I preached this sermon last Christmas 2021. It is based on Luke 1-2 and divided into three parts…and I’ll post each part over the next 3 posts.
Part 1 Mary visits Elizabeth – A visit to the hill country
“Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!”
So declares the angel Gabriel to Mary in the gospel of Luke.
We’ve been looking at this gospel over the past few months here at St Stephens, Bellevue Hill. Only Luke and Matthew’s gospels have details about Jesus’ birth. In Matthew it begins with the angel speaking to Joseph, but in Luke that is not mentioned. It is the virgin Mary who is addressed here in Luke 1:30.
It is pretty clear that Luke’s gospel is through the Mary’s own testimony – this is how it was for her. We have her personal perspective.
Over the past year we have had the blessing of a number of babies born into our extended family – Jack, Rupert and Jeremiah have joined us. (Also Maxwell.)
This time last year…the news was coming through. A baby is on its way. And, if you know anything about the experience, you’ll know that suddenly there is a new calendar out. A new way of telling time. Which trimester are you in…first, second or third?
Today: Christmas expectation – divided Luke up into 3 trimesters:
Part 1 1st Trimester: Expectant mum magnifies the Lord (1:26-56)
The angel’s visit to Mary is actually wrapped around by the news of another pregnancy – that of Elizabeth married to Zechariah who is carrying John the Baptist. Luke 1:1-25.
And this is made into a tight connection in verse 26 – we read: ‘in the sixth month (2nd trimester!)…that was when the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth’ – sent to a virgin named Mary.
She’s betrothed – engaged – to Joseph. We’re not told her age but many imagine that she is not yet 20 years old. A teenager.
Now the teenage years are renowned for being a time when you go up and down as you work out your identity – who exactly you are. It can create some troublesome moments for us…but I reckon that none of us here had quite the troubled thoughts that Mary had at this time.
Settling down one evening for a good night’s rest and up pops the angel Gabriel declaring his ‘Greetings’ to you! ‘Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!’
V 29 – the understatement of the 1st century: ‘she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be’.
Mary – been taught good manners by her parents. Pulls out her ‘Hebrew greetings chart’ which her mother had given her…where does this one fit? What does it mean? How do you respond when angel Gabriel pops by? Not exactly on the standard list in any culture!
She is clearly rattled by all of it…and the angel’s words express assurance for her: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.’
And then comes the heart of the message: ‘And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’
And in case there was any doubt about the significance of this…Gabriel adds that this one is the promised son of King David which the people of Israel have been waiting for about a thousand years:
‘the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom will be no end.’
Mary responds with a question – I’m a virgin, not yet married – so how’s that going to happen?
Angelic response: the Holy Spirit will look after that.
And the angel then mentions her old relative, Elizabeth, who is in her sixth month of an unexpected pregnancy and he adds: ‘For nothing will be impossible with God.’
Famous biblical refrain…taking us all the way back to Abraham and Sarah – when told they would have a son, and Sarah laughed saying I’m too old to bear a child. To which the Lord said to Abraham: Why did Sarah laugh and say, Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.’
Nothing is impossible for God!
Mary – clearly a woman who believed that. Her response: ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ (v 38)
But it’s one thing for Mary to believe and accept this word. As with all these ‘big faith’ steps it is quite another thing for others who didn’t actually have a night chat with angel Gabriel.
You have a chat with Gabriel and you’d quite like to talk it over with someone. As Dale Davis puts it ‘there is an urgency for fellowship on Mary’s part’. But it’s not so easy to share the secret in her own home.
Hi Mum and Dad, look I’m going to be pregnant, but don’t worry because, well you see, this angel named Gabriel – yes, that was his name – he appeared to me and…
Well, what parent on the planet is going to be calm and listening to their daughter sharing that news…
Mary’s had her queue where to go: Elizabeth…and so 1:39-40 she’s off ‘in haste’:
“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”
Remember Elizabeth is in her 2nd trimester – and anyone who knows anything about these things knows what mum-to-be is getting at that time. ‘Question: is the baby kicking?’
Mary walks into the house and says ‘hello!’ and Elizabeth suddenly feels like the soccer world cup is taking place within her:
‘the baby leaped in her womb’ – pre-natal Johnny bursts forth with excitement at the sound of her voice.
And mother Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit herself and cries out: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’
Which…when you think about it were words which a fantastically encouraging for a young girl who is coming to terms with the news that she is to be the first woman on the planet to give birth as a virgin.
And with that Mary speaks forth those words of deep praise and exaltation of the God of Israel which we now know as the Magnificat:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
This God…his mercy is for those who fear him…
He’s the one who turns things around: ‘brings down the mighty and exalts the humble’
He’s the one who ‘has helped his servant Israel…as he promised Abraham and his offspring.’
Mary magnifies the Lord.
Close: – she stayed about three months –
“Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.”
There is the first trimester.