advent

Mary, the Mother of Jesus (rev 3, 2018)

When we started studying the People of the Bible we started with Abraham. 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 then David.

David was considered a man after God’s own heart—despite his many grave sins—because he always in the end asked for repentance and turned back to God. Because of his faithfulness, God made him 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 as we saw in the past semester of studies, Israel doesn’t exist forever. It doesn’t stay united—it splits into two kingdoms. Then the Northern kingdom of Israel is conquered and the people scattered through Assyria. The Southern Kingdom of Judah lasts a bit longer, but then it too is conquered—this time by Babylon. The Temple is destroyed. The Kingdom falls. David’s royal line being on the throne in Jerusalem ends.

We talked about with Daniel and the other exiles that this was a crisis of faith and identity. What did it mean that there was no longer a son of the line of David on the throne? Had God broken his promise? Was Israel no longer his chosen people? Had he forgotten them and left them to their own devices?

What did any of this mean for them? But most importantly what did it mean in regards to their relationship with God?

Eventually Judah is somewhat restored. The Temple is rebuilt. The city is rebuilt. But it’s not the same. There is no Davidic king anymore. And between the conquering of Babylon and now there has not been a Davidic king sitting on a royal throne in Israel.  Israel spends most of the next hundred years as a minor pawn shuffled about by much larger kingdoms.

But God promised them. God promised them a son of David. God promised them they were the Chosen People. God chose them, and while they could have strayed from their faith in this time instead they double down. They knew God would make good on his promise. They had faith.

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 reign 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.

For 400 hundred years God is silent. 400 years. And then, out of nowhere, he sends an angel with a message to a teenage girl in a hick town in Northern Israel. Nazareth is like in the middle of nowhere, far from Jerusalem, far from power, not a place where important people live. And the angel doesn’t go to the most politically or religiously important person in Nazareth to deliver his news. Heck, he doesn’t even go to the more powerful person in the Mary/Joseph relationship. He goes to the an unmarried teenage girl.

God is silent for 400 years and the person he breaks that silence with—the first person God talks to—is a teenage girl.

Woah.

Even today teenage girls get a bad wrap, and we don’t in the patriarchal times of the Bible! Teenage girls are sometimes viewed as modern society as silly and unimportant, and well, that’s a view of teenage girls that goes back a long way. But right here, in the story, in this appearance, in this moment, a teenage girl is the most important person in the entire world, and the person in the world that God esteems the most.

We’ve seen in the stories we’ve studied that women often get the short end of the stick in the Bible. There are exceptional stories like Deborah and Jael—women who go into battle, lead people, and do extraordinary things. But most of the women in the Bible? They are regulated to the side—often not even named—and when they are, they are at the mercy of men. And often those men aren’t very merciful.

Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife to save his own life, causing Sarah to be taken and used by a foreign king. Hagar was used by Sarah and Abraham, and treated poorly by both. Rachel and Leah were used as pawns by their father and pitted against each other. In the times of the kings, Michal was used as a pawn by both Saul and David—a game piece in their civil war. Bathsheba was raped and then her husband murdered and then she was forced to marry her rapist. Tamar was raped by her brother, and David—her own father—refused to do anything about it.

Even when we look at Esther—a powerful woman in that she is a queen—when we dig deeper we see a scared girl terrified she will be disappeared like the queen before her.

Women in patriarchal times had no power. They were property. They had very little say in their lives. Men often did not listen to them or consider their thoughts worthwhile. Men often did not even view them as people. And lest you think these sort of thoughts died out when we switched from BC to AD, I’m sad to say they did not. Christians for a long time have had similar thoughts about women. St. Augustine—a prolific and foundational Christian philosopher from the fourth century—said that women did not possess the image of God and their only purpose in life was to bear children, which mind you is in direct contradiction of the Bible. Thomas Aquinas—a 13th century Christian who is so popular I have heard him quoted from the pulpit in almost every church I have ever attended—said that a woman “is a misbegotten men” and is faulty and defective by nature.

These men are wrong. The Bible is clear. Women are made in the image of God. Women are equal to men. But men have historically had this view of women as lesser and we see that view everywhere in history. Sometimes even in our modern world we can get a sublimal message that women are lesser. But I am here to tell you that God does not think that. How do we know that? Because of this, and so much more in the New Testament.

Because when God was silent and no one had any idea what was going on, the first person he spoke to was a woman. A girl.

God chose to bind his plans to a woman. God didn’t have to have Jesus be born. He could have snapped his fingers and handed Joseph a fully formed baby and cut Mary completely out of the loop. God is capable of creating a baby out of nothing. Instead he chose to involve a woman in his plans—plans no man even knew about.

When God had to rely on one person in this world to get something done, he turned to a teenage girl.

Jesus was born male and that is important—he could not have completed his ministry in the time period he was born in if he was born female—but I think by having this design, by having God be born of a woman, God is saying that the women are not less than me. Mary is a critical part of God’s plan.

God chose to include women in the story because he views women as important. Because women are valuable.

400 years no priests or leaders or men heard from God. Until one day an angel shows up in a teenage girl’s bedroom.

“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” The angel declared. And Mary is confused by his words. Why? Why is she confused do you think?

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.

Matthew 28:3

His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

Ezekiel 1: 4 – 12

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. In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. 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. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: 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. Though maybe he was also telling her not to be afraid because he was about to deliver her some concerning news.

You’re a teenage girl and an angel shows up in your room and is like, “Surprise! You’re pregnant! And not just pregnant but like with the Son of God who will be king of Israel forever!”

This would be extremely scary news. (1) Mary is not married. Today when a teenage girl gets pregnant and isn’t married, people may gossip about it, but that’s really the worst punishment. Back then, if Mary was pregnant and it wasn’t by her soon-to-be-husband Joseph that would mean she committed adultery. And a woman could be stoned to death for committing adultery.

Mary could be killed because she’s pregnant.

The second reason why this would be scary news, is well it sure does sound like this angel is saying her son is going to be the next king of Israel. And well….what empire rules Israel at this moment? Does anyone know?

Rome.

In many ways Rome is a lenient master. As long as you pay your taxes and don’t make waves, they’re going to leave you alone. But…setting up a king of Israel outside of the Roman authority would definitely fall under the category “making waves.” Declaring someone king would lead to war and rebellion. And Mary was probably not so out of touch that she didn’t know that.

Rome was scary. And a seventy years after this when Israel does rebel, Rome cracks down with an iron fist. It results in the Temple being destroyed for the second and final time and half of the Jewish population being killed by the Romans.

The Romans didn’t mess around.

Mary might be afraid for what this means for her, her people, and her son. She might be afraid her son would end up dying early, that she would live to see him die if he tried to establish himself as king.

And well….she wouldn’t be wrong. Mary does live to see Rome kill her son.

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?

Let's flip back to Luke 1:5-17

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. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 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 you’re a teenage bride. The punishment for adultery 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 ifshe 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?

I think it means that Mary does put God first, and she is righteous. And God knew that. That’s probably why he chose her.

But well, it doesn’t matter how happy Mary is right now, because she is still just Joseph’s property. If Joseph doesn’t believe her or go along with this plan, things aren’t going to end well for Mary. So that’s what we’re going to look at next week, the Joseph side of this story.