Note: The original version of this lesson is posted here. I gave this lesson again this year as part of my Advent series but I added some updates to reflect the things we'd been going over in the past year. I didn't want to get rid of the old post either even though they're almost identical. So they're both here for reference. :)
We have been going through people of the Bible, as you guys know, for a year now. We started with Abraham, and remember during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, these men talked to God and followed where he led. This is called the time of the patriarchs, because they were men who led their families and their families were God’s chosen people. If you remember, Jacob had twelve sons who had some troubles between them, and so one of the brother’s ended up sold into slavery in Egypt. This all ended up working out in everyone’s favor because a famine came to Israel, and Jacob and his sons had to go to Egypt to escape. If you remember what happened next, the chosen people didn’t end up leaving Egypt, instead they become slaves, and they were enslaved for 400 years before Moses came along and set them free.
Then we enter the time period where prophets are the ones who speak to God and communicate it to God’s people. For a while these prophets lead Israel as Judges—you may remember Deborah, Gideon, Samson and others before finally the last one to lead Israel was Samuel. Then the people demanded a king and that’s how we got Saul and now finally David. That’s where we ended.
Why am I recapping this? Because all of this is leading up to Jesus. We’re going to study next semester that God makes David a promise. Someone please read 2 Samuel 7:16.
16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me;[c] your throne shall be established forever.
God tells David that his children will rule Israel forever, that his throne will be forever. Forever.
But does Israel exist forever? Is there still a king on the throne in Israel? No. Israel has been conquered and disbanded a number of times. We’re going to see that in the next year in the Bible, as we study more people of the Bible, but King David’s line ends. The kingdom falls.
What does that mean? Does it mean that God broke his promise? [Let them answer, or think about it.]
It means that God’s promise meant something different, something more than David could possibly imagine.
And this brings us to Advent. Does anyone know what advent means? [Let them answer.] It comes from a Latin word: Advenio/Advenire which basically means "to arrive." It’s about an expectation, about waiting for a coming.
The last book of the Old Testament is Malachi. The first book of the New Testament is Matthew. Malachi was the last prophet of Israel. Ever since Malachi, no one has claimed to be a prophet of Israel, claimed to be speaking God’s words to his chosen people.
For all intents and purposes, God went silent.
For 400 years.
The people of Israel were waiting, expecting, something anything, a sign from God, a message, for 400 years. Waiting for something to come. A reinstatement of the throne, for God to deliver on his promise for David’s kingdom to rain forever. A waiting for another prophet, another anything.
In a state of Advent.
We spend Advent ever year looking forward to Christmas, looking forward to what—presents? The fun of Christmas trees and Christmas songs. The days get longer and darker as we look forward to the light of Christmas day. All of this just gives us a small, tiny taste of what these people probably felt, the people of Israel as they waited for something, anything, as a sign from God, for God to deliver on his promise.
And Christmas is the answer. Christmas is the delivery of that promise! Because what did we get on Christmas day?
Yes, Jesus! Jesus is the answer to the silence, the answer to the cry of the Chosen People asking for God to deliver on his promise. Jesus is the final prophet—because not only does he speak God’s words he is God, all of his words are God’s words. Jesus is the final king, the eternal king, of the line of David, to lead his people, to lead the world!
This is what Christmas is about: God’s delivery of his promises.
In light of all of this, we’re going to spend the next two Sundays focusing on Advent through the perspectives of two people: Mary and Joseph. Today we’re going to talk about Mary and next week we’re going to talk about Joseph.
So if you guys would, please turn get your Bibles and turn to Luke 1:26-29.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
So first question. Why do you think Mary was confused by Gabriel's statement?
Well let's look back at what the angel said to Mary. He called her what? [Favored One.] And said "The Lord is with you." Why would this bother her?
Well how would you feel if an angel of the Lord came to you and called you a "favored one." Would you feel that you deserved that?
Well Mary didn't seem to feel like she deserved such a favor.
Can someone keep reading Luke 1:30 - 33?
30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Why do you think angels in the Bible are always telling people to not be afraid?
Yeah they're probably scary looking! I'm going to read to you a couple of Biblical descriptions of angels.
3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
Ezekiel 1: 4 – 12
4 As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. 5 In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. 6 Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. 7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: 9 their wings touched one another; each of them moved straight ahead, without turning as they moved. 10 As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle; 11 such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.
None of these are really pleasant descriptions are they?
There are also descriptions in the Bible of angels who look no different from men, which is why they don't get recognized initially. However, considering Mary was afraid, I think it's safe to say she recognized him as something other.
Alright can someone please read for me Luke 1:34 – 37
34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Basically here Mary is saying it is impossible for her to be pregnant. She's a virgin! Virgins don't have babies--unless you're watching that CW show Jane the Virgin, but back then they didn't have things like artificial insemination or other sciency ways of getting women pregnant. Plus Mary would've known if she'd undergone those things too.
The angel basically tells her though that all things are possible with God, he can do whatever he wants. And he references her cousin Elizabeth as proof. Does anyone here know who Elizabeth is?
Other than Mary's cousin.
Let's flip back to Luke 1:5-17
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Elizabeth is John the Baptist's mother. And her pregnancy was also foretold by the angel Gabriel.
So hearing all of this, what would your response be if you were Mary? I want you to keep in mind that Mary was probably quite young. Probably around 15 or 16. She's about to get married to a really great guy who would be very upset to discover she's pregnant. And back then we're not talking like getting pregnant just means you have to take care of your baby and have people whisper behind your back because your a teenage bride. The punishment for adultry could be severe, like death. So Mary was risking death if Joseph didn't agree to go along with this, which she had no idea if she would .
So what would you say if you were in Mary's shoes?
[Let them answer]
Well let's see what Mary says, can someone read to me Luke 1:38
38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Mary agrees, she says she's is the Lord's bondslave. The English Standard version of the Bible translates this as "let it be" and there is actually a really famous Beatle's song written abou this statement, if you guys know who the Beatles are.
"When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be."
This was not an easy hand to be dealt, to be Jesus' mother. I mean think about all the terrible things Jesus had to endure, and Mary outlived him. She had to watch her son die and be tortured. She didn't know she was agreeing to that then, but she trusted God. And she wasn't just resigned to it, like the Beatles song might imply. Turn a little further to Luke 2:46 - 55. Can someone read that?
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
These verses are often referred to as "The Magnificat." I think it's called that because in the Latin translation of this prayer, the first word is "Magnificat" which is basically the verb in that first sentence there. "My soul exalts." Or in my ESV translation "My soul magnifies."
So this prayer, what is it saying?
She basically spends the entire prayer just talking about how awesome and wonderful God is. She does say one thing about herself in there, verse 48, if we re-read that "for he has looked on this humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed." And I think that's only human. To marvel that God chose her and to be like "woah, people are going to remember my name like forever." Maybe even a little bit of pride, which I think we can allow her. But the other verses are all about how God is awesome. What do you think that says about Mary's character?
That maybe she put God first? And God knew that. That maybe that's why he chose her.
Alright but let's step back a moment here. Did God NEED Jesus to be born of a woman?
There are a few prophecies sure, that imply he'll be born and talk about it. But set that aside--cuz God wrote those prophecies. Could God just snap his fingers and instead have made a fully grown Jesus who went around calling disciples and doing the same thing?
Yeah. So why do you think God chose Jesus to be born of a woman? Why was this part of his grand plan?
Obviously we can never know the mind of God, and we can't really know why he chose this path. But I think it's because if you look over the Old Testament women have sort of gotten a bad wrap. Call it what you will--Eve's curse, the patriarchy, whatever--women in the Bible have not been treated the best. But here we have God telling a woman, the lowest of the low, that she has found favor from God. That she is the favored one.
Jesus was born male and that is important, I think, but I think by having this design, by having God be born of a woman, God is saying that the statement he's making by being incarnate in a male doesn't make women less. Mary was a critical part God chose to include in this story.
God chose to include women in the story, because he views women as important. And there may be times where boys--you're encouraged to devalue women, or girls you may think less of yourself because you are female. But in those times, I want you to remember Mary. Because she was the favored one, and God chose to use her. God views women as valuable, and therefore you should to.
Alright guys, that's it. Next week we're going to talk about Joseph.