Have a "Mary" Christmas This Year
Sermon: Have a “Mary” Christmas This Year
Sermons about Mary are very rare in our Protestant churches. We very rarely even talk about Mary unless we’re telling a joke around the office water cooler or passing it on in an email.
Which reminds me… Have you heard the one where Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when a woman who had been caught in adultery is dragged before Him? The people are about to stone her to death when Jesus gets to His feet and says, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
All of a sudden a rock comes flying toward the adulteress from somewhere near the back of the crowd. Jesus looks up in amazement and as the crowd parts, a woman comes into view. To which Jesus replies, “Mom, how many times have I told you not to come to these things?”
Sorry. That was bad. Anyway…Hey, you get the point. We very rarely even think about Mary. It’s only at this time of year that many Protestants ever hear about Mary at all. As a matter of fact, when I was researching this sermon at the Protestant seminary that I attend, I found all of the books about Mary available and in their respective places on the library bookshelves. This has never happened when I have researched any other biblical subject! Evidently the study of Mary was not one of the Top Ten topics for papers in theology class this semester. And that’s too bad because we could use a good dose of “Mariology” right now. We’re the ones who are missing out because when you take a closer look at Mary, you learn that she was an amazing woman; she wasn’t perfect (as a matter of fact she was nobody special) but she believed God’s promise to her and she was obedient to His will for her life. Mary is a woman who we would all do well to emulate.
Why is it that we have given Mary so little place in our thinking, study and worship? Well, that’s a topic that we won’t get into here. Suffice it to say that there are vast differences in Protestant and Catholic doctrine as it relates to Mary. But rather than concentrating on negatives, let’s concentrate on the positives that Mary exhibited and the important role she played as the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In order to do that we need to take a closer look at Mary. Just who was Mary anyway?
If you have your Bibles, please open up to Luke chapter 1 or you can follow along on the screen. We read beginning in verse 26:
>>Read Luke 1:26-38<<
I. Mary Was Nobody Special
No doubt this opening point may be troubling to some people. But let’s see what Mary herself and the scriptures have to say for themselves on this.
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.”
The first thing we learn about Mary from the scripture is that Mary was engaged to be married and that she was a virgin. This point was actually understood back in ancient Israel, as the Mosaic Law was very clear regarding the details of the betrothal period. As Pastor Mark explained last Sunday, though the engaged couple was legally married, no sexual relations could take place for a period of 1 year. Mary was probably about 13 years old when her parents arranged for her to marry Joseph.
We also learn that Mary was a direct descendant of King David. (Interestingly enough, as demonstrated in Matthew’s genealogy, Joseph was also a direct descendant of David.) This is a critical point as the prophecies regarding Messiah foretold that he would be born of David’s lineage. So the prophecy was about to be fulfilled in Mary.
Verse 28. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
“Highly favored…” Or, “woman richly blessed”. The Greek: κεχαριτωμένη. (Verb, perfect, passive, participle, singular, nominative, feminine) can be translated here “to cause to be the recipient of a benefit, bestow favor on, favor highly, bless”.
What does this mean? Mary was to be the recipient of a benefit or blessing from God. Had she done anything to earn this blessing? No. The blessing was bestowed upon her by God. Mary’s role in this was passive. She didn’t earn God’s favor. Mary had been chosen by God. There is nothing any of us can do to earn God’s favor. This is another example of how God chooses whom He will based not upon our merits but only according to His purposes.
Now that doesn’t mean that Mary wasn’t an exceptional, godly woman. She was. We’ll see this demonstrated very clearly in the next few verses. The point here is that our God specializes in taking humble, ordinary people who are committed to Him and doing extraordinary things through them. So, according to this verse, God had placed His blessing upon Mary. She was to be the recipient of some kind of blessing from God.
Verse 29. “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”
Mary was confused. She was dumbfounded. “Are you talking to me?” Maybe the angel had gotten bad directions from Mapquest.com or something? I mean, who hasn’t had that happen to them? Maybe the angel had gotten her confused with somebody else? Mary couldn’t imagine why she (of all people) would be visited by an angel or in what manner she was “highly favored”.
Mary was humble. After all, Mary saw herself as a humble bondslave. If we skip ahead to Verse 48, and a portion of scripture that has been called “Mary’s Song” or “The Magnificat”, we read Mary’s own words: “…he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.”
John V. Grier Koontz points out that “the noun “humble estate” (tapeinosis) is objective, referring to Mary’s external condition rather than to her humility of mind since the latter interpretation would make Mary boastful of her humility. The intimation [here] is not only that her family was poor in Judah but that she ranked least in her father’s house, as if she was despised and unjustly treated by her relations and the outcast of her family.” And if she was despised and unjustly treated by her family at this point, just wait until the news of her pregnancy hit home!
As I mentioned, Mary was a very young woman. She would have spent most of her days working in the fields tending crops or milking cows or goats. She was not particularly well-educated (according to the custom of the day) although she was obviously very intelligent. This becomes even more apparent when you study Luke 1:46-56 (Mary’s Song or Magnificat). Mary’s knowledge of scripture was exceptional. We’ll take a closer look at this point in a moment.
Back to verse 29 “Mary was greatly troubled at his words…” Not only was she confused; Mary was afraid. I mean, how would you feel if an angel appeared to you and began speaking to you? I know I’d be scared to death! Mary shows us that it’s OK to be afraid. She was afraid and God was still able to do wonderful things through her life.
Have you ever been greatly troubled? We all have. Mary was just like you and me. When faced with a troubling, startling situation she was afraid.
Verse 30: “The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He 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,
33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Wow! Now that’s quite a promise! How is a young girl (like Mary) equipped to handle this?
II. Mary Believed God’s Promise
34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
Unlike Zechariah, Mary believed what the angel told her. Zechariah asked for a sign so that he could know for sure that what the angel Gabriel was telling him would actually come true. As a result, he was punished by not being able to speak until John was born. Mary, on the other hand, did not ask for “proof”; she only questioned “how” or the manner in which it would happen since she was a virgin, not that it would happen at all, thus no punishment was inflicted on Mary as in Zechariah’s case.
35The angel answered, “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.
36Even 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. 37For nothing is impossible with God.”
So Mary believed God’s word. She had faith that the things the angel spoke of would come to pass. How do we know that she believed these things? Because of her actions.
III. Mary Was Obedient
Mary said “MAY IT BE with me according to your word.” Mary, without hesitation, responded positively to God.
Mary didn’t have to think about it. She didn’t tell the angel that she’d get back to him….that she needed to sleep on it. No. Without hesitation she answered “let it be to me as you have said”. She gave no thought for herself, her plans, her problems. She simply said “yes”.
The New Revised Standard version translates Luke 1:38: “Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.”
The phrase “LET IT BE” hit me squarely in the face. I knew I’d heard those words somewhere before. Yes! That’s it! “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me…” It could be that I’m just an old, stuck-in-the-60’s Beatles wannabe, but I think there’s more to it than that!
I like the way the New Living Translation has it as well. “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.”
But I can’t help but wonder how I might have responded? “So, this is how you treat your “highly favored? Allowing my life to face hardship…misunderstanding? Couldn’t you get everyone on board first?…Maybe remove the rough spots…get rid of the resistance?”
These are expectations we might all have at Christmas when we consider God’s presence in our circumstances which is what makes Mary’s response even more striking…v 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Mary didn’t let the fact that trouble was sure to come her way deter her from accepting God’s will for her life. And believe me; she knew there would be trouble.
I think that one of the main reasons that Mary believed God’s promise without hesitation was that she had an incredible knowledge of the scriptures. Looking ahead in the chapter to verses 46-56 (a passage of scripture that has been called “Mary’s Song” or “The Magnificat”) one cannot help but notice that this portion of scripture looks like it was copied and pasted from the OT to the NT. The reason for this is that Mary quotes and alludes to so many passages from the OT in her NT “psalm”. Let me give you some examples:
>>The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56)<<
46And Mary said:
46 “My soul exalts the Lord, (See 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Hannah’s Prayer. See Psalm 34:2)
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. (See Habakkuk 3:18)
48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; (See Psalm 38:6)
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
50 “and His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him. (See Psalm 103:17)
51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; (See Psalm 98:1; 118:5)
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble. (See Job 5:11)
53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; (See Psalm 107:9)
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
54 “He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers, (See Genesis 17:19; Psalm 132:11)
To Abraham and his descendants forever.” (See Genesis 17:7)
56And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.
What the angel was telling her came as no surprise to Mary. She was expecting the Messiah. She just wasn’t expecting that she would be the mother of Messiah! It’s important to note that Mary would have had no access to the Torah scrolls. Everything that she knew of the scriptures she would have memorized. Mary was obviously very well acquainted with the scriptures.
How well do you know the Bible? Do you even own a Bible? Are you taking the time each day to read God’s word? Even just a few verses each day. Are you memorizing scripture? You know, it may just be that there is a direct correlation between how well we know the scriptures and our capacity for faith. I don’t know. I mean, think about it, the more you know about any subject the more comfortable you get to feeling about it. The more you read about how God worked in the lives of ordinary people throughout the Old and New Testaments, the more you will be able to see God’s leading in your own life. Your faith will be strengthened.
Luke 1:38-“I am the Lord’s servant”
When Mary uttered these words, at that very moment, a cloud came over her life and was there until the Lord Jesus returned from the dead. I believe that she knew it. She gave up everything to be the mother of our Lord Jesus.
Just imagine the questions that must’ve run through Mary’s mind:
- How do I explain this to my family?
- What will Joseph say? Will he believe me? Will he divorce me?
- What about my reputation? What about family’s reputation? Will the people stone me to death?
- Within her decision to be fully submissive to God’s call included her willingness to suffer ridicule, contempt, and loneliness; to suffer times of confusion, disappointment, and fear.
>>Clip: Joseph and Mary’s Family react to her pregnancy. (41:39-43:48)<<
Put yourself in Mary’s place. Can you imagine having a child at the AGE OF 13?
But not just any old child but God’s Son? Can you imagine knowing you will be talked about, laughed at, sneered at?
I mean GOD DISRUPTS HER PLANS FOR HER LIFE ENTIRELY! She’s “pledged to be married” to Joseph…betrothed. The traditional Jewish one year waiting period had already begun. This “engagement” would last one year and was as binding as marriage itself…in fact it required a divorce to free one from this pledge…which is just what one could expect if they were to be found pregnant with child. So here she is, enjoying the most cherished plans of ones entire life…the point in her life when she’s the center of her family and friends attention…the bride-to-be! NOW SHE IS TO BE THE CENTER OF THEIR SHAME AND SCORN.
Just how sacred are my plans to God? Do I presume God will honor them? Do I secretly expect that I can enjoy God’s presence in my life on my terms? Without being disrupted? Mary learned otherwise. Mary learned that THAT THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN OUR LIFE IS BY NATURE…DISRUPTIVE.
In Luke 2, Mary was forewarned through Simeon of the pain she would go through…in predicting the crucifixion he said,”your soul too would be pierced.” In bearing and loving this child, you will suffer the pain and agony of losing a child to the cruelest of deaths.
Now, I haven’t seen that scripture on a Hallmark card lately! Why do you suppose that is?
BECAUSE WE’VE MISSED THIS GREAT TRUTH…THAT THE PRESENCE OF GOD IS BY NATURE…DISRUPTIVE…as Mary portrays so clearly….God invaded her privacy, her plans, her passiveness toward life. The wonderful thing is…
· MARY LETS GOD DISRUPT HER LIFE
· MARY SURRENDERS HER PLANS TO HIS PRESENCE
· MARY PLACES HER LIFE IN GOD, AND WHEN SHE DOES SO GOD PLACES HIS LIFE IN HER
Have you let God disrupt your life?
Have you surrendered your plans to His presence?
Have you placed your life in God so that you can experience the blessing of God on your life?
Perhaps we’ve misunderstood what it means to have a MERRY CHRISTMAS…We need to look at Mary. She was a nobody. She believed God’s promise and she was obedient to God’s will for her life. We need to follow her example and say to God “Let it Be”. It’s about placing our life in God, so that he can place his life in us.
Our Savior came to Mary in this unique historical incarnation and by the Holy Spirit he seeks to come to all. God sent his Son that all who receive Him might be filled with His Life. The Bible says that Christ will come to all…live in all who say “Let it be.” Now this can be very dangerous. Because once you get to know that baby in the manger…you never know where he’ll turn up…God is on the loose and we can never be safe from His presence. Mary’s life was changed forever, but I don’t think she would have had it any other way.
SO HAVE YOURSELF A TRULY “MARY” CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR…
Perhaps you’ve never received this gift that God wants to give you…never said “yes” to God.
Perhaps you’ve come to this Christmas season finding you simply feel more detached from His presence…because your “yes” to God has become quieted and quenched.
Maybe a part of you is emotionally guarded from letting God disrupt your privacy as he did Mary’s. Maybe a part of you isn’t too happy with your circumstances and has closed itself off from saying “yes” to God right where you are. Perhaps you’ve known some hardships like Mary did. You want God’s presence in your life but haven’t realized the role of your “yes” to God.
Our “yes” to God is more than passively resigning, it’s actively receiving Him. Like Mary, today is a good day to say “Let it be”.