Sermon by Sheila Graham from Luke chapter 1, and 2 Samuel chapter 7
Jesus, a Promise Fulfilled
As we come to the close of our celebration of Advent and look forward to Christmas Day, we continue to look back and also forward to the overwhelming significance of what the Incarnation of the Son of God means to us as human beings. From Genesis on, the Scriptures point to the fulfilment of the promise that God would send a Messiah to save his people. God promised both Abraham and later David that the Messiah would come from their descendants.
God made many promises concerning the Messiah in the Old Testament. As we saw in our reading today from 2 Samuel, God said no when David wanted to build a house for him. Instead, God would make David a house—a lineage that would include the Savior of the world.
Then in our reading today from the Gospel of Luke we were reminded that when the young virgin, Mary, was approached by the angel Gabriel, she already knew what was prophesied in the Scriptures. Though she was shocked at the appearance and words of the angel (and who wouldn’t be!), she had been told about God’s promises to Abraham and to David. She knew a Messiah would come, and he would be from the line of Judah, of the house of David. What she didn’t imagine was that God would actually choose her, from a God-fearing but humble family to be the mother of the Savior. She expressed her sense of joy at being the one chosen to bear the long promised Messiah in a poem called the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
The significance of Christmas
In this harried season, filled with frenzied consumers who, in many cases, dread Christmas, if we’re not careful, we can be caught up in the commercialism of the holiday. We can overlook the significance of what we are supposed to be celebrating. All the decorations, some beautiful and some not so much, don’t begin to express the joy we should feel about Christmas.
We are celebrating the birth of God into this world, our world. God came to earth to become one of us so we could be reconciled to the Father! So we could be saved from our sins! So we could live with him for eternity!
How great is that!
Arguments over whether or not “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” should appear in stores and on other types of greetings can steer our minds away from the momentous truth that God has come down to earth to be born as a human to dwell among us and to lead the way for us to have an eternal relationship with him. But, how is it possible that God, who is spirit, could become human? It’s a question that’s been asked and argued about over the centuries.
“The Magnificat” by Tissot
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Let’s look at Mary’s important role in God’s plan of salvation. We don’t learn a lot in the Bible about the girl God chose to be the mother of his Son. She was, most likely, betrothed to Joseph at a young age. The Jewish custom was for girls to marry as young teens. Mary may have become a mother as early as age 14.
Mary, we are told, was God-fearing and trusted God with her life. She could have been a candidate for stoning for being pregnant outside of marriage. And, even if that didn’t happen, she would (and did) have to suffer rumors that Jesus was illegitimate. Yet she agreed to be the mother of the Messiah.
Some think Mary had no choice, but that isn’t true. Maybe you’ve noticed in the Bible that angels are rather abrupt when they bring messages from God. There’s no “if you agree” or “if you feel like doing this” in their proclamations. But the Scriptures also show there’s room for negotiation. Think Abraham and Gideon. Both negotiated with God. Mary had a choice.
Did you notice the difference in the way Gabriel treated Mary as opposed to how he treated Zechariah? When Gabriel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would become pregnant with John, and Zechariah asked how that could be, Gabriel punished his lack of belief by making him unable to speak. But when Mary asked basically the same question, Gabriel patiently answered her. Perhaps there was a difference in attitude. It seemed he decided to treat this young girl with more patience than he did an old priest who should have known better than to question God’s abilities. Zechariah’s time of silence helped emphasize how his child was special; Mary’s role was already difficult enough.
When Mary affirms that she is willing to bear the Christ child, she becomes the first disciple of Jesus. How? Listen to this; it’s important: She received Jesus from the Holy Spirit by responding in faith, not through any other actions on her part. Further, even the faith to do so came from God. Contrary to what some teach, she wasn’t perfect—she had not earned the right to have a Savior, much less to give him birth.
Mary’s response to God, despite her imperfections, is a model for us. She was a human being like you and me. When we come to Christ, we come as imperfect sinners, with empty hands. We have nothing to give to show we are worthy of him. Like Mary, we respond to Christ by faith, by the Holy Spirit, and then—and right now would be a good time to shout Hallelujah, praise God—we are in Christ and Christ is in us!
Mary’s reaction to the shepherds’ words and Simeon’s prophecy and her response to her own son’s words when she finds him in the Temple, continue to show she was a believing disciple of Jesus:
- She knew Jesus could perform miracles before he had publicly done so.
- She was totally confident he could take care of the embarrassing lack of wine at the wedding feast.
- Though she and her family sometimes wondered about and questioned what Jesus was doing, they eventually understood.
Though some in past centuries have gone overboard and even come to worship Mary, we shouldn’t shy away from honoring the mother of our Savior. Her role was significant.
The promises are for all
Mary was an Israelite. The prophecies were written that the Messiah would come to Israel. In Romans, the apostle Paul also refers to the Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah, a Savior, but he shows the promises go beyond the nation of Israel and the house of Judah to include the gentiles. Now, not only Israel but also the gentiles (that’s most of us, folks) are blessed to understand, through Jesus Christ, what God had planned from eternity, to make salvation available to all humankind. At the close of the book of Romans, Paul writes:
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27, NRSV)
Paul speaks of messianic prophecies not even the prophets themselves fully understood at the time they were given. Only through the life, death and resurrection of Christ could these mysterious prophecies be understood.
God is God of both the Jews and the gentiles. His purpose for all eternity has now been revealed through his Son. God’s plan of redemption includes all humankind. A sense of wonderment and joyful praise fuel Paul’s words.
By faith, not works
Now, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, our obedience is through faith, not works. And salvation through Christ has come to the whole human race, both Jew and gentile. We can say with Paul, “through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever!” Praise God for his love and mercy!
Speaking biologically, you can’t explain the incarnation of Jesus the Son of God as a human being apart from any male involvement, any more than you can explain the creation of Adam without any female involvement. Jesus’ birth as a human being was a new creative act of God.
Death came through Adam’s and Eve’s sin, and God’s incarnation as Jesus conquered sin and death and saved the whole of humanity—both male and female. Thomas F. Torrance in The Ministry of Women writes that the incarnation was “the healing of our complete human nature.”
The significance of the virgin birth of Jesus, of the Incarnation in which God became human (adding our humanity to his divinity), cannot be overestimated. As noted by the apostle Paul, from the beginning, from Genesis to Revelation in God’s Word and through Jesus Christ, who is also God’s Word, God promised a redeemer, a savior of humankind. God did not create us and then abandon us. In the first Adam we disobeyed and abandoned him. But in the birth, life, resurrection and ascension of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, through his grace and mercy and love, God made a way for us—all of us, Jew and gentile—to be reunited to him for eternity.
Worth celebrating? I should say so.