Isaiah 60:1-6, Luke 1:(26-38), 39-56
December 4, 2016
There once was a young woman. She was probably a mid to late teenager. And one night… and actually we sort of assume it was night, or we often picture it that way, don’t we? …but, one night an angel came to her.
We’re told this angel’s name. It was the angel Gabriel. And angels are powerful fearsome beings. As I’ve often said, we tend to see them depicted as tall, thin, white, women. And that vision has “dominated” our mental imagery. Either that, or we think of angels as people who have died, gone to heaven, gotten their wings, and become angels. But neither of those are biblical images of angels!
The word comes from the Greek “angelos.” (“You give me any word, and I’ll show you how it comes from the Greek!”) (I love that movie!) Well, the word “Angel” literally means “Messenger.” Angels are a separate order of beings in the spiritual realm, along with “Seraphim,” and others.
So, as I’ve often said, angels are fearsome beings, and not just because they are “ghostly fearful.” In other words, they aren’t fearful because seeing one is like seeing a ghost. They are fearful in power. The first thing they usually had to say to someone in the Bible was “Be not afraid!” That was the case here, because we are told, that Mary “was greatly troubled at the greeting…” Sometimes I think the wording in the Bible really detracts from the feeling of the story. Especially when we read it in our “Bible voice!” Mary was “greatly troubled!” What might we say? She was “Frightened?” Maybe “Terrified?”
And possibly for good reason! This wasn’t the first time we meet the angel Gabriel. If you remember the story, Gabriel first visited Zechariah, the future father of John the Baptist. And he showed some of his power and fearsomeness in that story. Gabriel came to tell Zechariah that he and his wife were going to have a baby. And when Zechariah showed his skepticism about that, because “Elizabeth was barren, and both were ‘advanced in years,’” Gabriel got a bit “torqued.” And you don’t want to get an angel “torqued” at you!! Gabriel got indignant and struck Zechariah dumb! He was unable to talk, until the baby was born months later! I love that part of the story!
So Gabriel comes to Mary and says, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” And after he calms her down, he goes on to tell her, “you will bear a son, and you shall call him Jesus.” And Mary doesn’t argue! Not exactly! I wonder if she already knew what had happened to Zechariah! Remember, Zechariah was her uncle… in some way. (Or maybe great uncle-in-law!) We’re told that Elizabeth was her “kinswoman.” I don’t even want to try to figure that out. Those kinds of things always confuse me! Besides, we’re not even sure exactly what “kinswoman” meant. Aunt, maybe? Probably more like “great aunt,” since she Mary was very young, and Elizabeth was “advanced in years.” And by the way, isn’t that a nice way of putting it? “So and so is not ‘old,’ he’s just ‘advanced in years.’”
Gabriel tells Mary who this son of hers would be. “He will be great, and will be called ‘Son of the Most High.’” And that’s the image I want us to see today! I want us to see the “greatness” of Jesus Christ. Here’s a young Jewish girl being told she will have a child who will be the “Son of the Most High!” It’s hard to even fathom that! Certainly it’s hard for us to imagine what that was like for her! This may be the ultimate example of my idea that “we have the best perspective in the story.” We know what was going to happen to her. We know what it was going to be like. “Mary, someday there are going to be statues of you all over the world!” But, this was then. It was all new. It was all incredible!
“You shall have a son, and he shall be called ‘Son of the Most High.’” But then Gabriel added to that something I think would have impressed a good Jewish girl even more, “And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David.” Mary already knew she was in that lineage! She knew the genealogy part of that. But then, the words, “He will be given the throne of David?!” That was something the people wanted for such a long time! Do you remember when we talked about that on “Christ the King Sunday?” For centuries the people of Israel wanted “A King like unto David!”
Now, as much of any of those years, they were looking for just such a king. They were living under the thumb of another world ruler – Rome! And it was tough! And Rome was about to force Mary herself to go on an arduous journey late in her term! All the world was to be “enrolled.” All the world was to be “taxed.” We’re not sure what that means, either. But we always make that into a nice picture, don’t we? Mary and Joseph and a donkey. But maybe you ladies can remember what it was like for you just before you gave birth. Would you have liked to be sent on a journey?
So now, there was at least a possibility that would end. There was a possibility that the people could actually have their own nation, their own king. And that had to have brought up for them thoughts of the “Glory Days” of Israel. They would have imagined again, the kingship of David! That’s what the people thought!
“And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David.” And he shall be called “The Son of the Most High.” As I think of all that, I keep thinking of a line from our opening hymn. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” It’s one of my favorite, not just because of the haunting, chant-like melody, but also because it’s an amazing song about the power and majesty of Jesus, and his being God’s own Son! And the line that keeps coming back to me is the beginning of the second verse. There you sang, “King of Kings, yet born of Mary…” “Lord of Lords in human vesture, in the body and the blood.” I love that imagery!
Actually, I was going to use a different hymn to start today, but it turns out it was another one that isn’t in our hymnbook! (Why?!) But this one is even better for today! I think it sets the mood for our understanding of Jesus, not just as savior, but as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. And not only that, but it sets us in comparison to God Almighty, and Jesus his Son!
So it’s “King of Kings, yet born of Mary.” Let those words ring in your mind. That’s what we celebrate today, throughout the Christmas season, and forever. For he is, now and always, “Son of the Most High.”
Eternal God, help us to know that Jesus is indeed “Son of the Most High.” We are grateful for your eternal love by which you sent him into our world. Help us to have that same love in our lives. Help us to be people glad to follow him. For we pray in his name, Amen.