This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on December 9, 2012. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Advent #2-2012.
This is the 2nd Sunday in Advent, when we celebrate the coming of Gabriel to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus. Gabriel not only announces the birth of the Messiah, here, but the beginning of the Gods’ kingdom and a whole new relationship between God and men.
A big change is happening here. The conversation between Mary and the Angel Gabriel suggests a new pattern of the way God is going to deal with people – putting life in them. Mary is going to become a picture of what God wants to do for his people.
God Is Going to Create A New Kind of Spiritual Life.
God is Going to Show Favor: “28 The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’” This statement by Gabriel has often been significantly misread in the church. It is often assumed that Mary was highly favored because somehow she deserved to be highly favored. In fact, the early church exalted Mary almost to the point of deity, which led to much confusion.
But we must see these words to Mary as Gospel. Mary was not uniquely vIrginal! In fact, Mary was no different from most Jewish, virgin girls of her day. She was a young woman (perhaps between 13-16), who was engaged to a man, probably much older than herself. In fact, if Mary had a qualification it was just the accident of her birth – she was in the line of David.
The favor shown to Mary is Gospel! Not because she is worthy, but because God is acting in a new and surprising way. God is showing favor to this woman of no reputation or note because he chooses to. This is the new paradigm – God’s new way of acting – to show favor to those who have no reason to deserve it.
God is Going to Change Human Beings Spiritually: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” God is going to send his Holy Spirit to Mary. The Spirit of God will come upon her, just as he did with the Prophets and King David and Moses – and the power of God is going to hover over her (overshadow – just like the Spirit of God hovers over the waters at Creation). But unlike Moses, Mary is not told to take off her shoes, or to make herself ceremonially clean – she isn’t told to fast, she receives no special instructions for receiving the Holy Spirit. Rather God chooses this woman and sends his Holy Spirit on her – and creates life in her by his Spirit.
This creation of life in Mary by the power of God is a picture of the way God is going to deal with his people from now on. God will no longer say to his people – keep the Law and you can be my people. The Gospel is illustrated for us through Mary. God is going to supernaturally put his life within his people – mysteriously – like a new act of Creation – and that is what is going to change them from the inside out. The Spirit God puts into people will convict them of sin, give them a sense of belonging to God – give them a new desire to please and comprehend and worship God.
God is Going to Give Human Beings a New Identity: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever … So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. ” The announcement of Gabriel transforms this young girl from being just a typical Jewish girl, who lives 70 miles from Jerusalem in the wild outpost of Nazareth (the bad trailer park – the slum) – to being the mother of Messiah. Mary’s identity and life are going to be radically changed. She is going to become someone of great significance. She is going to become a mother.
Here again, Mary is an illustration of the Gospel of what God does for us and to us. God’s Spirit within us makes us different people. Our identity as believers is that we have been given the right to be called the children of God – not because we have passed some test – but because God has freely put his Spirit in us – changed us and made us his own. This changes who we are and how we live. God begins to redeem our lives and to work to make our lives glorious, by His standards.
God is Going to Create Life In Those Who are Dead.
The Transformation of Elizabeth: “36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” This statement is, again, Gospel. Barrenness is a very painful situation, even in our modern culture where people sometimes choose not to have children. Barrenness is, for women who want children, a kind of death. In the ancient world barrenness was understood to be a result of the displeasure of God. Women who were barren were understood to be under a kind of curse of death.
But God chose Elizabeth, a barren woman, past the age where she could have children, as an illustration of the Gospel announcement. For Jewish readers, she was a picture of the observant Jewish people who, though keeping the Law, had failed to produce any life. The Jews, whom God had rescued from slavery in Egypt, had failed to become the vibrant, joyful people of God – and were reduced, again, to slavery under the rule of the Romans.
The Gospel announcement through Elizabeth is that God does not abandon us. Elizabeth is an illustration of a person who feels as though the blessing of God has passed them by – as though their usefulness has passed. The announcement of the Gospel is that God is going to create hope and life where we have run out of hope and life. Elizabeth becomes an illustration of God’s faithfulness to his promises.
God is Going to Create Joy In Those Who are Fearful.
God’s Confirmation and Mary’s Transformation: “39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!””
At this point in the story we need to recognize how frightened Mary must have been. It is easy to gloss over vs.39, without recognizing that Mary was “getting out of town”. Her pregnancy would have made her liable to the death penalty, according to the Jewish Law. And probably no one would have been impressed with her explanation that God had made her pregnant. Mary left town in the hope that her cousin, Elizabeth, and Zechariah, the Priest, Elizabeth’s husband, might somehow understand and shelter her – the best she could hope for.
However, at the moment she entered the house and greeted Elizabeth, rather than being rejected and sent back home in shame, she received confirmation and even blessing from God through Elizabeth – who was filled with the Holy Spirit. The effect on Mary was profound. Mary went from being a frightened and confused teenager, to being filled with joy and confidence, as is seen in her response in vs.46-55.
This again, is the announcement of the Gospel. Initially Mary accepted the words of the Angel Gabriel (what choice did she have?). But now note what Mary says: “My soul glorifies the Lord… my spirit rejoices in God who saves me… from now on all generations will call me blessed…”. Mary is exultant, joyful, blessed.
Why? Because she has received confirmation of the announcement she was given. Now this girl, who is not particularly spiritual or important recognizes that God chooses people like her. She recognizes what God is like – God scatters the proud and brings down rulers and sends away the rich and powerful – but helps and cares about humble, lowly, ordinary people like Mary – and she sees this as amazing good news.
As we celebrate this first proclamation/ announcement of the Gospel of God’s favor, not given by a prophet or a priest, but by an ordinary, young teenage girl, we want to respond by worshipping the God who can and will and has created life in ordinary people like us.