Few things have ever been written in the history of the world that can approach the lyric beauty of the Gospel of Luke today. No matter how many times we read it, we are immersed in its majestic simplicity.
This moment in history had been foretold since the days of creation, when it was promised that a woman would give birth to the One who would vanquish the power of Satan. If the moment had been orchestrated by Madison Avenue, it would’ve been surrounded by pomp and circumstance, proclaimed far and wide. As usual, though, God’s ways are not our ways.
The word that had been awaited for centuries came silently as the sunrise, to a young girl in an obscure village, a young one who, until that moment, had but one significant event to anticipate: She was to wed the local carpenter.
Now, with a few soft-spoken words from an angel, and her “Fiat!, her resounding Yes, / her “let it be done according to thy word,” she became the central figure in the plan of Redemption, without whom / God’s plan would not be fulfilled.
(God needed Mary’s YES!)
This was not the first time God had sent a messenger to announce the birth of a child in extraordinary circumstances. Remember Sarah and her husband, Abraham? They had exhausted every hope of having a child of their own, for they were far beyond the age of childbearing. But since nothing is impossible with God, Sarah conceived and bore a son whom they named Isaac, as God had directed.
Centuries later, the scene is repeated: Zechariah and Elizabeth had despaired of having a child, for both were advanced in age. But Elizabeth conceived and bore a child, John the Baptist,whose entire life would be dedicated to one purpose ~ to prepare the way of the Lord.
Now the centuries of prophecy are about to be fulfilled. Again, there is an unlikely conception, for Mary was yet a virgin. Again that this most unlikely of all births might become a reality, God’s intervention was needed. Gabriel, messenger of the Most High, assures her . . .
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born from of your womb will be called holy, the Son of God.”
All that had transpired in salvation history up to this moment hung in the balance waiting for this girl’s response: She took her time. She questioned the angel. and then she finally said, Yes. “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your word.”
And then the angel left her, leaving for her and Joseph to work out the details, some of which were going to be quite problematic.
We’ll hear the Nativity story in four days. Today, I invite you to think about the whole story, as though you were thinking about it for the first time. Consider what a wild, crazy, loving thing God did! God created us, when he didn’t have to, simply because he wanted to share his love and his joy. We sinned, rejected God, decided to go our own way, and created a huge distance between God and us. You would think that God would say, “OK, have it your own way, then, but be prepared for the consequences.” But he didn’t. Instead, God decided to bridge that distance and repair the damage that we did.
How? First of all, by becoming one of us. A real, living, breathing, in-the-flesh human being who was also God. And not by coming down in overpowering glory and majesty. No, by being conceived in the womb of a young woman, a teenager, actually. And then by being born not in a palace but in a stable, a shelter for animals, on the outskirts of a small town, in a country that was not one of the big players in the power and politics of the time.
Does this make sense? Is this a normal way of behaving – considering that the person doing it is almighty God, creator and Lord of the universe? No. this doesn’t make a shred of common sense. This is the action of someone absolutely consumed by infinite love for people who were not acting lovably. We get so used to hearing this story that we say, “Well, sure, of course!” when it ought to take our breath away.
Today, as preparation for the great Christmas feast that’s coming in four days, let’s try to appreciate in anew the stunning immensity of God’s love for us ~ God’s desire to get us back when we were gone astray as the Christmas carol says.
Let us say Yes to God as Mary did.
A Yes that opens us up to his great love.
A Yes that shares his love with our family,
with our neighborhood,
with our work place,
with our country,
with all the world.
In a few days we will celebrate the birth of Mary’s child, a birth as striking in its simplicity as was the announcement by Gabriel. Perhaps, during these few days, we would do well to ask Mary to help us prepare our hearts for his coming, as she did. Better than anyone else, she knows how to do that.
And now, before you go, here’s the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with a glorious rendition of Handel’s “And the Glory of the Lord. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.