“There’s Something about Mary!” It’s the name of a movie starring Cameron Diaz. She’s so popular, she’s got four guys vying for her affections.
But the Mary in today’s Bible verses is popular for a DIFFERENT reason. Humanly speaking, she was nothing special. Perhaps as young as 13. Living in a dusty little town in Israel. Nothing special that is, until one day something amazing happened to her. Lk 1:26
26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Highly favoured by GOD. For no reason other than his GRACE. He’s including Mary in his plans. Promising to be WITH her.
And Mary HERSELF seems to find it all a little hard to believe. V29
Mary was GREATLY TROUBLED at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
It’s hard to see anything greatly TROUBLING, isn’t it? Highly favoured by God? The Lord is with you? But maybe it was just the UNEXPECTED RE of the visit. After all, it’s not everyday the angel Gabriel comes to visit!
Do you ever find it hard to know how to take someone saying something nice? Like “I’ve heard you’re good at sewing” Which you quickly expect to be followed by “Could you help me make some curtains?”
Or for me, when someone says “That’s the best sermon I’ve heard you preach in ages”, my first thought is …“Have the other ones been really bad?”
But, whatever the reason for Mary’s fear, the angel CALMS it.
“DO NOT BE AFRAID, Mary, you have found favor with God.
Then he continues. As if the visit of the ANGEL isn’t enough of a surprise for one day. He’s got some news that’ll REALLY make her head spin. Incredible news!
31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be GREAT and will be called the SON OF THE MOST HIGH. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
We all hope our kids will grow up to MAKE something of themselves. But these claims are just STAGGERING.
Two of the great names in the history of Israel. JACOB, whose name God CHANGED to Israel – the Father of the whole nation. And DAVID – Israel’s greatest King.
And Jesus will surpass both of them! Reign over Jacob’s house FOREVER. And sit on King David’s throne.
And these aren’t just promises pulled out of the air. They’re the answer to promises God made centuries earlier. He’d promised King David there’d always be one of his descendants on his throne after him. Yet, in Mary’s time, that didn’t look very likely. And HADN’T been for hundreds of years. And yet God was promising that Jesus would be it!
And it was more than just a promise about an EARTHLY kingdom. God’s promise was that Jesus would be AN ETERNAL king. Who’d rule over Israel FOREVER.
And, in some way the angel doesn’t explain, he’d be called Son of the MOST HIGH. The exalted Son of the most exalted God! Part of the family of God himself! Descended not just from ROYALTY, but from DEITY.
All this from little Mary! As if the angel appearing wasn’t enough to shake her.
And yet, for all the staggering claims, there’s one nagging detail that’s troubling Mary more than ANY of them. V34.
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
Forget the mechanisms of kingship and politics and power. Forget how a human can be a Son of God. Mary’s more concerned with the mechanisms of marriage and conception. Of pregnancy and childbirth.
And it’s here we get one of the most perplexing answers to a question ever given. My kids sometimes ask me a question, and I’m so keen to answer it fully and accurately and completely. I get a bit carried away with the detail. And I don’t notice the kids eyes starting to glaze over. And a few minutes into the answer, they’ll say, “It’s ok Dad, I wasn’t THAT interested!”
And the angel gives Mary an answer that must be even MORE difficult to get her head around. V35.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the SON of God.
And then, to prove his point, Gabriel continues
36 Even ELIZABETH your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
“Nothing’s impossible with God” Enough said. It’s an explanation that probably sounds completely normal to Gabriel. After all, he was there when God spoke the Universe into being. Mountains, oceans, forests. The sun and moon. Stars, galaxies, constellations. He was there when God breathed his breath into Adam and Eve and they LIVED.
So why should it seem strange that the power of the Most high would overshadow Mary and she’d be pregnant?
Not strange for GABIREL, but it’s an answer people ever SINCE have struggled to get their heads around. Even to the extent of plenty of people who say they’re Christians who say “It’s just a MYTH. That it didn’t HAPPEN like that. It’s a fairy tale designed to emphasise how SPECIAL Jesus was. How close to God. But of course, he couldn’t REALLY be conceived by the Holy Spirit overshadowing her.”
Listen to what ONE commentator says, William Barclay says. I’m embarrassed to say he’s a Scottish Presbyterian.
It may well be that the New Testament stories of the Birth of Jesus are lovely, poetical ways of saying that, even if He had a human father, the Holy Spirit of God was operative in His Birth in the most unique and special way. In this matter we may make our own decision. It may be that we will desire to cling to the literal doctrine of the Virgin Birth; it may be that we will prefer to think of it as a beautiful way of stressing the presence of the Spirit of God in family life
He’s very clever in the way he words it. He doesn’t exactly say he DOESN’T BELIEVE it. I think it’s pretty clear he DOESN’T. What he DOES say is/ it doesn’t MATTER if you believe it or not. Which isn’t really any better.
DOES it matter whether Jesus was born of a virgin, without human intervention? It’s CRUCIAL!
Jesus is ONLY the Son of the Most High / if he is conceived through God. He is ONLY able to be the ONE PERFECT HUMAN if he is ALSO fully God. He is ONLY able to stand as the MEDIATOR between God and Man if he is ALSO both God and man.
Of COURSE it matters.
It’s too hard to believe for William Barclay and others. But the explanation’s good enough for Mary. V38.
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
And sure enough, within a few months, Mary’s expecting.
And by then, it seems like Mary’s begun to get her head around the idea. She’s OVERJOYED at how good God is. And she sings a song. There from v46.
It’s a song that, in MY Bible, goes by the imaginative title of “Mary’s Song”, but it’s traditionally been called “The Magnificat”. The source of religious music in the church for centuries.
First, she looks UP. She says some incredible things about what God’s like. V46.
“My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
And then in v49
49 for the MIGHTY One has done great things for me- HOLY is his name.
For Mary, God isn’t just some distant, national God. He’s HER Saviour. He’s the MIGHTY ONE whose done great things FOR HER.
And his name is HOLY. He’s Pure, separate, perfect. And at the same time dependable, trustworthy and faithful. He’s worth singing about.
And while Mary’s looking UP, what she rejoices in MOST about God/ is that he’s looking DOWN. He IS mighty and holy. But he also NOTICES those who AREN’T. See there in v48?
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
She’s mainly thinking about herself – that God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. But she goes on to say that’s the NORMAL WAY God DOES things in the world. She says in v49
“the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name. His mercy EXTENDS to THOSE WHO FEAR HIM from GENERATION TO GENERATION”.
To FEAR God / means to recognise his authority, and to give him the RESPECT he deserves. And THOSE are the people Mary says God shows mercy to. It’s the way he’s ALWAYS worked. From generation to generation.
Fearing God. It’s not something you hear too much about these days. Plenty of IGNORING him, or using his name as a swear word. Or treating him as if he doesn’t exist, except when you’re in an emergency, and you promise that if he just gets you out of THIS mess, THEN you’ll show him some respect.
But Mary says God shows mercy to those people whose CHARACTERISTIC WAY OF LIVING is to show him the respect and honour he deserves.
And then she shows WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE. HOW God shows mercy. It’s about God TURNING things AROUND. V51
“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are PROUD in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down RULERS from their thrones, but has lifted up the HUMBLE. He has filled the HUNGRY with good things, but has sent the RICH away empty.”
God shows MERCY and JUSTICE by turning things around. Making wrongs right.
It’s a very WESTERN SUBURBS sort of celebration. Very left wing, working class, Labor Party. We’re used to being overlooked. Used to missing out. Health care, or welfare, or transport, or education. Whatever it might be.
But listen to Mary. Those who are HUMANLY in charge mightn’t notice. But GOD DOES. Which is great news for those of us suffering under some sort of burden this Christmas. It might be financial pressure, or emotional pressure. It might be concerns about health or family.
But look to God in HUMILITY AND HONOUR. Make him the CENTRE of your life. And he’ll NOTICE you. Show you mercy and justice. And turn things around for you. That’s Mary’s message.
That’s Mary! what about me?
You might hear that, and think “That’s fine for MARY. She had an ANGEL visit HER. She had God’s Spirit visit her. And give her promises. She gave birth to the Saviour of the World. Of COURSE she knows God looks after HER.
But what about ME? God seems to have overlooked what I’M going through.”
But Mary says all of this, not just because SHE’S having a special baby. But because of WHO THAT BABY IS. And WHAT GOD’S plans are for him.
This baby is the One who SHOWS that God notices the humble. This baby Jesus was GOD wrapped in skin and bones. God, who left heaven, and was born into the most humble situation.
Not into a palace. Or a sterile hospital ward.
Not surrounded by the wealthy and important. But by animals and shepherds.
Not born at the centre of civilisation. In a great city. But in a dusty outpost of a town in a backwater nation in a farflung corner of the Roman Empire.
This baby Mary gave birth to/ is the Jesus who grew up, but who never married, never owned anything – never had more than a change of clothes.
This Jesus would be arrested, rejected by all his friends, abused, then ed for a crime he didn’t commit.
This Jesus showed that God didn’t just NOTICE the humble, he became LIKE THEM, so they might be lifted up. To RESTORE those who looked to God. Dying in our place to save us from God’s judgment.
And so, because he obediently went to according to his Father’s plan. couldn’t hold him. God raised him from the , and restored him to his throne in heaven. That’s where he is NOW, and where he NOTICES you and I. Where he CONTINUES to hear those who look to him. To the humble and the poor and the hungry.
And in case you DOUBT that, just remember the events of Christmas. Remember Mary, and her song, and what SHE learned about God. And WORSHIP the God who sent Jesus. Who noticed YOU. Your humble state, and sent a Saviour, keeping his promise. Whose lifted you up, restored you.
Sing with Mary, “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.