As with plenty of churches around the world, we are working through a Christmas-Advent series at Cornerstone. For our focus during the second Sunday, we considered the announcement of the angel concerning Christ’s birth. We looked at both Gospel accounts: a) to Joseph in Matthew 1:18-25 and b) to Mary in Luke 1:26-38.
There are 4 particular points that stood out to me in my most recent reflections on these accounts. If you would rather listen to an audio version from the Sunday teaching, scroll to the bottom of this article.
1) God’s back story
Recently in our small group, as we’ve been studying the life of Elijah at the end of 1 Kings, we came to a passage that had a few names in it. What we normally do is have the Bible passage read by the members of the group, one by one, a few verses per each person. Well, lo and behold, one person got stuck with all the names. And it was joked: ‘Oh, you’ve got the names!’
You know those Bible passages. The ones with a bunch of names that we aren’t quite sure how to pronounce! Yeah those, like the first 9 chapters of 1 Chronicles. Eeesh!!
And, while we normally begin with Matt 1:18 when reading the ‘Christmas story’, the account actually begins in 1:1-17. At least that’s what Matthew wants us to see and hear. In the beginning verses, there are 3 sets of 14, or 6 sets of 7. I believe some generations were skipped by Matthew. But he is particularly crafting the account in a way that would speak to Jewish people, those to whom he specially wrote.
Any Jew reading those first verses would catch it – 6 sets of 7. The number 7 was important for Jews. It meant completion, wholeness. And one might even be reminded of the first chapters of Genesis – 6 days of creation followed by a seventh day of rest.
Jesus is the seventh seven. He is the completion of God’s purposes. He is the fulness of God’s plan. It’s time to complete things…and enter God’s rest and promised land.
It’s easy for us not to be interested much in those first 17 verses of Matthew’s gospel. But they are important. The story began well before Christ arrived. Some of those names we know; some we don’t. Some of them seem very important; some we don’t even recall.
And while the Christ event, the first advent of Christ, was the history-marker up to that point, we cannot forget the back story of what God was doing beforehand. Matter of fact, the stories and songs and promises that Jesus grew up knowing, the very ones Joseph & Mary would have told him, go back to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. The purpose of God in Christ will actually make more sense if we can understand a bit of the story beforehand.
No one would want to walk into The Hobbit to view the last hour of the movie. No way! One wants the whole story. The same with the coming of Christ in the Christmas story. Start in the beginning.
Of course, in the flow of history, some events seem a little smaller, or much smaller than the coming of Christ. But God is still at work through it all. Christ came at just the right time, says Paul in Gal 4:4. But everything beforehand made Christ’s coming all the more important. Even the tiny things. As Zechariah reminds us – Do not despise the day of small beginnings (Zech 4:10). Even the kingdom rule of God starts small, like a mustard seed.
God has a story he has been working – in our lives and in the history of humanity. It’s to be summed up in Christ. Let us appreciate not just the major moments, but also the small ones. Let us not only remember the miracles, but also the little gifts of God planted right in the midst of our day.
2) God’s grace & favour
Luke records these words to Mary from the angel, Gabriel – Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you (1:28). And, later on, he says – Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God (1:30).
When we read the word favour, we can easily think of merit. In many minds, favour is what one earns.
But this is not the focus of Scripture.
God’s favour is synonymous with God’s grace. Actually, the word in the gospel accounts is based on the well-known Greek word, charis, which we normally translate as grace. We speak of the charismata, or grace gifts of God. This is what we have here in the gospel texts.
Every single act of God is centred in the grace of God. It’s true that God is looking for people to respond to him and we must decide, like Mary, if we will respond. But even our response finds its foundation in the grace of God.
So, just to clarify things, the passage in Luke might be better read this way: Greetings, you who are highly graced! The Lord is with you…Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found grace with God.
Every work of God finds its centre in the grace of God. And God favours his sons and daughters, meaning he has grace to lavish upon us.
3) God’s confirmation
The virgin birth. I’m gonna bank on the reality that this had never happened before and will never happen again. Mary becoming pregnant not through the good act of sex, but through the miraculous work of the Spirit of God.
You can imagine the situation here.
Wait, you’re telling me what, Mary?! This is ludicrous!
We forget the shock value of this situation because we’ve read the story some 548 times. Can you imagine a young, engaged woman telling her soon-to-be husband that she’s pregnant and it’s come via the miraculous work of God?
But the beautiful thing is that God did not leave Mary to try and convince Joseph on her own. He confirmed it himself to Joseph.
Every Jew knew that on the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses something would be confirmed. Here we have confirmation.
Now, I can still very much expect that Joseph and Mary had to walk this out in faith. It was still crazy! Never been done before and never will again! But God was faithful to send an angel to both for confirmation.
At times, God will ask of us some very crazy things. Things that sound rather silly. You look at the life of Jesus and he was involved in activities that were simply unacceptable to the religious of his day. And they could even quote Scripture to bring a charge against him. But we know very much he was accomplishing the will of the Father.
God will, at times, push us out of our comfort zones, calling us into the unknown. But don’t look to walk that path on your own. We need close brothers (for men) and close sisters (for women) to walk with us, to confirm the work and word of the Lord in our lives.
God is a confirming God. Listen to him and listen to those he has put in our lives.
4) God’s faithfulness
I regularly remind those whom I shepherd that we have never known the unfaithfulness of God.
Have we always known why certain things have happened?
Nope. Not really.
But we have never tasted of the unfaithfulness of God.
The angel reminds Mary in Luke 1:37: For no word from God will ever fail.
If the coming of Christ reminds us of anything, it reminds us of the faithfulness of God, even after centuries of prophecies and promises.
I know our culture has pushed us to become the microwave generation, one where everything can be popped in the microwave for 3 minutes and it’s done. But this is not real life, not much of life at all.
Life is about the processes. Life is about the journey. And the reason the fulfilment is so much more joyous in the end is because of the patient and hopeful waiting we have engaged in. Hope is a word of expectancy, but it doesn’t mean it’s coming within 24 hours.
I know it’s easy to make such remarks in this moment, sitting at my desk in my warm office on a freezing cold day. Yet we know it’s true and we need to carry this truth into every challenge we meet. God has been, is now and always will be faithful to his word, to what he has said. We can reject his word, push it to the side, trample over it or worse. But he, and he alone, is faithful. Always.
We may fail. He will not.
These 4 things I leave you from the angel’s announcement, both to Joseph and to Mary.