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Sermon Message

 

"Grabbing Ahold of Christmas"

Luke 1:26-56
Theme: Mary gives us the example of how to believe the news of the birth of the Savior in such a way as to be transformed by it.

(Delivered Sunday, December 18, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)

Why is it that the truths of the Christian faith dramatically transform the lives of some people, while they seem to pass other people by - leaving them unaffected? Why is it that these truths grip some people, but leave others cold and dry?

Certainly, I believe one reason has to do with the unmerited grace of God. I believe that, apart from God's grace - in giving us the privilege of hearing them, and giving us the faith to believe them, and giving us the power to go and live them - none of us would ever respond to the truths of the gospel as we should. If we have responded rightly to them at all, it is surely because He has breathed spiritual life into us first.

But I also believe that it has to do with our own chosen response to these great truths. Once we've heard the truths of the gospel message, unless we aggressively grab ahold of them and purpose ourselves to respond to them as we should, then we will not be transformed by them. They will slip from our careless fingers and do nothing for us.

I believe that's what Jesus meant when He taught His disciples and said, "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:23). He said,

"Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him" (Mark 4:24-25).

In other words, those great truths won't grip us, unless we aggressively grab them!

* * * * * * * * * *

I believe that this principle applies to the story of Christmas.

All around us are reminders of the fact that the most monumental event in history has occurred - that in love, God sent His own precious Son to take human flesh upon Himself, to walk in the midst of the human family as one of us, to take our sins upon Himself, and ultimately to die in our place that we might become sharers with Him of His eternal life and inheritance.

Angels burst forth from heaven, and announced the event of His birth to earth as "good tidings of great joy which will be to all people" (Luke 2:10). They sang praises to God for this great event by saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (v. 14). Can there be anything greater than what we are told happened on Christmas? And yet, most people walk around at this time of year oblivious to the true significance of Christmas; scarcely giving a thought to the Christ whose birth it celebrates.

This morning, I would like for us us to look at one of the great heroines of faith - Mary, the mother of our Lord - and consider how it was that she responded to the monumental truths of Christmas. No one was told more about Christmas than she was. And her response can be summed up in one word: "belief". It was said of her, "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord" (Luke 1:45).

Mary's example teaches us how we should respond to the Christmas story in such a way as to "believe" it aggressively - that is, to genuinely grab ahold of it, and to become truly transformed by it.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mary's story is told to us in the Gospel of Luke. Her "Christmas story" really begins with the news of the announcement of the pregnancy of her relative Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias were a childless couple, well past the age of having any more children. Yet God miraculously permitted Elizabeth to conceive in her older years. And she bore in her womb a very special baby - the child who would grow up to be John the Baptist. An angel told Zacharias about the baby his wife Elizabeth bore; telling him that John would be the forerunner of the Messiah (Luke 1:17).

And that brings us to that Christmas story that we are so familiar with - the annunciation to Mary. The first thing that I ask you to notice about Mary's response to the story is that it was greeted by her . . .

1. WITH THOUGHT (vv. 26-33).

Elizabeth was six months into her pregnancy when we read;

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 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. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:26-33).

Do you notice how she reacted to this message from the angel? We're told that she was "troubled"; and I suspect that this had something to do with the angel's words, "Do not be afraid, Mary . . ." Gabriel was, after all, a mighty angel; and we can be sure that he spoke these calming words to her because his appearance was so glorious as to be frightening to her.

But the other thing to notice is that she "considered what manner of greeting this was". The Greek word that was used to describe her 'consideration' is an interesting one. It's the word dialogizomai - and perhaps you recognize our English word "dialogue" in that word. She was, you might say, having an internal "dialogue" about what the angel told her. She was thinking deeply about it.

Mary is one of the great "thinkers" of the Bible. One of the things we find her doing the most in the pages of Scripture is "thinking" or "reflecting" on things. In Luke 2:19, after the shepherds of the field came and reported what they heard the angels saying about her baby, we're told that "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart". The word that was used to describe her thought in this verse (sumball§) is a compound word that figuratively suggests the idea that she 'threw' these things 'together' in her mind. And in Luke 2:51, we're told that as Jesus grew - and as He continued to demonstrate that He was the Son of God - Mary "kept (dietŃre§) all these things in her heart". She "stored" them (NLT), or "treasured" them (NIV) in her mind; and didn't allow them to slip away.

These important things didn't 'fly past' Mary. She grabbed ahold of them and thought carefully about them.

* * * * * * * * * *

One of the great reasons why Christmas so often means so little to so many people today is because so few people take the time to "think" about it! If you were to typify the general response to Christmas on the part of most people, it would be more a matter of "feeling" than of "thought".

Christmas is most often a sentimental time. It's a time for 'happiness' and 'cheer' and 'memories'. And please understand; I'm not complaining about that. I'm glad that it's that way. I love those aspects of the holiday season. But the one thing that, it seems to me, dominates the season is "feeling"; and the thing that is most often missing is careful reflection - careful, deliberate thought - about the real Christmas story. In fact, I would dare to say that the bulk of the 'trappings' of Christmas that people enjoy the most seem almost designed to keep people from ever thinking about its true meaning at all.

Stop and think about the great truths of Christmas right now! What does it mean that this baby's birth was prophesied from long ago in the book of Genesis as the blessing of the whole world (Gen. 12:3)? What does it mean that the angles broke heaven apart with the announcement that it as "good tidings of great joy which will be to all people" (Luke 2:10)? What does it mean to us today that Mary was told - by a mighty angel, no less! - that this child "will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32-33)? What does it mean that this baby, who proved Himself to be God in human flesh, grew up to live a sinless life; and that He eventually took our own sins on Himself and died on the cross in our place? What does all that tell you? What does it mean to our condition in the human family? What does it mean to our sense of hope?

I don't believe you can greet Christmas as you should unless you take the time to think about these things! If I had my way, we would add something to our Nativity scenes that isn't there now. Among the figurines of angels singing praises; among the wise men bearing gifts; among the shepherds bowing in adoration; and above the virgin holding the child she had just given birth to; I would add a large banner overhead that reads, "Think about it!"

I hope that this Christmas, you'll enjoy the warm feelings and sentimentality of the season. But more importantly, I hope that you will follow Mary's example and take the time to "think"!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, I believe that Mary's "thinking" leads to a second important way that she greeted the story of Christmas; and that is . . .

2. WITH WONDER (vv. 34-37).

After the angel spoke, we read;

Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" (v. 34).

When my sons were little, I used to struggle with how best to explain this aspect of the Christmas story to them. I simply settled with telling them that, ordinarily, God uses a man to create a baby in the womb of a woman. But in the case of Jesus, God did something that was never done before. He did something that only God could do. He caused the baby Jesus to grow up in the womb of Mary without the help of a man.

Sometimes we say that Jesus' was a miraculous birth. But really, His birth was quite normal. What was miraculous was His conception. And this is, of course, what the angel revealed to Mary. Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph; but he was a righteous man and kept her a virgin. And being a thoughtful and deeply intelligent woman, Mary wanted to know how it could be that she would bear such a child when she had never had relations with a man.

And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (v. 35).

We're not told of Mary's reaction to this. But I believe the implication is that she "wondered" at such news; and marveled at the thought that the Holy Spirit would so work in her that she would bear - in her body - the Son of God in human flesh! I believe that she was in such a state of wonder that the angel had to give her an additional piece of news in order to help her grasp the truth of it:

"Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible" (vv. 36-37).

* * * * * * * * * *

When I think of this, I think of the hymn we often sing around Christmas time:

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus, the Savior, did come for to die.
For poor, ornery people like you and like I -
I wonder as I wander,
Out under the sky.1

Do you have a sense of "wonder" about the Christmas story? Do you "marvel" over it? Perhaps you have lost that sense of wonder. If so, you can get it back. I propose to you that there's an order to the things we learn from Mary's example. If you truly "think" about the truths told to us concerning the birth of Jesus, you will soon find yourself in a state of wonder.

I hope that, this Christmas, you won't greet the holiday with a sense of "business as usual". I hope that you will be filled with wonder this Christmas over what God has done. The birth of Jesus is an event that is unprecedented in human history. The Bible tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). What a wonder that is!

May God help us to first "think"; and then, "wonder"!

* * * * * * * * * *

A third way we see Mary greeting the Christmas story is . . .

3. WITH SUBMISSION (v. 38).

Now, think - if I may put it this way - of what an "intrusion" this all was on Mary's life. For her to be pregnant, when she was betrothed to Joseph, was a scandalous thing. It was a cause for public shame.

And yet, she didn't argue. She didn't object. She didn't refuse. Instead, we're told that she humbly submitted to God's plan for her. We read;

Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her (v. 38).

* * * * * * * * * *

Christmas is an "intrusion" for the people of this world too. God, as it were, breaks into our world and says, "You, O man; and you, O woman . . . you are in desperate need! You are in a helpless condition because of your sin. You cannot heal yourself. You cannot reform yourself. You cannot save yourself. You cannot make yourself "good enough", or do enough "good deeds" to be acceptable to Me. Your sins have separated you from Me; and what's more, those sins deserve the death penalty.

"But I have the solution. I offer you My own Son. He became a human being like you. He took the sins of humanity upon Himself - including your sins - and paid the death penalty for them on the cross. I offer you His righteousness by faith, if you will accept it."

All of that is really what is being told to us in the Christmas story, if you truly think it all through. And many people become very offended when they see that this is what Christmas is all about - the provision of a Savior to save us from our sins. When seen from that perspective, Christmas is an insult to people's sense of self-sufficiency and inherent goodness. It's an intrusion.

But here's where Mary's example is, again, so important. She was submissive to God's will with respect to this "intrusion". Jesus' birth is an "intrusion" in the same way that a life-guard is an "intrusion" upon a drowning man's dying. And in order to receive Christmas as we should - and to gain the blessing of it - we too need to be submissive to its message.

On Christmas day, Jesus was born in order to die for our sins on His cross. And if you reject this, then the true meaning of Christmas will never grip your soul. You must "think" about what God has done on Christmas day, "wonder" over it all; and then personally "submit" to it all from the heart.

* * * * * * * * * *

Next, notice how Mary greeted the story of Christmas . . .

4. WITH CONVICTION (vv. 39-45).

Now, the angel told Mary that she wasn't the only one who was involved in this great miracle story. She was told that her relative Elizabeth also bore a child in her womb - and was in her sixth month. And so, I believe it was with genuine conviction of the truth of these things that Mary made her way to Elizabeth as quickly as she could. She would not have made such a trip unless she was convinced that Elizabeth herself - an older woman, well past the age of child-bearing - was indeed with child.

And as she did so, God - in a most remarkable way - gave Mary even further confirmation of the truth of the things that were told her. The Bible tells us;

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord" (vv. 39-45).

Do you notice that Elizabeth greeted Mary with words very similar to that of the angel? How could Elizabeth know what the angel had told Mary, except that she spoke under the impulse of the Holy Spirit? How could the baby in Elizabeth's womb have given such a 'kick' of joy, except by the same Holy Spirit?

It was Mary's conviction of the truth of these things that made her go to Elizabeth. And I believe that it was these confirmations of the truth of what she believed that made her conviction even stronger. We might say, as in the words of Jesus, that she truly "had" - and even more was "given" her.

* * * * * * * * * *

If there's one thing that the unbelieving world cannot bear, it's a believer with conviction. And it is through her own sense of "conviction" that Mary gives us yet another example. I believe that we greet the birth of the Savior the way we should when we grab ahold of it with conviction.

Once we have thought about it, and experienced wonder over it, and submitted ourselves to it as absolutely true; then we will begin hold to the Christmas story with full conviction of heart. And then, we will live lives that God uses to transform the world.

* * * * * * * * * *

I hope you notice that I keep pointing to what I believe to be a progression of steps in Mary's response to the Christmas announcement she received. First, she thought carefully about what she heard. Then, having thought, she wondered and marveled over it. Then, having thought and wondered, she submitted to it. Finally, I believe that when you think carefully through the truth of the Gospel, wonder over it, and finally submit to it, then you act upon it with full conviction of heart. Mary's experience shows us how to grab ahold of Christmas with both hands.

And now, finally, notice that she responded to it all . . .

5. WITH WORSHIP (vv. 46-56).

As I read her expression of worship to you, see if you can't detect all the other elements in it. See if you don't find (1) careful thought and reflection, (2) a sense of wonder and awe, (3) complete surrender and submission, and (4) full conviction of heart.

And Mary said;

"My soul magnifies the LORD,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever."

And Mary remained with her about three months,and returned to her house (vv. 46-56).

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters; this is truly "Christmas" worship! And it didn't come from someone who was casual about the Christmas story. It came from a bold woman of faith, who serves as our example. She greeted Christmas heartily; and grabbed ahold of it with both hands! She though about it, wondered over it, submitted to it, and believed it with conviction. And then, she worshiped God for it.

Only as we grab ahold of it as she did, can we expect God to make Christmas a blessing to us!


1John Jacob Niles, "I Wonder as I Wander", 1934, 1944 by G. Schirmer, Inc.

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