We find in Luke 1 the well-known story of the prophecy of the birth of Jesus that comes to Mary. Most of you could give me the details of the story right now, and you don't need me to even read it. But we're going to do it anyway, because like every famous or very popular passage in Scripture we miss things all the time.
But before we go to Luke 1, let's read why we need Luke 1. It's like when you come into the movie in the middle and you start asking people around you, "Why is he mad at her?" "Was she married to him? I don't get this." We don't want to do that here. So first let's read Genesis 3 to get the idea of why we even need Luke 1.
Read (Genesis 3:1-8)
Did God say that? No, it's not a rhetorical question like, "No, he didn't say 'You can eat of any tree except for this one specific tree.' Just so you know, there's no like two trees in the garden—one's good; one's bad. There's a ton of trees, and you can't eat from just one tree." So Eve corrects him a little bit in verse 2. Is that true? No, that's our first form of legalism. God gives a command, "Don't eat of that one tree," and what does Eve do? She adds a command onto the top of it.
In Genesis 2:15, we find the command God gave Adam. He doesn't say you can't touch it. He says you can't eat it. So we don't know if this is Adam not relaying the command correctly to Eve or if it's Eve not remembering it correctly. We do know that if they eat from this one tree they're going to die. Now it doesn't say that God's going to kill them. It says that they're going to die. There's a big difference. Verse 17 of chapter 2 says, "You shall not eat, in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." It doesn't say "I will surely kill you." Big, big difference between those two.
I have a five-year-old daughter. When she was little I remember a time when she was trying to get into the cupboard underneath the sink. That's where you keep all the bad stuff, and we didn't have the child lock on it. She's getting in the cupboard. I said, "Ella, you can't go in there." I remember telling her, "Ella, if you drink the liquid Drano you're going to die." I didn't say I'm going to kill you. Do you see the difference? Some of you are thinking, You told your two-year-old she was going to die? I did. If she drank the liquid Drano she's going to die, but I didn't say if you drink it I'm going to be so mad I'm going to kill you.
So God says this is not the way it's supposed to be. Don't eat of it, or else you're going to die. We already learned in chapter two and in chapter one that man and woman are already in the likeness of God. So Satan's trying to promise Adam and Eve something they already have.
Now here's the bad part. They did what they weren't supposed to do. Did they have a good theology of God's presence or omnipresence? They're trying to hide from God. We do it all the time. It's like playing hide-and-go-seek with my five-year-old. I can see her head behind the couch, but still I say "Where are you?" God knows where they are, but he still says "Where are you?"
Everything was perfect, now everything's really bad. Death is coming. But before God specifically says "You're going to return to the dust," he curses the serpent.
Read (Genesis 3:14-24)
Here's what's going on. God is saying, "You disobeyed; you're going to die. Now I'm not going to let you eat the tree that leads to eternal life because I don't want you to live forever in your sin." Sometimes we see this story as God being angry and he's not letting them eat as a punishment. He's not letting them eat as a sign of his grace. He doesn't want them to live forever in their sin. That's the story. So the reason we need Luke 1 is because of the prophecy in Genesis 3, and the many prophecies after that as well.
(Read Luke 1:26-56)
Who is Mary?
Do you know anything about Nazareth? You've heard Jesus is from there. Yes, that's true. You've heard it's not very nice, probably. Really small, country-esque, and rural. Not many people live there. It's a very rundown town.
Gabriel, the same angel that was sent to Zechariah, now is appearing to Mary from Nazareth, an unlikely place. So unlikely, that even Nathaniel, one of Jesus' disciples in John 1, asks the question "Does anything good come from Nazareth?"
In verse 27, Luke, wants us to know something very specific about Mary—" … to a virgin … " Is that important? Yeah, there's a reason why he mentions it a couple of times here. You might ask, "What does 'virgin' mean?" It means virgin. The Greek word means virgin. That's what it means. Some people want to say, "Well, does it really mean … ?" Yeah, it means virgin. It's very, very clear.
There's general agreement that Mary was between the ages of twelve and fifteen. I know you've seen Christmas pageants or movies where Mary's twenty-five. No, she wasn't. Let's call her thirteen-and-a-half, just for this morning. Imagine Gabriel appearing to a thirteen-and-a-half year old girl and telling her what all of you know is about to come. Just think about this for a second. This is a crazy story. Don't normalize this story too much. It's crazy. This story is so familiar to us we forget how crazy this story is.
Now, she's betrothed to Joseph. That means engaged. Engagement's a little different back then. You would get engaged, and that means you're legally bound to that person. You've already signed the marriage certificate. If you want to break off the engagement, you have to literally get a divorce. But you have not consummated yet, that is you're not living together. That comes later. A little bit different than the way we do it today.
Now it says, "Mary, you've found favor with God." What did Mary do to find favor with God? We've got to be careful with this. My opinion, a lot of churches devalue Mary, and there's one church in particular that really elevates Mary too high. All the Protestant churches typically they think of Mary too low, and the Roman Catholic Church puts Mary way too high. I'm here to tell you there's a middle ground between the two.
"O favored one … " The word favored is the Greek word charis. Some of you have used that word before—grace. "O Mary, you have been given grace by God." So why did God appear to Mary? Because he chose to and because he chose to use a thirteen-and-a-half year old virgin named Mary. Not because she was better than anybody else. She was from Nazareth. She was an unlikely choice. The reason why Gabriel showed up to Mary is because God chose to use Mary for this very important task.
Who is Jesus?
Thirteen-and-a-half year old virgin from Nazareth gets the message that she's going to have a child, and not only is she going to have a child but her child's going to be like this. Verse 32 says, "He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
I know we all like to think our kids are amazing, and they are, of course. But compare your kid to who this child is going to be. What do we say? A husband and wife they get pregnant, and we say, "Your kid's going to be so cute," because they're both attractive. Or you're trying to be nice to one or the other. Or ladies, you feel the baby kicking and then somebody says, "The baby is going to be a soccer player." So we say stuff like this. Imagine if what somebody told you about your son was he's going to be great. He's going to be the Son of the Most High God. He's going to sit on the throne of David. He's going to reign over the house of Jacob, and his kingdom will have no end. Different level. Right? This is a different kind of Son. This a different kind of child.
This all comes from the Davidic Covenant in Second Samuel 7. David gets a promise from God that says your line will bring the Messiah, and he will always sit on the royal throne. The royal throne will always go through David's line, just so you know, Mary and Joseph are both from the line of David. This is fulfilling the Davidic Covenant as well.
If you're a thirteen-and-a-half year old virgin, what's your first question to Gabriel? He just told you that you're going to give birth to a son, and you're so young, you're not married, and you've never had sex. The first question: How is that going to work? It's not going to be, "Should I go natural on the childbirth? Cloth diapers? Disposable diapers?" You're not going to ask those question. It's going to be: How does this work? That's exactly what she says in verse 34.
She says it very plainly. This doesn't make sense. Just like Zechariah and Elizabeth should not be having a child because they're too old. Just like Abraham and Sarah in Genesis shouldn't have had a child because they're too old. Abraham was a hundred; Sarah was ninety when they had Isaac. Did you ever think about that? When you read the story you lose that.
Here's the point: God does biological miracles. They're not coincidences; they're biological. The virgin is going to give birth. Old Elizabeth is going to give birth. Sarah, who's ninety, gave birth. God does biological miracles.
Now this one is unique. This has never happened outside of Mary. So Mary says, "How is it going to happen?" Well, the Holy Spirit's going to come upon you, and you're going to become pregnant. God does biological miracles.
When I was studying this passage this week, a story came to mind that I didn't know all the details about, so I asked. The Fipps family are members of our church—Andy and Shannon Fipps. Andy is on our starter board to help us with a lot of the decisions that we make. They had a son almost four years ago named Andrew Boaz. There were some serious complications. When I thought of the fact that God does biological miracles, I thought of their story.
When Boaz was twenty weeks in the womb they went in for a checkup and they realized he was very small and that there were some issues. The amniotic fluid had evaporated. The blood flow was reversed. So the doctor said, "I've never seen the amniotic fluid come back and have never seen the blood flow go back to normal again." So they started talking to the Fipps about abortion. The Fipps said no. So the doctor says, "Give it a couple of weeks, and when he stops kicking let us know. Your son's going to die."
So three weeks goes by, and not only is he still kicking, he's kicking harder. So they demand another ultrasound. The doctor takes a very long time to come back into the room. He comes in and he's kind of perplexed. He says, "I've never seen this. Your baby's fine. There's going to be some issues, but the fluid is back and the blood flow is going the way it's supposed to go now." Now Boaz is almost four years old. He was born at thirty-seven weeks. He still has some heart issues, and he'll need some surgeries in the future, but God does biological miracles.
They're called miracles because they don't happen every day. Some people discount miracles because they don't happen every day. Hence the word miracle. But this happens to us, too. It happens in our world, too.
Now imagine Mary's emotions. Ladies, I'll just ask you for now. Imagine being twelve to fifteen years old, you're a virgin, you're not married, you're engaged, and now you're going to give birth. Not only give birth, but give birth to God's Son, the One who's going to sit on the throne of David. What's going through your head? What are your emotions at this point? Anxiety? Excitement? Fear?
I mentioned this earlier, but sometimes we romanticize the Christmas story. Have you noticed that? We sentimentalize it. It's about the baby and it's glorious. Mary she's so blessed. She gets to have Jesus, the Messiah. Which is an amazing blessing, but we forget the background of the story. That she's a twelve to fifteen year old virgin who's going to be ridiculed for this. Nobody's going to believe her that she's a virgin. Would you? Have you ever met a virgin that was pregnant? The answer's no. She is in a really, really sticky circumstance. Even her own fiancé, it says in Matthew, didn't believe her. He was going to divorce her quietly.
Imagine Mary telling people. "I'm a virgin." They're like, "No, you're not. You're pregnant." This is not an easy time for Mary. Don't romanticize the story. She's excited for a reason, but this isn't making her life easy. This isn't making her life better, not in the temporary at least. This is very difficult. So let's look at what she says.
Mary's response begins in verse 36, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your will." That wouldn't be my response. "Are you sure you want to use me? I'm from Nazareth. I'm thirteen years old. Are you sure?" She says, "Let it be according to God's will."
What's the first thing you do when you find out you're pregnant? Depending on the trimester you're in, there's rules, I've learned. When a woman gets pregnant there's a certain number of people that can know during the first trimester. Then the second trimester it gets a little wider, and the third trimester you can pretty much tell everybody. So at this point she just found out she's pregnant, and not only is she pregnant but she's pregnant with the Messiah. So what's the first thing you would do? At least go tell a close relative. Today, we typically don't get on Facebook right away. That comes later. But you tell your close relatives first.
That's exactly what Mary does. Mary goes to her relative Elizabeth. Elizabeth's much older than Mary. We don't know how much older, but they are very far apart in age. Mary runs to Elizabeth. So Nazareth is north. Judah is south. It could be anywhere between forty and seventy miles. It would have taken a couple of days. But very quickly, she leaves to go tell Elizabeth what happened. Mary knows Elizabeth is pregnant, because Gabriel told her. So she's real excited.
Do you remember Gabriel told Zechariah that John the Baptist would have the Holy Spirit in the womb, in Luke 1:15? So, John the Baptist already has the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth's womb. The Messiah, who's like a day old in the womb, maybe two days, however long it took for Mary to get to Judah, enters the room and John the Baptist jumps. Isn't that crazy? Think about that. John the Baptist is probably the size of a grapefruit in the womb, and Jesus is like a poppy seed-ish in the womb. Jesus enters the room, and the grapefruit-sized child that's unborn jumps up and down because the Messiah just came into the room. That's amazing! That's what the Holy Spirit does. It reveals who God is to us.
All of you in here who are Christians the reason you're a Christian is because the Holy Spirit revealed who Jesus is to you. How can John the Baptist in the womb—he can't see anything yet, he doesn't understand what's going on yet—know who the Messiah is? Because the Holy Spirit's inside him. Same thing happens to us. If you're a Christian, if you're a believer, you are a believer only because the Holy Spirit made it clear to you who Jesus is.
So Mary is happy for Elizabeth. She's got to be. Elizabeth and Zechariah have been praying for this for years. But her situation is not romantic. It's not glamorous at all. This is going to be really tough. But I want to read now the rest of the passage. This is Mary's praise.
From the manger to the Cross
We know why Elizabeth is excited. She's old. She never had a kid. We know why Mary is excited for Elizabeth. But why is Mary excited for herself? This complicates life. How many of you if you were thirteen years old and a virgin would be happy if you became pregnant? Your circumstances would be hard. Nobody's going to believe you. So why is Mary so happy? Why does she say she's so blessed? It's a very simple answer, and you know the answer. I just want to reiterate it for you during this Christmas season. Because that baby isn't just a baby. This baby is the Messiah.
I have been a pastor for ten years, so I preach a lot of Christmas themed sermons. This is a common theme that I come back to because it's a theme that I see every single year during Christmastime, even amongst Christians. We sentimentalize Christmas into being about the baby, and we forget that that baby grew up to be the Messiah who died on the Cross for our sins, who rose from the grave, who ascended to the Father, who gave us the Holy Spirit, who lives in us now. That's who the baby grew to be.
This Christmas don't leave the baby in the manger. You guys have heard the saying keep Christ in Christmas. That's like the church saying that to the world. "Hey, keep Christ in Christmas." It's not Happy Holidays. It's Merry Christmas. Now to Christians we should say this. Don't keep the baby in the manger. He grew up. Don't keep him in the wooden manger, because we already know he died on the wooden cross. We know what happens.
I like to call this seasonal amnesia. It happens during Easter, too. You guys go to Good Friday services ever? You come to Good Friday service and talk about how Jesus died. The day Jesus died. It was a Friday. He died and he bore our sin. It's a very dark service. I love Good Friday, don't get me wrong. But then you're asked to leave as if you forgot about what happened on Sunday. You notice that? Leave and don't think about the resurrection. As if we don't know the end of the story. Isn't that weird? I'm all for remembering the death. Yes. Good Friday is amazing. But I think it's weird how we intentionally forget for the sake of effect. During Christmas a lot of times we intentionally forget about the Cross because we want to focus on the baby. It's Christmas. It's about the baby. Don't leave Jesus in the manger. He came in a wooden manger to die on a wooden cross.
I want to do, one more thing. I want to look at John 18, and I want to read Jesus' words of why he came. Jesus is appearing before Pilate. He's about to go to the Cross.
(Read John 18:33-37)
This is Christmas. This is a Christmas story. Did you ever think of the Christmas story in John 18? No, that's the crucifixion. "In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the way; I am the truth; I am the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Why did Jesus come? He came to tell the world that salvation is in one person. He came to fulfill that salvation on the Cross. He died for us on the Cross. He shed his blood for us on the Cross.
What I want you to remember this Christmastime is that it's not just about the baby. I want you to remember the Cross. Some of you have traditions where you open to the Christmas story with your family and you read. That's great. Keep doing it. The virgin birth is miraculous, it's a biological miracle. You should read about it, but don't stop there.
Here's a suggestion. Maybe the tradition with your family shouldn't end at the beginning of the Gospels. Maybe you should read the birth story, but then you should end it with what he did, the death and resurrection. The baby came and then he did this. It's not just about the baby. It's about the Cross. So this Christmastime my encouragement is to remember why Jesus came and what he did.
Ryan Welsh serves as lead pastor for Redeemer Church, a Sojourn Network congregation in Bellevue, Washington.