Have you ever considered the fact that Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, didn’t get to plan her first pregnancy? As one who was engaged, she likely thought about the time after she and Joseph were married when, if God allowed, they would be able to start a family. In other words, she probably thought about having a baby in the same manner that many engaged couples do, as an expression of their later union and ongoing love. Yet it was prior to Mary and Joseph being married, when she was yet a virgin “pledged to be married to…Joseph, a descendant of David,” that, as stated in verses 26–27 of Luke 1, “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee.” The wondrous message that God sent Mary via Gabriel is the focus of our passage.

As recorded in verse 28, Gabriel’s opening words to her were, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” This first word, “greeting,” is the origin of the phrase, “Hail, Mary, full of grace”—“Hail” is an older way of translating the Greek word for “Greetings.”[1] And “favored one” is a better translation than “full of grace”[2] for though Mary is favored she, like the rest of humanity, is the recipient of God’s grace, not the giver of it. What is more the Latin for “Greetings” is “Ave”—thus the source of the opening words to the beautiful Christmas song, Ave Maria.

Be all this as it may, Mary’s quite understandable reaction to this initial greeting by the angel Gabriel is recorded in verse 29: “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” Of course she was troubled! We’re not told what she had been doing at the time at which the angel appeared to her but, whatever it was, how strange to have the course of your regular daily activity interrupted by an angel who not only greets you but who goes on to tell you that you are “highly favored” and that “The Lord is with you.” What kind of greeting could this be? Why in the world had an angel been sent to her? What could he possibly have to say to her, a young woman who until this moment had primarily been the apple of Joseph’s eye, not of the entirety of Christian faith to follow and surely, in her mind, not of God’s?! Until now she had been a poor, unknown, ordinary Jewish young woman had been looking forward to marrying the man to whom she was engaged. Therefore, what in the world was God’s messenger doing here? Why had he been sent to her, of all people?

Well, we see the Lord’s messenger addressing her concern and wonder beginning in verse 30 as he tells her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” For the second time Gabriel had let her know that she was highly favored[3]—for what greater favor can there be than that which God bestows? Next Gabriel proceeded to tell Mary the nature of the favor she had found:

First, as stated in verse 31, it was disclosed to her that she who was a virgin would “conceive and give birth to a son.” This no doubt increased Mary’s perplexity for how could a virgin conceive a child?

Second, she was told not only that she would conceive and give birth to a son, but that she was “to call him Jesus.” Mary would have known that the name “Jesus” meant Savior—Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua which means the LORD saves. Therefore, Mary had been given to understand that the child to be born of her would be no ordinary child. He would be Savior of the world;

Third, Gabriel went on to tell her concerning this child, verse 32: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” In other words, as One who was the Son of the Most High, Jesus himself, the child to be born, would also be God;

Fourth, Gabriel told her, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” So Jesus would not only be God but, if David was Jesus’ father, then Jesus would also be human;

Finally, Gabriel addressed the nature of Jesus’ throne, of his rule. As stated in verse 33, “he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” In other words, this God-Man Jesus will be an eternal King since his rule will last forever. Human kingdoms come and go but his kingdom will never come to an end.

Needless to say, all of this would have been a lot for Mary to take in.

It’s worth noting, however, that everything that the angel Gabriel had disclosed to Mary was in fulfillment of what the LORD had disclosed to King David about a thousand years earlier by way of Nathan the prophet who said to him, “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son.”[4] Sound familiar? The son to be born of Mary would be this promised descendant of David. Jesus’ kingdom will have no end because he is God who is eternal. Therefore, his eternal rule over his eternal kingdom will never come to an end.[5]

Well, as she was trying to take all of this in, it’s clear that Mary understood well the import of what Gabriel was revealing to her. She realized that Gabriel wasn’t speaking of her and Joseph’s future children, no. Mary immediately grasped that the birth the angel spoke of was to be something miraculous. Notice that after Gabriel had finished, she returned to his first point about her conceiving and giving birth to a son as she asked him, verse 34, “How will this be… since I am a virgin?” Surely this was the million dollar question! Humanly speaking, what the angel had told Mary couldn’t be for as a virgin, by definition, she was “a person who [had] never had sexual intercourse.” Therefore, it would be impossible for her to bear a child. Surely Mary’s head was about ready to spin off her shoulders by this point! In posing this question to the angel it’s evident that she clearly understood that the angel’s revelation wasn’t referring to any future natural children she might have with Joseph—who are noted later in Scripture[6]—but to a supernatural, miraculous birth. Mary had correctly understood that this conception would occur without sexual relations with Joseph. She had correctly understood that Jesus’ birth, the birth of the Savior by her, would be a miraculous birth. Therefore, she inquired of the angel Gabriel, “How will this be… since I am a virgin?” How, indeed?!

The Lord’s messenger graciously went on to explain the “how” in Mary’s question. In essence he told her, “Let me explain to you how it is that a virgin will be enabled to give birth to the great Son of the Most High who will rule over the never-ending throne and kingdom first promised to his father David.” As stated in verse 35, Gabriel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” In other words, in order for the birth of Christ Jesus, the God-Man, to occur, the entire Trinity was to be involved:

First, God the Holy Spirit would come upon her;

Second, by this very same Holy Spirit—who is One with the Father and Son—the power of the Most High, or God the Father, would overshadow her;[7]

Last, Gabriel went on to relate, “So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Thus would the third member of the Trinity, the Son of God, enter human history. For God’s gracious, Triune plan was for Christ Jesus, Messiah Jesus, to deliver those who acknowledged him as their Savior and LORD out of their sins and into his holy presence by taking away their sins and giving them his very own righteousness.[8] In sum, this was how Mary would be enabled to give birth to the third member of the Trinity, the holy Son of God. From beginning to end it would all be God’s doing: God the Holy Spirit would come upon her. God the Father would overshadow her with his power. And thus would the Son of God, Jesus, the great Savior and King, come to earth in human form, in the form of a baby, to save any and all who believed in and received him as their Savior, Lord, and King.

Again, this wasn’t a new plan of redemption in God’s mind; this was the plan of redemption he had disclosed all along. He did so not only by his prophet Nathan to David a thousand years prior, noted earlier, but also in the prophecy read earlier by Isaiah who faithfully proclaimed, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Six hundred years after this prophecy, we see that Mary was that virgin and Christ Jesus was that promised Son. Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us,” for he is eternal God who has taken on human form in that promised child.

In his Gospel Matthew makes this connection as well, stating at the end of chapter 1:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah—and again, Messiah is the Hebrew of the Greek “Christ”—came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law and was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”[9]

And listen to what Matthew goes on to declare in the verses immediately following this account: “22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”).”[10] So Matthew, too, understood Jesus’ birth through the lens of Isaiah’s prophecy. He, too, understood that this baby Jesus would be the revealed Son of the Most High God who came to earth to save his people from their sins and that by coming to earth in human flesh, he would literally be Immanuel; he would literally be “God with us”!

Now returning to verse 36 in Luke, we see that other wonders were involved in the eternal Son of God, the eternal Messiah, the eternal Christ’s coming to earth, specifically in the person of Elizabeth, Mary’s relative. Concerning her Gabriel disclosed to Mary, “…[she] is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.” With this we’re clued into the fact that both Mary and Elizabeth’s conceptions were miraculous—although Mary’s was clearly the greater miracle if we were to try and rank them! For despite the fact that Elizabeth was old and unable to conceive, she was now in her sixth month of pregnancy—her son, of course, would be John the Baptist. Gabriel then proclaimed concerning this pregnancy, verse 37, “For no word from God will ever fail.” “Which word from God?,” you might ask. Well, earlier in chapter 1, Gabriel, busy angel that he was, had appeared to Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, and declared to him, verses 13–17:

Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.[11]

At God’s behest, Gabriel, God’s messenger, had told Zechariah that his and Elizabeth’s prayer for a child had been granted, despite their being advanced in age and unable to conceive.[12]

Later in John’s life we learn that his birth was in fulfillment not only of Gabriel’s words from the Lord but also of the Lord’s words that were spoken by the prophet Isaiah as this son of Zechariah and Elizabeth proclaimed the word of God that came to him[13] as “[h]e went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”[14] Concerning John the Baptist, Luke testified by quoting from Isaiah, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’”[15] As the birth of Christ Jesus, Messiah Jesus, had been prophesied by Isaiah, so, too, had been the birth of John the Baptist, who was to prepare his way.[16] Both births are powerful examples that God’s Word will never fail.

Well, having been presented with this revelation from God and having done her best to take it all in, dear, sweet, humble Mary simply replied, verse 38, “I am the Lord’s servant,… May your word to me be fulfilled.” Mary embraced the favor God had bestowed upon her in choosing her to bear his eternal Son. She willingly consented to the miracle that was to take place inside her body. Having noted her affirmative response, the angel Gabriel then left her.

In this account recorded by Luke, we are privileged to learn of the very first moment that Mary began to expect Jesus, a son who heretofore had been unexpected; a son who heretofore had been completely and utterly unknown to her. And having been presented with the very words from God delivered by the angel Gabriel, Mary could now begin to look forward to expecting Jesus. But Mary would expect Jesus not simply as pregnant mothers might expect the birth of their first child. Yes, she would look forward to meeting this baby she would carry in her womb for nine months; yes, she would look forward to holding him—and feeding him—and caring for him—and playing with him—and teaching him. Yet her expecting Jesus would be different from other mothers for she knew that baby Jesus would be miraculously conceived; she knew that baby Jesus would be the Savior, God’s Christ, his promised Messiah, who by her would enter human existence to deliver her and all who believed and received him from all evil and sin. For Mary was expecting Jesus not simply with the usual sense of excitement and anticipation in giving birth to a baby, but Mary was expecting Jesus knowing that he who was to be born of her would also be her Savior and LORD—and of the entire world.

And this news of the birth of Jesus, the Savior, King, and Deliverer of humanity was given not only to Mary, his mother. Indeed, as soon as the angel Gabriel left her, Mary went to see her relative Elizabeth, who exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”[17] Elizabeth, too, understood and embraced Jesus as her Lord.

And soon after Jesus was born, shepherds in a field also came to worship Jesus as they told others the good news that the angel of the Lord had told them, that Jesus was Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. All who heard the word spread by them, “were amazed…. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”[18]

And this news was further told to Simeon, a righteous and devout man, when the Holy Spirit appeared to him and promised that he wouldn’t see death until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. When Simeon later saw Jesus, he acknowledged him as the promised Savior declaring in part, “29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”[19] Again, Jesus was no ordinary child. He was Savior for all who would turn to him, both Gentile and Jew.

So, too, Anna, a prophet, upon seeing Jesus “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”[20]

And so, too, did the wise men from the east ask, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”[21] The fact that they sought to worship Jesus indicates that they recognized that this one who was born was not just an ordinary baby, but God who had come in human form, God in the flesh.

Dear sisters and brothers, advent is a time when we are reminded of the wonder and joy of expecting Jesus. Though we live in the time after his advent, after his coming, each year we’re able to enter again into the wonder and joy of expecting and receiving our Savior and King. Each year we’re able to enter again into the wonder and joy of expecting and celebrating his coming to earth. For we know that Jesus was no ordinary baby. We know that even at his birth, he was the eternal King sent by the Father, God Most High, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit over Mary. Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, God who became one of us, Immanuel, God with us, in order that we might know him and share his love and light with those around us. So let us this morning and always come to him with joyous expectation and adore him, our kind—and compassionate—and merciful Savior, Lord, and King.

Let us pray.

 

 

[1] See the King James and Revised Standard versions, respectively: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” The RSV also notes, “Some manuscripts add Blessed are you among women!” The Greek is Χαῖρε from the Greek χαίρω, “to rejoice, be glad, delighted; (as a greeting) Hail!, Greetings!” < https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/chairo>

[2] In the Greek κεχαριτωμένη (a perfect participle) is from χαριτόω meaning “to be visited with free favor, be an object of gracious visitation.” https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/charitoo.

[3] The Greek word for “favor” is χάρις, -ιτος, ἡ, meaning “grace, the state of kindness and favor toward someone, often with a focus on a benefit given to the object.” < https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/charis>

 

[4] 2 Samuel 7:11b–14a. Emphasis added.

[5] This is also indicated in Revelation 11:15: The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

[6] See Mark 6:3: Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.; and parallel in Matthew 13:55–56: 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

[7] In Scripture, this title for God is first declared by Melchizedek, the high priest. See Genesis 14:18–20: 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

[8] 2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.; Romans 3:22–24: 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

[9] Matthew 1:18–21.

[10] Matthew 1:22–23.

[11] Luke 1:13–17.

[12] Luke 1:6–7: Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

[13] Luke 3:2: during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

[14] Luke 3:3.

[15] Luke 3:4–6 in fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3–5:A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

[16] See also John 1:6–8:There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

[17] Luke 2:39–45: 39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

[18] Luke 2:18–19. Next we’re told, verse 20, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” The passage begins with Luke 2:8–12:And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

[19] Luke 2:29–32. The passage begins with Luke 2:25–32: 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

[20] Luke 2:38. The passage begins with Luke 2:36–38: 36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

[21] Matthew 2:1–2: 1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”