Strolling through Gospel of Luke during this season of advent as we wait for the coming of Messiah, the Christ. I want to meet Jesus, and I mean really meet Jesus, beginning right now in this season of advent. I want to be reintroduced to this story that saves the world, I want to meet Jesus all over again, as it were, maybe really meet him for the very first time. I want strip the varnish of our politicized faith and cultural assumptions and meet Jesus as much as I possibly can as he actually is.
My last three messages were meeting the parents of John the Baptist. John the Baptist properly would belong to the Old Testament, even though he appears in the New. He’s the bridge that brings the two together. The last prophecy of the Old Testament, at the end of Malachi, is that god would send Elijah the prophet to prepare the way. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Malachi 4:5-6 ESV. John comes in the power and spirit of Elijah as the fore runner preparing the way for Messiah.
So we’ve met John’s parents and looked at his birth. Today we look at Mary, the mother of Jesus. That’s right, I’m writing about Mary. She is quite the mystery. Protestants have been allergic to Mary for about 500 years, I know. And there were clearly some abuses that needed to be corrected, but maybe we need to get over our allergy and meet Mary in the New Testament, as she is, and learn what we should learn from her. Mary is the human, the woman through whom God enters his own creation and gains humanity. Mary is a mystery because she is intimately connected with the greatest mystery of all, the incarnation. By incarnation I mean that god, in Christ, became human. I mean that the eternal logos, the eternal word of god, god’s self reflection upon himself that was eternally existent, the second person of the trinity, becomes human flesh.
Jesus Christ is God becoming as human as you. Many (most) of us still don’t believe this. We know what it is to be human. We know that God can’t be like us, because we are a mess, amen! But if we don’t believe this, then it means we are kind of a cute little heretic. Quit being a cute little heretic, and accept that Jesus is fully human, just as human as you. He was and is fully human, like you. It’s stunning, it’s shocking, it’s hard to get our minds around, but Jesus was and is fully human, even like me. It’s hard to get our minds around, but we have to work at it.
Let’s get started looking at how this happens. Let’s look at how Jesus becomes fully human, Emmanuel, God with us. How does Jesus fully join with us in life, joins us in birth, in struggles, in sorrows, even joins us in death, that we might join him in resurrection.
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and 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.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”
Luke 1:26-38 ESV
So the story of Jesus begins in earnest with the enunciation, the angelic announcement to a young virgin that she will bear a son named Jesus who will be called the Son of God.
The young virgin is Mary, the most common female Jewish name. She is named after Moses’ sister Miriam. She is Jewish. Mary was probably very young. She’s betrothed, which in her culture means she is in fact married, which is why Joseph considers divorcing her upon hearing of her pregnancy. They are married, but she has not yet left her home to live with her husband, they have not consummated their union. There’s been a betrothal and exchanging of gifts, they are legally married but have not come together because Mary is so young. She is probably about thirteen or fourteen, which is almost shocking, quite scandalous to us. She is Jewish and she is poor. We know she is poor because when she and Joseph take Jesus to be dedicated at the temple, they offer two pigeons for the sacrifice instead of a lamb, which is the provision made under the law for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
This all takes place in Nazareth. The significance of Nazareth is its insignificance. Nazareth is Nowhere, it’s not on the map, it’s Hicktown. Mary is poor, obscure, living in the nowhere, nothing town of Nazareth. She doesn’t come from wealth or privilege or prestige. She’s not among the upper class. If God is going to act, wouldn’t he act among those whom we would think would be prepared to act with Him? She will become most famous woman in history, but here in the story, she is an insignificant young teenager in a nothing town who has nothing. Augustus Caesar is in his lavish palace in Rome. King Herod is in his probably even more lavish palace in Jerusalem. But the angel Gabriel (which means “strength of god”) comes to this humble (poor) house with a dirt floor and thatch roof in the backwater of Galilee to tell a fourteen year old virgin she has found favor with God will soon give birth to Israel’s messiah.
Let us not fail to be surprised at this. Enter enough into the story that we can find it almost shocking that this is the way God operates. There were plenty of people, plenty of Jews, who had been waiting, praying, hoping, preparing for the Messiah. But when God breaks into human history, He does not go to those with power, He does not go to those who appear to be greatest and most prepared. He does not go to the Hasmoneans in the big city of Jerusalem, the wealthy power brokers of the time. As one of the most famous sayings of Jesus goes, “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:30 ESV.
We know this, we can talk about this, but do not fail to be shocked by this. It is not cliche, it’s not kitsch, it’s not sentimentality, it’s not Precious Moments. Mary, a lowly, poor, nobody from nowhere, is how God enters into humanity to save the world.