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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:Mary's Faithful Response to the Announcement of the Birth of the Messiah
Text:Luke 1: 26-38 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing: Psalm 138: 1, 4

Sing: Psalm 132: 6, 7

Read: Genesis 18:1-15

Sing: Psalm 118: 1, 6

Text: Luke 1: 26-38

Sing: Hymn 13: 1, 2, 3

Sing: Psalm 89: 7, 8, 12

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,


The account about the birth of Christ cannot be told unless you also include his mother Mary. That stands to reason. No child can be born without a mother. That was also the case with the birth of the Lord Jesus. Mary played a very important role. She became the mother of the Lord Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah. She was especially chosen for that wonderful event. An angel even came down directly from heaven to announce that wonderful news.


Yet we reformed people pay little attention to her. She becomes only a minor figure in the life of Christ. Although we may hear all kinds of sermons about other important figures in the Bible, such as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and Joshua and King David, there are not too many sermons about Mary. I personally do not remember ever hearing one, or reading one. And yet we see that she not only plays a very important role in the history of redemption, but that she too was a woman of great faith. Why is that? Why so little attention to her?


No doubt that has to do with the Roman Catholic worship of Mary. The Roman Catholics have placed Mary on such a pedestal that she is made virtually equal to the Lord Jesus Christ himself. That is clear from the many names she has been given over the years. In the fifth century they gave her the title: "Mother of God." Around the year 600, after the birth of Christ, the people were taught to pray to her; that through her you have access to the throne of God. Early in the 19th century the church pronounced that Mary suffered with Christ and that together with him she redeemed the human race. And so she was given the title of Co-Redemptrix, that is to say, the Redeemer together with Christ. She was also given the title "Queen of the world", and the title "Queen of Heaven". The Roman Catholic Church also teaches that Mary was without sin and that she remained a virgin all of her life.


Such teaching is blasphemous. There is no evidence of any of that in Scripture. Mary was an ordinary, sinful human being like everyone else. Therefore she should not be worshiped or treated as if she was God.


But that does not mean that she now should be relegated to oblivion. For the Bible tells us the important place she has in the history of redemption. The Bible gives us that information so that we can learn how God deals with his people. The Bible teaches us how we must respond in faith when God calls us to a specific task. And so the message of this morning’s service is:

Mary's Faithful Response to the Announcement of the Birth of the Messiah.

1. The Angel's announcement;

2. Mary's response;

3. Mary's faith.


The text says that God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee. Normally that is not how an angel appears on the scene. He just appears. That's the way we see it throughout Scripture. Think, for example, when the angels came to Abraham. In Genesis 18:1 we read that Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. That is also how he accounted them on previous occasions. Abraham somehow knew that these were angels. They did not need an introduction.


But here in Luke we are specifically told that God sent the angel Gabriel. A specific place to which he was sent was also mentioned: Nazareth, a town in Galilee.


No doubt one of the reasons that this is done is to make us aware of the great contrast here. Gabriel is directly sent from God. The Scriptures once in a while give us a glimpse of what heaven is like. Take for example Isaiah 6 where the prophet in a vision is brought into the presence of the angels in heaven. It is a most glorious place. It is a place of absolute purity and beauty and peace. Nothing here on earth or in all of the universe can compare to its splendour. It is from that exalted place that he comes.


But where does he go? He does not go to the temple where God makes his presence known in the sanctuary and where the priests minister to him and bring sacrifices, as he did when he appeared to Zachariah. No, he comes to a small insignificant and despised town in Galilee: Nazareth. For that town of Nazareth does not have a high standing in Israel. At one point it is even asked, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" The province of Galilee is also viewed with suspicion. From of old, Galilee was occupied and traversed by many foreigners. As far as the other Jews were concerned that is where people associate with heathens. That makes them less worthy.


And yet that is where the Lord God sends the angel Gabriel. Gabriel comes from the most exalted place to a very lowly place on earth.


And he does not come to some highly exalted person either. No, the Lord God sends him to a young girl who has no claim to fame. She's just an ordinary teenager. A lot of commentators think that she would have been about 14 or 15 years of age. And she has no idea what's about to happen to her.


The text does not say what Mary is doing at the moment that Gabriel comes to her. That's not important. But as she looks up from whatever task she is performing, she suddenly sees a man standing in front of her. And before she is able to utter a word he greets her. He says, "Greetings." Actually it should read "Rejoice", as the New King James Version has it. You could also translate that he says "Be glad." He makes it immediately clear why she should rejoice for he says, "Rejoice, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you." The fact that she is called highly favoured doesn't mean that she is full of grace which she can now impart upon others, as the Roman Catholics teach. No, the Lord looks kindly upon her in her lowly state. She is a sinful person and like everyone else she also has to live out of grace. Mary recognizes that of herself. For that reason in her song she says that the Lord "has been mindful of the humble state of his servant" (verse 48).


However, as Gabriel makes that statement Mary does not quite know what to think of it. It confuses and troubles her. She wonders what kind of greeting this might be. Gabriel was patient with her and after telling her not to be afraid he restates what he just told her. He tells her again that she has found favour with God.


He wants her to rejoice, to be happy, for he going to tell her something momentous. He is going to tell her something that the world has been waiting for for thousands of years. And so have the angels. For it says in 1 Peter 1:12 that the angels long to look into the things of God as it concerns the salvation of mankind. And so there is no doubt that Gabriel himself is also exceedingly happy. He of all the angels has been chosen to hear God's plan for the redemption of the world and he is allowed to make that announcement. Only a moment ago Gabriel was standing in God's presence and God told him his plan for the salvation of mankind. He sends Gabriel to earth with the most wonderful message that could ever be proclaimed. He is going to send him to that young woman and to tell her that out of her the Messiah would be born. What a most joyful message! And he wants Mary to share in that joy as well.


But Mary does not immediately share that joy. She's troubled. It would be better to say that she is confused, for she knows that the greeting that the angel gave her is not an ordinary one. What does it mean that God favours her? She needs time to think about that. She has to sort things out. Later on after the shepherds had come to her in Bethlehem in order to greet the baby Jesus, we read that she "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." The same thing was said about her after the Lord Jesus as a 12 year old boy stayed behind in the temple to hear the teachers. Then too she treasured those things in her heart. Mary is not a woman who speaks impulsively. She thinks about things. She ponders things in her heart before she makes up her mind.


Gabriel anticipated her confusion and clarifies further. He says to her, "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end."


2. But now, listen to the response of Mary. We come to the second point. She says, "How will this be, since I'm a virgin?" There are those who think that this is an unexpected question. They expect her to ask a different question for she has just been given some momentous news that concerns the future of God's people. You would think that she would react to that. That she would have a broader view. That she would ask about what it would mean for Israel and for the whole world. But no, she first wants to know how that would relate to her personally. She is trying to sort things out in her mind.


Put yourselves into the shoes of this young girl. She is engaged. In those days that meant that she was, for all intents and purposes, actually already married. The dowry had been paid and the contract had been entered into. The only thing that hadn't happened yet is the actual consummation of the marriage. An engagement in those days was much more permanent than today. The only way that you could undo such an engagement would be by a letter of divorce. And that was the farthest thing from her mind.


By this time she would have been busy making preparations for the actual wedding day. And you know how that goes. That is what you focus on and what keeps your mind occupied much of the time.


Is it any wonder that she asks that question? This event is going to change her life. It is going to give her a whole new different focus. All kinds of questions will have come up in her mind. But the first question is a practical one. She wonders how this is possible since she has never had any sexual relations with a man. Joseph is not fully her husband yet.


Note well that she does not ask this question out of rebellion or annoyance or unbelief. No, she does not protest in any way. All she needs is further information. And Gabriel gives her a profound answer. The birth of that royal son will take place in a most miraculous way. It is going to come about through the power of God.


When she hears that, she is satisfied and submits herself to God's will. No doubt she still will have had many questions. But the angel tells her that God is going to bring this about. And therefore she knows that whatever happens, God will take care of her in that situation. For it is his doing. And so she says, "I am the Lord's servant."


What a difference from the reaction of Sarah when she was told that she was going to have a child in her old age. Sarah acted in unbelief. She laughed, for she found the whole thing ridiculous. How could she, in her old age, still receive a child? The Lord said, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Yes, Sarah said in her heart, you can tell me all you want, but I don't believe that this is going to happen.


That is not how Mary reacts. On the contrary. In one short sentence she summarizes what being a believer is all about. She says, "I am the Lord's servant." She understood that that is the task of every believer. We are put here on this earth for service; service to God and service to others. It is for that reason also that the Lord Jesus came to earth. Listen to what he says in Mark 10:45, "I have come to serve, and not to be served, and to give my life as a ransom for many." Like mother like son. Mary understood already at a young age that if you trust in the Lord and want to serve him, that then God will also look after you and bless you. The more you serve the greater fulfillment you will have in life.


But it is not our nature to want to serve, is it? We would rather have others cater to us. And we have the mistaken notion that the more we receive from other people, the greater happiness we will have. We think that if we are in charge of own lives, that that would be better for us. We don't want others to interfere with our own plans, including God. The first question we ask is not how can we serve God and how can we serve our neighbour, but "What's in it for me?" "How is this going to help me? How will this further my cause?"


3. It is wonderful to see the faith of Mary. For a lot is asked of her. We come to the third point. Take a look at the momentous things that the angel said to Mary. She will receive a son. This is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, of Isaiah 7:14. All Israel had been waiting for this Messiah. It was a very sad thing if a woman did not get pregnant. Because that meant that through her the Messiah could not be born. But now Mary is the one.


And his name is going to be "Jesus". In Matthew 1:21 his name is explained: "for he will save his people from their sins." This is the fulfillment of all the sacrificial and ceremonial laws. The whole temple service was geared to teach people that truth, namely that the sacrificial animals themselves do not take away their sins, but that they point to the Messiah. Mary is also told that he will be given the throne of his father David. This is the fulfillment of the prophecy in 2 Samuel 7. He will reign forever.


Mary knows that this is not just anybody telling her these things. No, she knows that through Gabriel God is speaking to her. She believes. But now she also has to put her faith into action. When you believe as a certainty that something is going to happen, then you also have to adjust your life accordingly. You have to change your focus. It is your faith that determines your actions. It is your faith that determines the things that you say and you do.


That's the way it is for every believer. That's also the way it is for you and for me. When you believe in God, then he takes charge of your life. Then you allow him to rule you through his Word and Spirit. And then through your whole life you seek the will of God. You do your utmost to serve him, and him alone. For you know that he also has a wonderful plan for each and every one of us. He has chosen you to bring glory to his name forever and ever, in this life and the life hereafter. That means that our focus is always on God, and on what he wants to do with my life and your life. For your life is not your own.


Mary just confessed that she is the Lord's servant. She is his slave. She says to the Lord, "Lord, you can have my life and do with it what you want." That is quite a commitment she's making. At this point she doesn't know yet what all awaits her. But she already has an inkling of some of the things that she will have to deal with. In the first place she'll wonder how her fiancé Joseph is going to react. Will he divorce her? As we know, that is no idle thought. He himself pondered the possibility in his heart until the angel appeared to him. And what about the people? How will they treat her when they see her pregnancy? How will they treat her son? As illegitimate? There are other things that she doesn't know yet. She does not know yet about the sorrow that she will have as she stands at the cross watching her son die.


But one thing she does know, and that is that she has to submit herself to God's will. Don't think that she can do that on her own strength. It says in the text that the angel tells her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the power of the Most High will overshadow her. We should not just think here of the Holy Spirit's involvement in the pregnancy of Mary. No, this means that the Holy Spirit will be with her the rest of her life. The verb "overshadow" reminds us of God's presence in the desert before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. The Lord God in the cloud hovered over the tabernacle as they made their way through the desert. In this way he led them, protected them, and provided for them. He overshadowed them. His presence showed that he was with them always.


We also can think of the Holy Spirit at the time of creation. We read in Genesis 1 that God's Spirit hovered over creation. That was not just a passive presence, but an active presence because the Holy Spirit was actively involved in the creation of the world. He creates and protects; he guides and he comforts.


And it is in this way that the Spirit of God also overshadowed Mary. It was the Holy Spirit who created faith in her, and who led her and guided her and protected her all of her life. No matter what she had to endure. No matter how much she was maligned and maltreated by others.


Brothers and sisters, Mary's faith is an example for us. She put her trust in the Lord, even though there are all kinds of uncertainties before her, and even though there are all kinds of obstacles that she knows she will have to overcome. Nevertheless, this young woman gives herself totally over to the Lord God. She heard the word of the Lord and she believed. She did not slam the door shut when the angel Gabriel came to her.


The Lord God asks the same from you and from me. This morning the Lord God once again came to you with his Word. He reminded us that we have been created to serve, to serve God and our neighbour. Do you believe that message? Then also show that in your life. Show that today and during the festive season, and into the new year. God wants to realize his plan through you. But you also have to let him. And if you do, God will bless you. He will give you peace. He will be with you, all of your life. He will overshadow you. He will give you his Spirit. And through his Spirit he will give you eternal blessings. He will give you eternal life. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2009, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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