Are you tired yet? Are you tired of standing in long lines? Are you tired of running from this party and that event? Are you tired of all the hustle and the bustle? Are you ready for this all to be over? If that’s how you’re feeling, your not alone. Plenty of people feel that way when they’ve spent such a long time preparing. There comes a point in time when no more preparations can be made, nothing else can be crammed in. There comes a point in time when we just need to stop and relax. Friends, we’ve reached that point. Our final checklist item for this Christmas is to simply relax and receive. Mary, the mother of Jesus, shows us how it’s done. What does Mary do? Nothing, except receive God’s grace!
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged in marriage to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” This is the first time that we’ve been introduced to this messenger, Gabriel. That name, angel, actually means, “messenger,” and that’s exactly what Gabriel has been doing. We first hear of him explaining a message to Daniel in the Old Testament. Most recently, about six months earlier to be exact, he was speaking to Zechariah, the priest, about he and his wife Elizabeth having a child in their old age. We know that child to be John the Baptist. And so, it was in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy that God sent Gabriel to the last place you’d expect if you were looking of r this sort of announcement. He sent Gabriel to Galilee, to Nazareth. He sent Gabriel to a young girl, engaged to a poor carpenter named Joseph. But most importantly, Mary was a virgin.
Do you see what God is doing in setting this scene? He’s making it abundantly clear that there is nothing special about the place or the person from a worldly point of view. A young virgin girl from a backwater town in the northern part of Israel was about as unspectacular as you can get. Yet, this is where God sent his angel to give a spectacular message. All the credit goes to God. All the glory goes to God. Man didn’t do anything except receive! We see that truth again and again in the dialogue between Gabriel and Mary.
“The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” Gabriel begins with a familiar greeting. Much like we say, “Hello” or “Hi,” Gabriel greeted Mary and then said two things that give glory to God. “You who are highly favored,” the question that remains is why? Why is Mary favored? It was certainly nothing that Mary had done. No, Mary was favored for the same reason you and I are favored. You see, that word favor is the same word the Bible uses for grace. Grace is undeserved love, the exact opposite of what we deserve kind of love. That’s what Gabriel says was given to Mary—the exact opposite of what she deserved. In fact, Gabriel says that God has been and will continue to shower his grace on Mary. And then he says, “The Lord is with you.” What a wonderful comfort for any believer! God has promised to be with his believers always! What a wonderful reassurance that God was keeping that promise as he was about to keep another! And Mary needed that reassurance. Look at how she reacts to these wonderfully comforting gospel words.
“But she was greatly troubled by the statement and was wondering what kind of greeting this could be.” Perhaps that seems a little odd. Why would Mary be troubled to hear that God was blessing her and that God was with her? But look who she’s hearing from—one of God’s holy angels. Just like Zechariah before her and just like the shepherds after her and just like every other sinner who’s in the presence of someone holy, Mary was troubled. Mary knew she was sinful. Mary knew that sin and holiness don’t go together. May wondered, kept asking herself, “What’s going on here? Why is this holy angel in my house? What is God telling me?” But Gabriel didn’t let her fears linger.
“The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, because you have found favor with God.” With the same words of his initial greeting, Gabriel again points Mary to God’s grace, his undeserved love for her. Mary had no reason to fear God’s judgment because instead God had given her his love. Instead of what Mary deserved because of her sin, she received the exact opposite, received grace. And the same is true for us. Each and every time we come before God, we should be petrified because of our sins. Yet, like Mary, we have found favor with God. It’s by God’s grace alone that we have been saved. Not because we have earned it or deserved it—if that were so, it wouldn’t be grace. No we find God’s love only because God has chosen to love us! And that message allowed Mary to relax and receive the grace God was about to share.
“Listen, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to name him 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” And there it is, in full detail. God promised Adam and Eve a Champion who would crush the serpent’s head. Other Old Testament prophecies gave additional details. But now, God pulls back the curtain entirely. The virgin who would give birth was Mary. Her Son would be the Son of God and his name: Jesus, which means, “The Lord is salvation.” Descended from David through both Mary and Joseph, Jesus would be the promised ruler who would fulfill all of God’s promises.
How would you react to such an announcement if you were in Mary’s place? Naturally, Mary was dumbfounded. She was confused. But she never doubted that this would happen. Unlike Zechariah, who questioned Gabriel, Mary simply asked for an explanation. “Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
Do you remember what happened when Zechariah doubted, when he asked for a sign? He couldn’t talk until John was born and he had written his name. Notice the difference in Gabriel’s response to Mary. “The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Listen, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age even though she was called barren, and this is her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible for God.” Immediately, Gabriel answered her question. And not only that, he gave her a sign even though she didn’t ask for one! He revealed to Mary that her relative Elizabeth, who had been barren and was not past the age of childbearing, was pregnant. God made the impossible possible for Elizabeth and Zechariah, and he was about to do the same with Mary.
There are two words in the Greek language that are used for our English, “word.” The more common one is logos, which conveys meaning with a clear message. But that’s not the term Mary uses here. God inspired her to use the word, rymma. Rymma connotes a sound, the full meaning of that sound is not understood or grasped. Listen to what Mary says, Then Mary said, “See, I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.” May it happen to my by your rymma. What does that mean? It means that Mary didn’t fully understand or comprehend what was happening here. She didn’t grasp everything the angel said. She didn’t fully understand the implication. All she know was that the message came from God, and that whatever he was about to give—even his only begotten Son!—she was ready to receive.
Friends, we can’t begin to think that we fully grasp everything God says to us in his Word. How the Holy Spirit could come upon Mary and allow her to conceive and bear the Son of God is beyond our understanding. But that’s ok. We need not fret that everything in the Bible doesn’t make sense to our logic and reason. We need not worry needlessly. No, like Mary, we need to relax, relax and simply receive the grace that God is giving to us. All of the preparations have been made. God has used his law to convict us of our sins. We’ve contemplated how we’ve failed to do what God has asked. We’ve felt sorrow for those sins. We trust that God will forgive those sins because he’s promised to do so. So all that’s left to do is relax and receive God’s grace. Receive his Son whom he sends through his Word. Receive the very body and blood of Jesus that he gives in the Sacrament. And then, like Mary, may we respond to God’s grace by placing our whole selves at his disposal, as his servants, and cling to his gracious promises. The time has come to relax and receive. Oh, Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel! Amen.