December 18, 2011

Behold - Dec 18, 2011

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Some things are designed to get our attention. There’s that annoyingly high pitched warbling sound that precedes every test of the emergency broadcasting system. There’s those black and yellow striped signs that say things like, “Caution” or “Warning”. Or if you want to keep it simple, you can just write “Attention” in bright red letters above whatever you want people to see.

In our reading for today a different word is used to get our attention. The word is “Behold”. This word is used often in the Bible, and it means, “Look over here”, “Listen up”, “Pay attention”, “Mark my words” because something important is about to be communicated.

Throughout this Advent season we’ve talked about how we are watching, and preparing and rejoicing in connection with the Savior who was born into this world on the first Christmas, and the Savior who will come again with power and glory on Judgment Day. In a sense, the word “Behold” is simply repeating the word, “Watch” with more intensity. Open your eyes, your minds and your hearts. Watch carefully so you may understand what you are seeing.

Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

The first character in this story is Gabriel. He is an angel. Powerful. Mysterious. A messenger for God. Five hundred years previous to this he had delivered another message to the Old Testament prophet Daniel. Here we find him once again traveling through the world of men, to a city called Nazareth.

It must be noted that this would have seemed like quite the mix up to anyone who actually lived back then. Gabriel? Going to the backwater hick-ville that was Nazareth? What possible business could one of God’s mighty angels have there?

Our reading tells us that Gabriel was going to deliver a message to a young girl named Mary. Again, a Jew from that time would ask, “What possible business could one of God’s mighty angels have with a little Nazarene girl?

And indeed, there is nothing outwardly impressive about Mary. She was a descendant of King David, but so were a lot of people back then. It was a bit like being obscurely related to some movie star, or some historically important person. Sure, the relation is true, but it doesn’t make you famous.

Mary was betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph. Details from the Bible indicate that they were not a wealthy couple. In fact, Joseph’s job could pretty much tell you that. He was, after all, a carpenter. Just one more member of Nazareth’s blue-collar workforce.

Years later, after Joseph’s death, there would be no inheritance for Jesus to claim. No land. No house. No wealth. During His ministry, Jesus himself said that he had no place to lay His head. As He traveled from place to place preaching and teaching, Jesus was supported, not by funds inherited, but by gifts given by His followers.

No, Mary and Joseph were not an impressive couple when it comes to wealth and influence. In fact, when they arrived in Bethlehem for the great census, they ended up taking shelter wherever they could, laying their newborn Son in a feed trough for animals because nothing else was available.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. The point I’m trying to make is, Mary wasn’t the type of person you might expect God to send Gabriel to. Mary herself certainly wasn’t expecting this interview when it happened. You can tell that much from her thoughts after Gabriel’s greeting hits her ears. He appears and says…

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28 ESV).

Mary’s response was fear. She didn’t understand what this greeting meant. If an angel of God appeared to one of us, might our first response be fear as well? As sinners we know that we deserve death and hell for our sins against God. If an angel suddenly appeared to us, what would prevent us from thinking the worst – that God had finally come to extract payment from us?

But Gabriel quickly tries to set Mary’s mind at ease by repeating himself. He says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God”.

Now, that phrase “found favor” means that God is extending undeserved kindness to Mary. The Greek word at that point is related to the word “grace”. It isn’t that Mary had somehow earned this blessing from God. Not at all. She’s a sinner just like all of us. But God favored her. He gave her the astounding privilege of carrying His Son and birthing Him into the world.

And that’s just what Gabriel moves on to communicate. What reason is there for Mary to rejoice and have no fear? Gabriel tells her in verse 31…

“31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33 ESV).

Now, the first reason that God had for sending Mary this message is simple. She’s going to be pregnant soon! She needs to know this so she can be ready for all the physical changes that will take place inside her body over the next nine months.

But even more important than that, Mary needs to be prepared so that she can grasp the full spiritual implications of this baby boy she’s going to have. So, Gabriel takes mary through a little summary of Old Testament prophesies concerning this child. That’s really what verses 31-33 are. Gabriel is just gathering up prophecies and handing them to Mary like an armful of gifts.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God promised that a male descendant of Eve would crush the power of the Devil and save them from their sins. (Genesis 3:15)

Centuries later, God promised King David that one of his descendants would rule on an eternal throne. (2 Samuel 7:12-13)

Still centuries later, Isaiah wrote that this same king who would rule on David’s throne forever, would be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

So, Gabriel wraps up all these prophesies and ties them together with a bow. Oh, yeah, and name Him Jesus, because that name means, “Jehovah Saves”.

Poor Mary. This was a lot to drop on a young girl. Throughout all this exchange she’s always a step behind. Gabriel appears and says, “Rejoice, you’re blessed!” Mary responds with fear. Gabriel repeats himself, “Have no fear, you’re blessed! You’re going to have a baby boy who is the Son of the Highest!” Mary doesn't get it. She says, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34 ESV).

I can just imagine Luke interviewing Mary for this part of his gospel.

Luke: So, the angel Gabriel appeared to you to announce you were going to have God’s Son. How did you receive that news?

Mary: Well, to be honest, I heard what he said about my child being called the “Son of the Highest” but, I just couldn’t get my mind around the fact that I had never been with a man before. How was this pregnancy going to happen unless that happened first? But Gabriel explained so patiently.

He told me that the Holy Spirit of God would overshadow me and cause that life to grow in my belly. And then Gabriel kindly gave me something to help my mind understand. He said that old barren Elizabeth was already six months pregnant because with God nothing is impossible.

Well, that helped me to see how silly my questions were. God was at work here, and honestly, could I have understand this miracle even if Gabriel had tried to explain it to me? Thankfully, I didn’t have to understand it all to believe it.

I’ll tell you, I thought I had a lot to prepare for with the big wedding celebration that was coming up and moving into our new home. Now I had a few more things to ponder. A baby, but also the eternal Savior King. What an unexpected privilege. It was all so far beyond me.

Gabriel has been sent to us today also. Through the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Gabriel’s voice has been heard here today. He has spoken to remind us what this little Child of Bethlehem is all about. Why this Child is so significant. Imagine that you didn’t know the Gospel of Jesus at all, and you saw a bunch of pictures of Mary and Joseph in the stable, with Jesus in the manger. You wouldn’t have a clue what the big deal was. It’s a little baby, in a weird kind of nursery.

But Gabriel’s Words remind us of all the promises that God had made in connection with this Baby Boy. He is Jesus, “Jehovah Saves”. He is the Son of God so that His sacrifice would be valuable enough to pay for the sins of the whole world. He is Mary’s Son so that He is truly human, and able to take our place on the cross. He will rule on David’s throne forever in heaven, over all who trust in Him.

We’re just like Mary – no worthy of God’s favor. But God has extended His kindness to us through Christ. But we can only see how great the gift of the Christ Child is if we know the promises that were made concerning Him. That He would live without sinning, die willingly for sinners, and that He would rise in triumph on the third day so all would know He had succeeded in taking the punishment for sin away.

May God bless us so that this Christmas, we worship with our hearts. May God bless us through His Word so that we see the Baby of Bethlehem for all that He is…

…the Son of Mary
…the Son of God
…the promised Savior
…the King who will reign eternally on David’s Throne
…Our great God and Savior.


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