christ.
No room in the inn meant a place in the barn. In those lowly conditions the Savior of the world was born. It’s an ironic story with incredible contrasts. Surrounding the birth of Jesus were outcast shepherds, and high-singing angels with a baby in a lowly feeding trough.
The text says, “But Mary treasured up all these things in here heart” (Luke 2:19). The riches of this earth-shattering event were captured in her thoughts and in her heart, giving her perspective on what would take place over the next thirty-three years of her Son’s life.
Mary’s experience at Jesus’ birth underscores that God chooses the lowly to show in his holiness that Jesus Christ is Savior to all kinds of people.
Mary at Miracle of Water Turned into Wine
In this narrative (John 2:1-22), Mary the mother of Jesus appears to step in to take the place of the wedding host. The wine has run out at the wedding and she’s at a loss as to how to get more—so she tells Jesus, “They have no more wine” (John 2:3).
The conversation between Mary and her grown-up Messiah Son seems a bit sharp at first. But she seemed to know that it was “his time” (John 2:4) and orders the servants to do what Jesus tells them to do. The water that was poured into the water pots moments later came out of the spout as “the best wine” (John 2:10).
At first, one may puzzle about Mary’s role in this astonishing scene, but even though the emphasis of the narrative is that Jesus “thus revealed his glory” being his first of many miracles (John 2:11), his mother clearly made the way for him to demonstrate his glory.
Mary at the Cruel Cross of Crucifixion
One cannot imagine the horror of watching one’s Son slip toward death. Mary witnessed the crucifixion. It happened before her very eyes. She was gripped with grief as she stood near the Cross where her Son was crucified.
She was supported by two other Marys: Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdala. In addition, John “the disciple whom he loved” was standing nearby (John 19:26).
From the Cross of pain, the caring, loving Son thoughtfully instructed his mother and John, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and he said to John, “Here is your mother.” The text continues, “From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
These seemingly minor details surrounding the narrative of the crucifixion add to the remarkable account about the life of Mary and the role that the disciples played—especially John—in the continuing biography of the life of Mary.
Marys at the Resurrection of Jesus
Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Salome went to the tomb where Jesus was laid early on the morning of the first day of the week, Sunday (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:10-18).
The Mary that stands out among the other Marys was Mary Magdelene, the same Mary who had seven demons cast out of her, presumably by Jesus (Luke 8:2). Following her encounter with Jesus, she is the one who reported to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!" (John 20:18).
The celebration of the Incarnation is the perfect time for followers of Jesus to tell others that we know this Lord, this same Lord of whom these Marys gave an account—his name is Jesus, our risen Redeemer.
Listed above are suggestions as to how a preacher might approach the Incarnation through the eyes of the different Marys in the New Testament. If one more sermon was added it could be dedicated to the life changing exorcism of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2).
What is presented above is a novel approach to a Christmas sermon series and how it can possibly be shaped, all the while staying close to the essentials of the gospel as seen through the lives of these important women. These saintly women were used in God’s providence to show the contours of the gospel story.
As preachers, the celebration of the Incarnation gives room to demonstrate how people—women in this case—were instruments of grace in Jesus’ Incarnation.
You might be looking for a different approach to preach the Incarnation. Instead of understanding, “Merry Christmas,” as a means of saying “hello,” your sermon series could move the conversation from a greeting to a personal statement on how God used women with a simple name, Mary, to change the world. Mary Christmas!
Scott M. Gibson is the Professor of Preaching and holder of the David E. Garland Chair of Preaching at Baylor University/Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. He also served as the Haddon W. Robinson Professor of Preaching and Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he was on faculty for twenty-seven years.