Tonight I want to take a few minutes and examine the personal impact the birth of Jesus had on the lives of the main characters of Christmas and in doing so unpack an aspect of God’s grace we’d be wise to consider. Let’s begin by looking at the backstory of Mary...
Luke 1:26-56, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’
But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was... Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 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. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’
Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ 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. 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. For with God nothing will be impossible.’
Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her. Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth… (56) And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.”
From the text provided... Consider what we know about Mary (Miriam): There is no doubt Mary lived in Obscurity! Since we have no specific mention of her family, it’s only logical for us to assume she didn’t descend from family wealth, nobility, or notoriety.
Additionally, since we have no mention of any great personal achievement, it also seems unlikely there was anything about Mary that would have brought her personal fame, glory, or celebrity. In a sense Mary was a plain-jane!
To most within Nazareth and the rest of the world, Mary was a nobody! I think it’s safe to say if not for this particular event and the ramifications it had, in all likelihood Mary would have entered and exited this planet as just another nameless stat of history.
It’s also clear from our text that Mary grew up in a rough part of town! Located about 70 miles north of Jerusalem, the city of Nazareth was nothing more than a glorified truck-stop along a trade route that connected the Sea of Galilee with the Mediterranean.
Because the entire town of Nazareth existed to service merchants needing a place to say, the local economy consisted of little more than a few questionable motels, no doubt a Waffle House, liquor store, strip club, Piggly Wiggly, maybe a K-Mart, and for sure a tailer park.
As a result there should be no surprise that historically speaking Nazarenes were notoriously shady characters! Consider that when hearing that Jesus was from Nazareth, in John 1:46, Nathanael questions his brother Philip’s sanity by posing this snarky question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Why did he ask it? Nothing good ever had!
Growing up in Nazareth, Mary would not have been raised in the lap of luxury, but instead abject poverty. There was no gated community. She was afforded no silver-spoon. Mary grew up on the other side of the tracks in a neighborhood known for it’s questionable characters. The world would have looked down on her, judged her. Mary would have been an outcast. By pure association Mary would have been seen as trailer-trash.
It’s also interesting to point out that in spite of living in Nazareth Mary did have a glorious heritage! Notice the angel tells Mary that “her Son Jesus 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.”
In Luke 3 we’re actually given the genealogical record of Mary’s family establishing her as a direct descendent of King David (through his son Nathan). The bloodline she would impart to Jesus would give Him a legitimate, family connection to the throne of Israel.
This may explain why Mary was a virtuous woman! Aside from the obvious importance Mary’s virginity had on the incarnation of Jesus and His claim to be divine (“Son of God”), you have to wonder why Luke goes to such lengths to make sure his readers know Mary is a virgin when most would have naturally assumed it?
Since sex before marriage was forbidden by the Law and considered taboo within Jewish communities, most of Luke’s readers would have assumes a young, Jewish woman was a virgin. But... Mentioning Mary was from Nazareth would have removed this preconceived assumption. I mean the town slogan was “What happens in Nazareth stays in Nazareth.”
Because Nazareth existed to service the needs of trade-men traveling through town, it’s not farfetched to concluded women were a big part of this service. It’s on account of Nazareth’s bad reputation that Luke finds it necessary to go the extra mile to insure his readers know Mary wasn’t like the normal, Nazarene women.
In a culture of short skirts and loose hips, it’s obvious this young girl had chosen a different path. She’d responded to a higher calling. Mary had resisted social pressures and remained pure before God. She was a virtuous woman!
Our text is also clear it was Mary’s noble reputation that had caught the attention of God! Though we don’t know where or when this exchange occurs, Luke tells us the angel Gabriel (sent with a message from God) appears to Mary with a unique declaration, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
In his greeting Gabriel reveals three important things about Mary: (1). She was “highly favored.” God had choose her. (2). “The Lord was with her.” And (3). “She was blessed.” Because Mary found favor with God, Gabriel tells her that she would be blessed “among women” or literally blessed in a way no other woman had ever been blessed before!
There is no doubt Mary’s heart for God had brought her incredible favor with God. Though unknown to the world around her, Mary’s reputation had reached the throne room of heaven. Of all the women to have ever lived, this poor, virtuous woman from the po-dunk town of Nazareth would be given the blessed privilege of mothering the Son of God.
It should also be pointed out that Mary was deeply spiritual! Her reaction to the angel’s appearance is funny to me, “When she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.” Mary was not troubled at the sight of an angel, instead her consternation came as she tried to grasp the meaning of his greeting.
You know when you consider the cultural limitations placed in Mary’s way (women were uneducated, illiterate, and limited in their exposure to the Scriptures) the deep spiritual sentiment she displays is quite incredible! The depth, contemplation, and knowledge she demonstrates describes a young woman passionately attuned to the things of God. There isn’t a whole lot of surprise that her reputation had reached the halls of heaven.
Though we don’t have time you should read the “Song of Mary” recorded in Luke 1:46-55 and note how many deeply theological concepts she references. It really is amazing.
Another thing you should note about Mary is that she had faith in God’s Word! Following an extended conversation with Gabriel detailing her pregnancy, and after receiving instructions to visit her family relative Elizabeth, Mary summarizes the entire experience by declaring, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
Considering the fact there was zero precedent of a virgin ever conceiving, it’s amazing Mary had the faith to believe she would supernaturally bear the Son of God! She’d been told, “For with God nothing will be impossible” and she believed this will all her heart. Mary accepted God’s Word and humbly embraced the new direction her life was about to take.
And while all of this is amazing, there was one hiccup… Mary was betrothed to Joseph! In Jewish culture a wedding consisted of three stages: There was first the engagement when an agreement was made between fathers, then came the betrothal or the ceremony where they became legally married, before finally the marriage (when the groom received his bride).
Because we’re told Mary is “betrothed to Joseph” when all of this takes place, we understand that she is legally married to Joseph. Yes, Mary is presently living at home, but she has a deep state of anticipation. She is spending her days eagerly awaiting news that Joseph, her husband, has completed their home and was coming to take her there...
But then something completely unexpected takes place… Gabriel appears and tells her “You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.” It’s easy to read through this story and admire Mary’s faith; and yet, still completely miss the ramifications of what’s actually happening! Mary’s faith takes on a whole new dynamic when you consider the implications Jesus’ birth would have on her life!
According to Luke, Mary would spend the first three months of her pregnancy visiting with Elizabeth. Only to, following the birth of John, return to Nazareth beginning to show the early signs of pregnancy. There would be some splaining that need to be done.
There is no doubt Mary trusted God with her future! Let’s be honest... This pregnancy (though incredible) would really complicate things. She would return home and have to explain the unexplainable! Imagine the scene… As a daughter, how would she explain things to her parents? As a betrothed wife, how would she explain things to Joseph?
Don’t forget, according to the Law, a woman caught in adultery could be stoned to death. At a minimum her pregnancy would result in public scorn and humiliation. The reality is that her fate now rested with Joseph and God. It was totally out of her hands.
This is what’s so amazing about Mary... Even with the knowledge that Jesus’ birth would turn her world upside down throwing every future plan and dream into limbo, she still rejoiced! Mary had counted the cost and concluded that, no matter what happened, her life would be far better with Jesus than without. What faith!
Let’s look at Joseph... Matthew 1:18-25, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.”
It’s easy to overlook an important detail concerning our story... While all of this is happening with Mary, Joseph is completely oblivious! Since the betrothal, he has been busily preparing a home for her. His days are filled with labor and his nights enraptured with anticipation. His thoughts are filled with the hopes and dreams of the wonderful life they’d soon be sharing together. He cannot wait for the day when he can finally go get his bride!
I’m sure the news that Mary had gone to care for Elizabeth during her final trimester wouldn’t have caused any alarm, but following Mary’s return home... A rumor begins to circulate through Nazareth! Imagine getting the news your betrothed wife has been knocked up!
I’m sure this was like a bomb exploding in his brain. In one single moment all of his future plans were ruined. His heart filled with pain! His thoughts race! His imaginations ran wild! No doubt Joseph is in complete shock - total disbelief! Imagine his hurt when he sees Mary for the first time! Imagine their conversation! Imagine her explanation!
Matthew indicates Joseph is obviously skeptical concerning Mary’s explanation. How could you believe a virgin supernaturally conceived? We’re told, “Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.”
After his initial emotions subsided, the most logical conclusion he can reach is that Mary has simply lost grip on reality. Though pregnant, Mary staunchly maintained her innocence. She claimed she had remained faithful. She was convinced she was carrying the Son of God. Though it would have been well within Joseph’s right to have had Mary dragged into the town’s square and stoned to death, how do you do that to a crazy person?
As Joseph is leaning towards “putting her away secretly” or basically filing for divorce, we’re told “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” confirming Mary’s story! Image the radical swing of emotions gripping this man’s heart… Skepticism turns to wonderment, despair morphs into excitement, pain becomes relief. Matthew continues, “Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.”
As with Mary, it’s easy to see Joseph’s obvious faith. God clearly spoke to him, and as crazy as it all might have seemed, Mary was indeed carrying the Son of God! Mary had been faithful. He hadn’t been betrayed. She did love him. Despite how unbelievable this all was Joseph not only believed God’s Word, but he was faithful to obey God’s Word. As Mary’s husband he had been chosen to be God’s stepdad! What an honor! God’s grace!
Like Mary... Joseph’s faith takes on a whole new dynamic when you also consider the implications Jesus’ birth would have on his life. I mean if people thought Mary had lost her mind, Joseph’s actions would have equally left people scratching their heads. Think about the conversation Joseph would have with his friends and parents.
In conclusion... By looking at the personal impact the birth of Jesus had on the lives of Mary and Joseph, there are four observations we should make:
First… Like Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ involvement in your life is a direct result of God’s grace coupled with your willingness to believe His Word. God didn’t choose Mary and Joseph because they were wealthy or because they came from families of notoriety.
God didn’t care that they grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and were poor. It didn’t matter that the world had no idea who they were… God chose Mary and Joseph because they were both willing to receive His grace by responding to His Word in faith!
They both accepted God’s Word, believed in God’s Word, and then acted upon God’s Word, trusting that God had their future in His hands. I hope you know that though, in the world’s eyes, you might also be a nobody, never forget it is by His grace that God is more than willing to include you in His story! Like Mary and Joseph, God is simply looking for people who will hear His Word, receive His favor, and trust Him with their lives!
Secondly… Like Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ involvement in your life will inevitably be misunderstood by the world around you. When Mary and Joseph tried to explain what God had revealed to them there is no doubt it was met with scorn and disbelief. To the onlooker, the divine involvement seemed illogical, unreasonable, and insane! Note: For the rest of their lives there would always be people who would mock and doubt their story.
But it should also be pointed out that God wouldn’t leave either of them without a support structure! Think about it... Mary was sent to Elizabeth because God knew she needed affirmation and encouragement. Mary needed a friend and God provided exactly the kind of friend she needed. Then for Joseph who’d he have? Mary could understand!
Friend, when it comes to Jesus’ supernatural, transforming involvement in your life... Though you can expect the world to doubt you, oppose you, even make fun of you, always know God will provide friends who will encourage you in your time of need. People who understand!
Thirdly… Like Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ involvement in your life will not make things easier. Practically speaking, right from the beginning, Jesus made Mary and Joseph’s lives more complicated! Not only would they have to deal with the scandal surrounding His birth for years to come, but practically speaking things immediately grew much more difficult.
Consider that a trip to Bethlehem with a wife nine months pregnant, shacking up in a stable because the inn had been overbooked, only for your wife to go into labor, a group of outlaws showing up to be the welcoming party, another visit by a group of Middle Eastern dudes, an assassination attempt launched by an evil King after this visit, requiring a quick move to Egypt were all situations Mary and Joseph would have to navigate because of Jesus!
I’m not going to lie to you… Involving Jesus in your life will not provide you immunity to the struggles of life. The truth, as illustrated by this very Christmas story, is that when Jesus gets involved it will actually make your life a whole lot more complicated.
And yet, my final point is that like Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ involvement in your life will never be something you regret. The interesting thing about this story is that Mary and Joseph were not forced participants. As a matter of fact, it’s within reason to conclude Mary could have reacted to Gabriel in a completely different manner and declined the offer.
Beyond this… Joseph could have chalked up the dream to a band burrito and decided marrying a pregnant Mary was simply not worth the trouble. And yet, they each counted the cost and concluded their lives would be far better with Jesus than without!
Though more complicated and complex, their decision to be apart of Jesus’ story is something we still admire 2000 years later! How glorious! Friend… Will choosing Jesus complicate your life the way it currently is… Will it flip your plans on there head… Will it radically alter the future you had for yourself? Sure! Jesus changes everything! But I can promise His involvement will also make life more rewarding? I guarantee it!
This evening God is speaking to you through His Word, He’s demonstrating His grace by inviting you to involve His Son in your life. Will you accept His invitation in faith and decide to include yourself in His amazing story? I pray that you will.
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