Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 19, 2021

Reader: “The baby to be born will be holy,” 

Response: “and he will be called the Son of God.”

Scripture:  Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Some thoughts:

In these last seven days leading up to the Nativity, we’ll focus more specifically on the very familiar and wondrous events surrounding the birth that brought reconciliation to the world in carrying forth God’s plan. The marvelous thing about God’s Word is that one can go back again and again to the same passage and discover new insights. It truly is a living word. Let’s look at the Annunciation.

For purposes of time and space, Jesus most likely was not born on December 25th for a host of reasons. Shepherds are not “out in the fields” during the winter months when it is cold and often below freezing. Roman censuses were not taken in winter months when travel was hard and roads were in poor condition. Most likely Jesus was actually born in the fall, perhaps in September. Without getting on a rabbit trail (You’ll see how all of this ties together!), Zechariah’s time in the Temple and his visit from the angel Gabriel can be dated to roughly mid-June, based on Jewish festivals and priestly service schedules. (We know which priestly group he belonged to.) That being the case, John would have been born in March of the following year. Since Mary visited Elizabth in her sixth month, just after she had conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit, Mary would have been visited by Gabriel in December meaning Jesus would have been born in September. While nothing is certain, this scenario is quite possible. The point I’m getting at is to help us visualize the reality of what happened in real time. 

Mary was minding her own business all by herself when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. Gabriel had actually been to earth previously visiting Daniel hundreds of years before this moment, as well as Zechariah a few months earlier. There are some things to note in this passage and conversation. Luke makes sure we know that Joseph was in the lineage of King David, important because the Messiah would come from this kingly line, a promise God made to David when he was king a thousand years earlier.

Ask yourself what you would think if an angel told you that you are favored by God and “the Lord is with you.” Nothing else. Just those words. Then the angel repeats the words “You have found favor with God.” As often happens in such circumstances, the heavenly messenger explains the opening statement in greater detail. (E.g. Zechariah) I remind us that Jews living in the New Testament era knew the Old Testament backwards and forwards. They were well acquainted with the prophecies. One of the reasons I believe Mary was responsive to Gabriel comes out of what the angel said. Mary would have known Isaiah―”behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son . . .Son of the Most High,” another familiar phrase. Finally, Gabriel refers to the “throne of his ancestor David,” his reign over Israel forever and the Kingdom of this baby conceived in her will never end. Notice Mary didn’t balk at any of the angel’s words, she just wanted to know how it could happen, “How will I become pregnant?” The angel explained the conception process very simply (the power of the Most High will overshadow you) and moved on to tell her about her relative, the sixth month pregnant Elizabeth! Mary’s response to Gabriel’s news was simply, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Mission accomplished and the angel left. The phrasing for the conception of Jesus uses the same words as when the Spirit “hovered” over the waters at the dawn of creation (Gen. 1:2). In other words the conception was by the power of God.

I want to go back and look a little further at Mary’s Jewish heritage which I believe gives added insight into this whole event. Genealogies are extremely important in Jewish history for a great number of reasons. Jews in this era knew their own lineage far more than we know ours today. Matthew, writing to Jews, traces Jesus’ Jewish lineage from Abraham to David through Solomon to Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, who was the “supposed father” of baby Jesus. Joseph was viewed as the “legal” father of Jesus in Jewish law as developed by Matthew. Luke however, traces Jesus’ lineage from Adam through Abraham through David through Nathan, Solomon’s younger brother to Heli, Mary’s father. Hence, while Joseph was Jesus’ legal and earthly father, and not in Jesus’ bloodline, God was the source of his bloodline. (A baby’s blood and blood circulation is completely different from its mother’s. They have their own blood type.) Mary supplied the humanity and God supplied the divinity in the infant God-man born to the virgin mother.

One other thing to note. God had cursed the bloodline of a descendant of Solomon, Jeconiah, stating that no descendant of his would ever be king (Jer. 22:30). Joseph was of that lineage, so while he was the legal guardian of Jesus, there was no way he was the biological father of Jesus. The bloodline of Jesus was divine in its origin traced through Mary thereby making the shedding of his blood on the cross efficacious on our behalf. It truly was royal sinless blood having been created by God, not Mary. The wonder of the Incarnation―which we’ll explore in some depth tomorrow.

Music: “Long Ago, Prophets Knew” Chet Valley Churches  

                     (beautiful carol, marvelous text)


O Lord God, enlarge our soils with a divine charity, that we may hope all things, endure all things; and become messengers of Thy healing mercy to the grievances and infirmities of men. In all things attune our hearts to the holiness and harmony of Thy kingdom. And hasten the time when Thy kingdom shall come, and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.   

                          ―James Martineau, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.356