Today we are traveling back even further in Mary’s life. We’ll hit the brakes at age 13-14 while she’s living in her hometown, the tiny village of Nazareth. To give you a better idea of how small Nazareth was, it was so insignificant that it didn’t even show up on first-century maps. In that village, Mary was on the lowest rung of Jewish society. She was a peasant girl, not a citizen of Rome, not even of any importance in and among her own people.
And it was to this girl that the angel Gabriel appeared, announcing that she would give birth to the long-awaited Messiah.
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 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. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Gabriel Visits Mary
The story begins with Gabriel, God’s messenger whose name means “hero of God”, appearing in this small village in a remote part of the Roman Empire. Gabriel, appeared as a mere man – no wings are mentioned. He had come looking specifically for this girl. Why? Because she was about to play a huge role in human history. God choose her for one of the greatest tasks of all time.
But…why Mary? Why this peasant girl? No one was ever closer to God, there was no one who ever had a greater connection to Jesus Christ, and no one was a more central part of God’s plan than Mary. But why her?
Gabriel unfortunately didn’t explain God’s choice, but Mary sort of does when interpreted God’s actions in the song she sang shortly after discovering she was pregnant. She sang the song just after she arrived at her cousin Elizabeth house.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
You see just a few days after Mary received the visit from the angel, she hurried off to Elizabeth’s home. The angel had told her that Elizabeth had become pregnant in her old age and was now in her 6th month. This was a miracle in itself! And being told this from the angel, Mary felt a strong need to see her cousin. Maybe because she wanted proof or affirmation for what the angel said or maybe because she believed there had to be something special about both of these babies. And just maybe Elizabeth would be the only one to understand what was going on.
Immediately when Mary arrived and greeted her cousin, Elizabeth’s baby leaped in her womb. With excitement Elizabeth said to Mary, “God has blessed you among all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored that the mother of my Lord should visit me?”
How did Elizabeth know? All Mary said was hello! “At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her.” And upon hearing Elizabeth’s words of affirmation, Mary broke out in a song, because not only was she was HAPPY, but she was relieved. Somebody else believed what was happening to her!
The song Mary sang was inspired by Hannah’s song when she gave birth to Samuel hundreds of years earlier because she was also a very blessed woman:
46 My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.
50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.
54 He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.
God Chooses the Humble
Why did God choose Mary? Because God looks with favor on the lowly, He lifts them up, blessing the hungry while scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful and sending the rich away empty.
Mary believed that God chose her specifically because she was not of a noble birth. Her qualifications were that she was humble, she had a heart for God, and she would be willing to offer herself wholly to God.
This idea of who receives God’s favor is a consistent theme in Scripture. God chooses the humble, the unlikely, and the lowly.
- He chose Moses, a fugitive from the law, a man who stuttered and was tending sheep at the time, to be the lawgiver and deliverer of Israel.
- He chose David, the shepherded boy, the youngest and scrawniest son of Jesse, to be Israel’s greatest king.
- And he chose Mary, a peasant girl in little old Nazareth, to bare the Messiah.
And Mary no doubt taught Jesus about God’s preference for the humble. Because we can see it’s an important theme in Jesus’ ministry too and we hear it in his words again and again.
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.
The last will be first, and the first will be last.
When Jesus chose disciples, he didn’t select the seminary-trained or those with doctorates in theology. No, he chose fishermen, tax collectors, and other unlikely candidates.
He taught them humility by washing their feet at the Last Supper and then told them “I have set an example for you, that you also should do as I have done to you” John 13:15
And he told them, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45
God Opposes the Proud
Just hearing this, we should humble ourselves before God because it’s easy for pride to sneak into our lives, especially when we’re in places of privilege.
For some of us, that privilege is based on social or economic statuses (like our job or our materials); for some it’s race; for some it’s the fact that we live in the United State and not somewhere else. We begin to think the world revolves around us and it’s OK to treat others as though they’re beneath us.
- It can happen at the Walmart when the cashier is a little flustered and can’t quite get it right, finally it’s your turn to check out after an extra long wait, and you treat the cashier poorly.
- But you’re the customer, and the customer is always right!?! They’re there to serve you.
- It can be the wait staff at the restaurant or your spouse or your parent or your child.
But 1 Peter reminds us that God opposes that kind of attitude: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.”
Humble Yourself or God Will
One thing I’ve noticed in life, is that you’re going to be humbled one way or another. You either humble yourself, or God will do it for you. When God does it for you, maybe you show up on the front page of the newspaper, or your family and everyone in the neighborhood knows about it, and you’re humiliated and brought down.
How much better would it be to humble yourself before God first – to say, “God please help me remember who I am and that my life is a gift and that anything good ultimately comes from you. Help me to live like that and to treat people well.”
Just look at the Christmas story: It’s a story about being humble:
- Mary a peasant girl, was chosen to bare the king
- Jesus was born in a stable because there was no other room.
- The first people God invites to see the Christ child are the night-shift shepherds.
God Gives Grace to the humble
You see, God chose Mary, a young girl from an insignificant part of the Roman Empire, to give birth to Jesus because God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
When Gabriel came to Mary, he said, “Greetings favored one.” The translated word from Greek for ‘favored one’ also means ‘full of grace’. Mary was full of grace. But what does that mean?
Grace is one of those words we freely throw around where after a while it begins to lose its meaning. We all know the famous song “Amazing Grace.” We say grace at mealtimes. Someone who is beautiful and acts in a certain way is said to be graceful. What does the word grace mean? We need to look at the true meaning of this word.
But let me first tell you this, that Greek word that means “favored one” and “full of grace” shows up 170 times in the NT alone; 87 of them are translated to the word “grace.”
What is Grace?
In the NT, we read that we stand in God’s grace, we live in God’s grace, and we are saved by God’s grace. We approach God in times of need, asking for His grace. But what does grace mean? Can you answer that?
Grace is God’s kindness, His love, His care, His work on our behalf, His blessings, His gifts, His forgiveness, and His salvation. It’s all these things when they are so undeserved, and even further, God’s grace is power; power to change our lives.
Look at this way: Grace is at the center of what God was doing in Christmas. God was gracious to Mary by choosing her even though she didn’t deserve it. Yet God said, “I want to give to you; I want to bless you. I want to give you the honor of baring the Christ Child.”
And the child to be born was grace. His life would be a message of grace. He would demonstrate grace to sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Jesus devoted his life to showing them – and us – that God’s love, mercy, and kindness are offered to us all.
He showed us grace.
Grace has power. And when you give kindness, compassion, and love to someone who does not deserve it, that graceful act has the power to change hearts, has the power to heal broken relationships, and reconcile people. Grace changes the one who receives it…and also changes the one who gives it.
When Jesus hung on the cross, giving us a gift that we certainly don’t deserve, when Jesus sought out the tax collectors and prostitutes, when he told stories of the prodigal son and others sinners, He was demonstrating God’s kindness towards all people, in hopes that seeing grace in action might actually change us. That it might change our hearts so that we would follow him in grace.
Paul’s a great example of receiving this grace. He grew up believing that if he were good enough, God would love him. If he could just obey all the laws, God would show kindness to him. But in his mind, there was always the question if he had actually done enough and was actually deserving of God’s love.
And then Jesus came along, offering the love and mercy of God to everyone. And just like that, He turned Paul’s world upside down. Paul’s theology was blown apart because he realized that God already loved him and had reached out to him a long time ago. God accepted him and wanted him from the very beginning.
Paul says it best in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9)
That brings us back to Gabriel’s words when he spoke to Mary. He told Mary she would have a child. Through him, God was blessing this humble girl with the most incredible gift and call. She would literally be filled with grace as the child forming in her womb was the perfect picture of grace.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:14; 16-17
Jesus came to show God’s grace to humankind. And so, during the season of Christmas, as we celebrate: The hope of resurrection, the gift of salvation and the cross, and the coming of the One who taught us how to live, we also can celebrate the gift of grace and are humbled by it.
As you ponder this rich grace, remember that when you receive grace, you are meant to give it away. And Christmas is a really good time to practice giving it away.
Is there someone you know who has wronged you or hurt you, someone who does not deserve your kindness or a gift or even a Christmas card? What would happen if you showed this person grace? It just might transform him or her, and it surely could transform you.
You know, the angel Gabriel announced that Mary was highly favored and full of grace. She was blessed among ALL women. You would think that if you were blessed by God in this way, things would get easier. Instead for Mary, they got harder, and they ended on a cross.
But even though this blessing brought sadness and fear, it also brought the greatest joy Mary could ever imagine, and to this day she continues to be honored for her role in God’s saving plans.
There are many things to be learned from Mary’s experience. And today I invite you to ponder as Mary did, on at least three of them:
- God chooses & uses the humble, so if we humble ourselves before God, he will lift us up
- The gift of Christmas is the gift of grace – God’s offer of love, mercy, and life to you
- Once grace is received, we’re meant to extend it to others
And above all, remember during this season that the blessed, God-favored, grace-filled life is sometimes difficult and challenging. It was not a silent night for Mary, and it may not be for us. But through it all, God is at work and it is beautiful. Trust in God.