CHARACTERS OF CHRISTMAS: Mary - Trusting Impossibilities
Pastor Terry Inman
There are two versions of the Christmas story in the New Testament? Matthew tells Joseph’s story and Luke tells Mary’s story. Matthew tells the story like a man would tell it. Luke emphasizes the things a woman might consider important. They are the primary Characters of Christmas.
Last week we talked about Joseph who had to make some hard decisions. Today we will re-tell Mary’s story for what we can learn about trusting impossibilities.
What do we know about Mary from Luke’s gospel? Here is a brief rundown: First, her father’s name was Eli. Second, she had a sister named Salome. Third, she had a relative named Elizabeth. Fourth, she is young. Fifth, she is poor. Sixth, she is a devout believer in God. Seventh, she is very much in love.
That last one is a key to the story. Mary is a typical teenager in love. She may have been as young as 12 or 13; she might have been as old as 18-19. If we said, sweet 16 and never been kissed it wouldn’t be too far off.
Here’s today’s Christmas cameo featuring Mary. It is written by Amanda Higgins and performed by our own Laura Bean.
As I mentioned last week Mary and Joseph were spoken for. They were officially “pledged” or betrothed. That meant that Mary had formally agreed to marry Joseph but the “wedding” had not yet taken place.
Between the “pledge” and the “wedding feast” was a period usually lasting six months to a year. During that period the couple was considered married. They were called husband and wife but they did not live together and did not consummate their marriage physically.
Mary is probably anticipating the greatest event of her life. She can hardly think of anything else. She is working on the guest list, the decorations, the food, the music, what she will wear and hospitality for out of town guests. Mary had never been happier. This was an exciting time of her life.
Then she meets Gabriel her new wedding planner from another world!
It is right at this point that God breaks in. He is about to ask an unknown teenage girl to take part in something that is shocking, scandalous and humanely impossible. What God asks Mary to do changes her life forever!
The happy dreams of a beautiful wedding are now seriously altered. No wedding dress. It would reveal way too much. No temple ceremony and weeklong celebration--there would be way too many questions for that. At this moment of truth even her marriage to Joseph was threatened.
She would get married, but not before the rumors spread through the countryside. The celebration would be scaled way back, private and quite. It would really be too much to expect her family and friends to understand this lonely couple’s explanation for a pre-marital pregnancy.
Luke a respected physician, who clearly understood reproductive biology, tells us how it all happened. “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary." Luke 1.26-27 (NIV)
These two verses with dates, names and places set the historical framework. This is not myth or magic, this is an incredible event that really happened. Mary was actually visited by an angel with a name.
We know him from an earlier visit to Zechariah the elderly priest. Gabriel was God’s press secretary. He stood in the presence of God ready to deliver critically important messages.
There is also a real-time and place. Mary’s relative Elizabeth was already six months along in her impossible pregnancy. The location of this unusual visitation is Mary’s hometown Nazareth. It’s on the map. You can Google it! We also know this live encounter with the angel of the Lord happened sometime during their marriage preparation. Unbelievable!
These two verses also stress two facts about Mary. First, she is a virgin. Verse 27 mentions that fact twice. The Greek word involved leaves no room for doubt on that issue. It means a young woman of marriageable age who has never had sexual relations with a man. Second, she has no idea what is about to happen. Mary is completely in the dark, clueless that her life is about to be radically changed forever.
Mary may have been raised not to talk to strangers but she now has the weirdest conversation of her life and Gabriel does most of the talking! He doesn’t ask if she would like to be pregnant he tells her she already is.
He says three different things to her and she responds to what he says. Each time we see how Mary begins to trust in the God of the impossible! Supernatural is a compound word, super and natural. God is super and we are natural. That’s how he does stuff though us humans.
Now we don’t exactly know what time this happened. We know Joseph was dreaming when he received heaven’s heads up. This could have been in the middle of the afternoon while Mary was sweeping the dust off the front path, wringing out laundry or carrying water.
Maybe she was helping tidy things up before her father and fiancée got home from work. She can’t wait to share three more wedding ideas she is contemplating with Joseph during their evening stroll around the village.
When boom! Outa nowhere there’s a sensitive but imposing--not from around here—guy with a message from God. He spoke and she spooked!
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (v. 28) Mary was stunned; she had no idea of what to make this. What if an unearthly visitor appeared to you with, “Hi, this is your lucky day, you have been selected for a special little blessing”! How would your respond?
In verse 29 Luke says, “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” After all, it’s two o’clock in the afternoon; she’s sixteen years old, anticipating her wedding day, and dreaming of Joseph and their long walk together. Now a total stranger says something really bizarre to her. No wonder she wondered!
But that’s not the half of it. Without a pause, Gabriel proceeds to tell her something that had to freak her out. He tells her she’s going to have a baby, and not just any baby. She’s going to give birth to the Son of God!
Listen again these words we have heard over and over. But this time, remember that you are 16, deeply in love, sweeping the porch or wringing out laundry. You don’t have any inkling of what you are about to hear:
“Fear not, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 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 the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1.30-33 (NIV)
How’s that for a conversation starter? What, do you say back to Gabriel? Do you argue? Do you ask for clarification? Do you call 911? Do you say, “Who are you and how did you get in my backyard?” If you were a frightened 16-year-old girl you might just pass out or run for cover.
Mary does none of those things. In fact, she passes over all the hard stuff. When Gabriel says, “He will be called the Son of the Most High,” she doesn't ask what that means or why she was picked for such a high honor. None of those ordinary concerns seems to affect her in the least.
She only has one practical “how to” question, “How can this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (v.34). This is a perfectly natural question. Mary is pledged but not formally married. She has never had sexual relations with any man. How in the world is she going to have any baby let alone give birth to the Son of the most-high God!
Mary does not doubt the angel’s word, even though it must have sounded incredible. She believed the prophetic words the angel said about her, and the destiny of this unique baby. She had no trouble believing what the angel said was going to happen; she just wondered how it would happen.
In essence she says to Gabriel, “All right. I’m willing to do my part, but please explain how we’ll handle this one little human problem.” That’s simple almost childlike faith. That is trusting in the impossible. It’s trust in God and His Word when all the “facts” argue against it. Miracles happen!
Trusting the impossible is not figuring it all out--it’s the belief that God can and will do what He promises. Gabriel answers her sincere question.
"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." Luke 1.35 (NIV)
Gabriel gives her a simple explanation. It will be the result of the direct intervention of God. The Holy Spirit who was instrumental at creation to breathe life into man will overshadow this young woman to conceive a Holy child. Some say we don’t have to believe in the virgin birth. Gabriel makes it clear this “Holy One” needed a holy or heavenly conception.
Without the supernatural Virgin Birth, there would be no Christmas at all.
The Greek word translated “overshadow” was used of God’s presence in the Old Testament tabernacle. It pictures the God of light personally dwelling with his people. God’s presence is like brilliant saturating cloud.
Does this explain everything, no not in biological terms that we can grasp? That’s why it requires faith or trust in the impossible for us to believe just like it did Mary. Anyone who has ever taken a course in human embryology knows, even ‘ordinary’ conception within the human womb is an incredible mystery.
When our third son David was born in Nebraska, Dr. Walter Harvey who had delivered hundreds of babies, said, “I’m still amazed every time an infant emerges from the womb and takes its first breath it is a miracle.”
King David, whose throne the Son of God will inherit wrote something that sounds like genetic code. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psa. 139.13-14 (NIV)
Fortunately God never demands that Mary, or you and I for that matter, understand everything. What was required of her is that she believes and willingly submits to God’s impossible plan. She did that well!
Gabriel coaches her faith a bit by reminding her of a miracle already in motion. Her barren relative Elizabeth is in her last trimester of gestation.
“Even 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. For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1. 36-37 (NIV)
Both pregnancies are impossible miracles. Both are first-born sons. One is a natural birth to a childless couple way past their reproductive years.
The other is a paranormal pregnancy initiated by God’s Holy Spirit. The point is that both are examples of human impossibilities made possible by the promise and the presence of God.
Verse 37, is a great Christmas line that is often overlooked at this time of the year. “For nothing is impossible with God.” He is able to do anything he decides to do. We can’t claim that as a maxim for anything we happen to want but God can do anything he wants to do when he wants to do it!
Medieval art gives Mary a halo. She is transcended from adolescence into sainthood. She almost glows in the dark. Don’t get me wrong, the bible says, She was “most blessed among women” but not because she was otherworldly. She was like any of us, a simple teenager that loved her family, her fiancee and her God. She was real, with real fears, real doubts and real questions but she put her simple trust in what God and his word.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1.38 (NIV) Daddy’s girl!
Now if you have an impossible promise to hold on too, the best thing to do is find some support. Mary headed off to the Judean hills to stay with Elisabeth whose miracle was already in route. She didn't have to face the understandable doubts of family, friends and village gossips. She needed someone to believe with her not doubt her.
When she walked in the door the Holy Spirit showed up again. Elizabeth’s baby was jumping, while she was being filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary broke out singing a prophetic Christmas carol. She magnified the Lord!
Why is Mary so blessed among women? Elizabeth says it all. “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” Luke 1.45 (NIV). When faced with an impossible promise, just say “yes” and wait for His timing. Surrender your will to his. Serve him with all your heart.
If it’s humanly possible it’s no challenge to our faith. It may be hard but we can make that happen. God is into the impossible! Remember the super-natural involves God who is the “super” and us folks who are simply the “natural”. Mary’s story is all about trusting the impossible!