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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on December 24, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Christmas Sunday, December 24, 2017 from Luke 1:26-38

Theme: Simply savoring the Christmas story.

(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).

Many years ago, a dear friend of mine that I used to work with—someone that you would call ‘a foodie’—gave me my first Godiva chocolate. Not knowing much about the value of those, I thanked her, thoughtlessly it popped into my mouth, and chewed away.

This friend was horrified. In fact, she was really quite mad at me. “That’s NOT how you eat a Godiva chocolate!” she said. “You don’t just ‘pop’ it into your mouth and start chewing it like you’re some kind of animal! You eat it slowly; like this …” Then she demonstrated. She took a chocolate delicately out of the box, and took a bite and demonstrated how she enjoyed it. Then, a few seconds later, she took another bite and enjoyed it as well. After a few more bites, she said, “See? That’s how you eat a fine chocolate. You don’t just throw the whole thing in like it’s a cheap peanut butter cup. You eat it slowly—carefully—bit by bit; so that you can ‘savor’ every bite.”

I felt ashamed and repentant. How could I be so thoughtless? And I must have looked ashamed and repentant enough because my friend then graciously gave me another. I had a second chance; and I learned the meaning of the word ‘savor’—and how to relish and enjoy something fine.

Now; after my telling you that story, I’m betting you’re like me—and wish you had a Godiva chocolate right now. But that’s not my main point. Rather, I’m telling you that story because that’s the approach I am asking that we take this morning to the Scriptures.

You see; we’re going to look at a story that we have heard many times. But it’s truly a glorious story—worth hearing again and again. It’s the story of the greatest Christmas greeting ever given. It’s the story of how the angel Gabriel greeted Mary—the mother of our Lord, and announced to her that she would bear our Savior. It’s the story we find in Luke 1:26-38. And rather than ‘consume’ it in a thoughtless way—perhaps in the way that we might have heard it several times this season, or in Christmas seasons past—let’s take our time to go through it slowly and with relish.

I don’t have a particular thesis to our time in the word this morning. The theme is glorious enough on its own. Rather, I’m simply inviting that we ‘savor’ every word of the story of this glorious announcement—and enjoy it—and allow ourselves to be caught up in the wonder of it all to the glory of God.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; this wondrous story comes in the Bible right after another. The first portion of this very long first chapter of Luke’s Gospel tells us the story of another baby. It tells us of how an angel came and made a promise to an old priest and to his barren wife that they would have a son. That promised son was John the Baptist. And his mother’s name was Elizabeth; and the angel who declared the promised of John’s birth was named Gabriel.

The angel Gabriel shows up quite a bit in the first chapter of Luke. He is also found in the Old Testament. He was an angel that was sent to give an important message to the prophet Daniel in Daniel 8:16—a message about future events. I believe that the unique role of this angelic being Gabriel was that of giving specific announcements from God to particular people about future events concerning the promise of the Messiah. He made an announcement in the beginning of Luke 1 to the father of John the Baptist about how John would be the forerunner to the Messiah.

And now, in our passage this morning, he comes again make another announcement from God. In Luke 1:26-27, we read;

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary (Luke 1:26-27).

As we read on in this chapter, we find that the ‘sixth month’ that is being mentioned is the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Her pregnancy was a miracle; because she was an old woman who never had a child with her husband. She was barren. But now, after the angel had spoken to her husband, she who had been barren was now sixth months along in carrying her unborn baby John.

We’re told very specifically that God “sent” the angel Gabriel to speak to Mary at this strategic moment—in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s time of bearing John in her womb. She lived in the city of Nazareth of Galilee. And that’s important to know; because the Bible promised long ago that the Messiah would come from that region of the world. In an important portion of the prophecy of Isaiah, we’re told,

Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed,
As when at first He lightly esteemed
The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
And afterward more heavily oppressed her,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
In Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined (Isaiah 9:1-2).

The time of the shining forth of that great light had at long last come. And the angel was sent to Mary; who, we’re told, was a virgin. That too fulfills a prophetic Old Testament promise; because in Isaiah 7:14, we’re told this:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).

And what’s more, we’re told that this young virgin girl was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was a man of royal blood. He was a descendant of King David. So also was Mary. And that too fulfills a promise of Scripture; because long ago, King David had been told by God,

“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

So; as you can see, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in this visit from the angel Gabriel. A lot of promises were being kept: first, that the Child would come from the regions of Galilee; and then, that He would be born of a virgin; and finally, that He would be of the royal lineage of King David. This angel, then, was sent at the right time in the unfolding of God’s plan, to the woman appointed by God to be His instrument to fulfill His purposes, so that the glorious promises in the Scripture about the long-awaited, long-desired Messiah would be fulfilled in due time. What a ‘historic’ visit—in the fullest sense—this truly was!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; we can’t help wondering what the circumstances of this visit were. It doesn’t seem that Mary was expecting a thing like this. She appears to have been caught by surprise. Perhaps she was engaged in some daily chores—and perhaps also thinking about her upcoming marriage to Joseph. Perhaps she was daydreaming about what married life will be like. But then, the angel came to her:

And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28).

The phrase “blessed are you among women” might not be found in the particular translation of the Bible that you’re using. It’s found in some ancient manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel, and it’s absent in others. But clearly, it would express the truth of what the angel Gabriel wanted to tell her. She was a ‘highly favored’ young woman—someone who was greatly blessed of God. She had reason to rejoice at this greeting.

I would like to suggest to you that this greeting was meant to have ‘Messianic’ and prophetic significance. You see; from long ago—from as far back as Genesis 3:15—the Bible had announced that God would provide a Redeemer for fallen humanity through ‘the seed’ of a woman. That means that the promised Redeemer of humanity would, Himself, be a human being. This promise was passed on to old father Abraham—so that it was declared that this promised Redeemer would also be born of the Jewish people. And I suspect that many young Jewish girls who grew up in the land of Israel held on to the secret hope, “Could I be the one? Could it be through me that, one day, the Redeemer would be born? Could it be that I—even I—might be the most favored among women?”

Well; the angel announced to Mary that she was that one. She was that highly favored one—truly the most blessed among women. But she didn’t greet this appearance and this announcement with joy—not at first anyway. It startled her and troubled her. After all, this was a stunning announcement. And what’s more, it was being given by an angel of God—whose appearance to her might, itself, have been very awesome to behold. And it was truly sudden. That’s why we’re told in verse 29,

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was (v. 29).

I suspect that the best way to describe what she felt was fear; because we go on to read,

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God (v. 30).

And let’s not pass by those words too quickly. Those are words that we should ‘savor’. The angel told her not to be afraid because she found ‘favor with God’. That word ‘favor’ in the original language is another word for ‘grace’; and I wonder if it would be a good greeting for us to consider personally this Christmas holiday. The birth of Jesus Christ into this world is an expression of God’s great favor and grace to us. We desperately need God’s grace of salvation; and the good news is that the Savior of fallen humanity has been born! No matter how hard things may be in this world, we now have hope! We have reason to put away fear! As the angel would tell the shepherds a little later in the Gospel of Luke;

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11-12).

Wouldn’t we have good reason to borrow the assuring words that Gabriel spoke to Mary and apply them to ourselves this Christmas? I certainly believe we would.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; Gabriel went on to explain to her,

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 2:11-12).

This is not this first time in the pages of the Bible that the name ‘Jesus’ is given. But it is the first time in history that it was heard by human ears; because it was to Mary that the blessed name ‘Jesus’ was first spoken. This name was also spoken, however, to her betrothed husband Joseph a little later—and most likely by the same angel Gabriel. And perhaps this would be a good time for us to go back and recall that story. You’ll find it in Matthew 1:18-25.

After Matthew gives us the genealogy of our Lord Jesus—born of the lineage of King David—we’re told;

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25).

Joseph was told that he was to give this wonderful name to the Child that Mary bore. And as someone pointed out to me the other day, the fact that Joseph took the responsibility to name the Child would mean that he fully consented to adopt Him as his own. But it wasn’t to Joseph that the privilege of hearing that blessed name for the very first time had been given. Rather, that high honor was given to Mary.

Then the angel Gabriel went on to tell Mary some facts about this wonderful Child that she would bear. They are truths about God’s promised Messiah. Gabriel told her,

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give 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” (v. 33).

Look carefully at that five-fold description. We’re told that “He will be great”; and that, of course, is a statement about His majesty. He would be ‘great’ in the world of humanity—as one of us, but as the chiefest of us. He would be—as He often called Himself—the Son of Man. But more; He will be called “the Son of the Highest”; and that is a statement of His deity, because He would be among us as “God with us”. Then, we’re told that God would give Him “the throne of His father David”; and that speaks of His messianic royalty. He is the promised Son of King David. And then—just as was promised to David—we’re told that He will “reign over the house of Jacob forever”; and this speaks of His eternality. And finally, we’re told that “of His kingdom there will be no end”. Every other earthly kingdom has an end; but of His reign there will be no end. This speaks of His supremacy.

So; here we’re told of His majesty, His deity, His royalty, His eternality, and His supremacy. And if this angel’s description sounds familiar, you might recognize them as sounding very much like the words we find in Isaiah 9:6-7—words that we often read at Christmas time, but that were spoken some 750 years before the angel gave the announcement to Mary;

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this (Isaiah 9:6-7).

What a King! What a promise! What a great greeting this is!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; Mary was a very bright young woman. She would naturally be held in wonder over the greatness of this announcement. And she did not doubt the angel’s word. But she did have a very good question about it. Verse 34 tells us;

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (v. 34).

You can’t blame Mary for asking such a thing. She was a virtuous young woman. And Joseph was a virtuous man. And I even suspect that Mary could detect an element if ‘immediacy’ in the things that the angel was promising her. How then could such a thing happen when she and her betrothed husband had—themselves—not yet come together in marriage?

And that’s when we come to truly glorious words—words shrouded in mystery to the human mind; but words that nevertheless are worth savoring:

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God (v. 35).

It’s fascinating to consider how little we’re told about this most remarkable of things, isn’t it? But it reminds me of the story in the New Testament about how our Lord fed over 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and a few small fish. Haven’t you wondered how that might have happened? What did that feeding miracle look like? We might try to imagine it or come up with some explanation; but we’re not told how it happened. It’s not really our business to know the details. It’s only our business to know that it happened. And I think that the same thing is true with the conception of our Lord in the womb of Mary. It’s not our business to know how something happened that we cannot, in our human frailty, understand or grasp. All that we’re meant to know—all that we truly need to know—is that it happened. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary in a miraculous way; and the power of God overshadowed her in such a way as to do what was needed; and the result is that a Child was conceived in Mary’s womb who was the Son of God—God in human flesh. We may not understand it; but that does not have to detract from our sense of wonder over it. Let’s savor the mystery and the majesty of it! As it says in John 1:14;

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now this was something so remarkable that the angel knew that Mary would need some validating proof that it is so—and that this marvelous thing that God promised would indeed happen to her. And so, he was good to her and told her;

Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible” (vv. 36-37).

And now you can appreciate the amazing timing of things. God knew what He was doing when He sent the angel Gabriel to Mary right then. I believe that the angel could be understood as saying to her something like this: “Go, Mary, and behold your relative Elizabeth. Even she—she herself—has conceived a son in her old age; a woman that you know and love personally who is long past the time of her child-bearing years. Even she who had been called ‘barren’ is six months along in her pregnancy. You can go and look for yourself. You can see how much she is showing. You can put your hand upon her belly and feel the moving of the miracle that she bears. Go and look for yourself; and know that nothing that God says that He will do will ever be impossible to Him—not even what He has promised to you!”

I hope you’ll pardon me if I jump ahead a bit. In verses 39-45, we’re told that Mary did what the angel said to do. What a remarkable confirmation it was to her! We’re told;

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (vv. 39-45).

Do you notice that Elizabeth greeted Mary in much the same way as the angel Gabriel did? Without her even being told a single word by Mary, Elizabeth began to praise God for the fact that Mary bore her Lord in the womb! How could she have known such a thing? Well; we’re told how, aren’t we? It was because she spoke those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—the same Holy Spirit who came upon her, and by whom she bore the Son of God.

She told Mary that she was blessed for believing that there would be a fulfillment of those things which the Lord told her through the angel. And that’s what we find Mary doing at the end of our passage. Back in verse 38—back before she made the long journey to Elizabeth; back when the angel was still meeting her; back before the miracle of our Lord’s conception occurred in her womb—we’re told,

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38a).

What humble obedience we see here! We have to consider in this that Mary would suffer a significant misunderstanding from many of the people around her. Even her own beloved betrothed husband would—at first—misunderstand what happened. But Mary nevertheless submitted to the will of God. How grateful we should be to her that she did. Let’s not fail to savor her obedience!

* * * * * * * * * *

The closing words of our passage—the words found at the end of verse 38—tell us what happened after Mary submitted to the will of God for her life:

And the angel departed from her (v. 38).

But that should not be the end of the story for us. Let’s continue to savor this story. Let’s relish every word. And more; let’s believe every word of it—and submit to every word of it—to the saving of our souls.

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