Until the shepherds – who hear the word of the Lord through the angel who stands beside them with their flocks of sheep outside Bethlehem – see the Christ Child in the manger, they do not believe. Once they see the Child, then they tell others and those others wonder “of the things that were said to them of the shepherds.”
“And they hieing came, and found Mary and Joseph, and the young child laid in a feed-trough [put in a cratch]. And they seeing, knew of the word that was said to them of this child. And all men that heard wondered, and of these things that were said to them of the shepherds”
On the other hand, Mary hears the words but keeps them together with what she already knows. She stores all this knowledge in her heart, and does not speak.
But Mary kept all these words, bearing together in her heart.
The shepherds once again glorify and praise God for what the angel tells them and for what they now hear and see – they recognize that what is told to them is true.
And the shepherds turned again, glorifying and praising God in all things that they had heard and seen, as it was said to them.”
Mary is like someone in shock; soaking up everything that happens without fully understanding. She’s been through childbirth in less than ideal conditions; now strangers clamber to see her newly born son. Animals moo and bleat and stink. She’s barely presentable, not much like our nativity scenes, I imagine. All this young mother can do is “keep all these words, bearing together in her heart” which will break.
Joseph naturally dreads his marriage to the young maiden, Mary since she is pregnant; and that, out of wedlock. Joseph ought to report Mary, have her stoned to death per the Law of Moses. Yet, he listens to the angel of the Lord who comes to him in his sleep.
The angel of the Lord says something truly extraordinary, that Jesus “shall make His people safe from their sins.” The angel doesn’t say, “Jesus shall make His people free from sin.” Rather, the angel verifies that Jesus is to make His own people “safe from their sins.”
“But while he thinks these things, lo! the angel of the Lord appears to him in sleep, and says, Joseph, the son of David, do not thou dread to take Mary, thy wife; for that thing that is born in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bear a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall make his people safe from their sins.”
That we sin is a fundamental truth in the Christian life. That Jesus died for our sins is also a fundamental truth of the Christian life. Jesus nails the Law to the tree, and washes away the wage of death with His blood.
Mary is about 13 when the angel Gabriel announces to her that she is the Mother of God. No wonder this young maiden glorifies God, no wonder her spirit is filled with joy in God. No wonder she recognizes that despite her lowliness, God looks upon her with His grace. Mary’s humility is unmatched. Despite stating that she is blessed above all other women, she recognizes that her blessedness is not due to any action of her own, but only due to God’s own glory.
“And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit has found joy in God, who is my Saviour, because he has looked graciously upon the lowliness of his handmaid. Behold, from this day forward all generations will count me blessed; because he who is mighty, he whose name is holy, has wrought for me his wonders.”
We ought to take our cue from Mary. She never speaks of herself as a spiritual giant; she never says to another that she is holy. Rather, she glorifies God.
God glorifies Himself through Mary, making her the ultimate vessel for the Holy Spirit in the form of the Christ child.
Gabriel doesn’t come to Mary under his own power or by his own decision. He is sent, rather, to Mary by God. God sends Gabriel to a specific town, to a specific girl betrothed to a specific “man of David’s lineage.”
God doesn’t look down through time and see a young girl He knows will choose Him and then say to Himself, “Well, she’ll do.” Rather, He chooses Mary. She, by His choice, becomes the woman blessed above all women by God Himself.
“When the sixth month came, God sent the angel Gabriel to a city of Galilee called Nazareth, where a virgin dwelt, betrothed to a man of David’s lineage; his name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name was Mary. Into her presence the angel came, and said, Hail, thou who art full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.”
Mary does not resist God’s call. She does question Gabriel, asks ‘how can this be?’ But God’s call is irrevocable as the author of Hebrews tells us. And Isaias (Isaiah) muses:
“What a strange thought is this! As well might clay scheme against the potter; handicraft disown its craftsman, or thing of art call the artist fool.” (Isaias 29: 16)
What is the problem with acknowledging that God chooses – that God has the final say, so to speak? Why does this truth bring us up short, if it does? We know from scripture that God chooses Abram from whom He creates an entire people – people He identifies as His own and who are identified by Paul as the original olive tree while the remainder of God’s people are grafted into this original vine. We know God chooses Moses over Pharaoh, Joseph over his brothers, Jacob over Esau. He chooses Mary over all other women to be the mother of His Son, Jesus. We acknowledge these choices of people, and do not balk.
“Blessed is the folk, whose Lord is his God; the people which he chose into heritage to himself.”
We recognize that ultimately God’s blessing is what sets these people and us apart from others. To think it is anything else – especially to think it is anything we do or say that is somehow better than what others say and do – is an erroneous belief. God chooses us “into heritage to Himself.”
God, the Holy Spirit, descends upon Mary to produce the infant God, Jesus in her womb — so, does God the Holy Spirit enter Mary? Or does He plant His seed within her? Is this one and the same? Does it matter? Luke, the physician, records the event. The angel tells Mary, “thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call His Name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father, David. The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:31-32,35)
Elizabeth’s child, John — while still in her womb — leaps with joy when Mary comes close, literally recognizing Jesus, the Son of God who resides in Mary.
Much later, God the Holy Spirit descends from the clouds on the day Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan. God the Father speaks, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I Am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) “And Jesus, being full of the Holy Spirit, returns from the Jordan, and is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” (Luke 4:1) Here Jesus is tested by the devil for forty days and nights.
No time exists in Jesus’ earthly life when He is separate from God the Holy Spirit. Being full of God the Holy Spirit, He is led by God the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ disciples feign wanting to know “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1) Imagine them looking at one another, thinking – for example – “Surely I’m better than Matthew; after all, he’s a tax collector!” – or – “I’ve got to be greater than Judas; after all, he complains about wasting an expensive ointment, pretending he cares for the poor.” Martha must think, “I’m better than Mary.” After all, Martha complains about her sister, Mary – implying that she is lazy. Martha wants Jesus to rebuke her for sitting at His feet while she prepares the meal. Peter even briefly appears to think he’s better than Jesus, rebuking Jesus for saying that He will be killed and rise from the dead. “Far be it from You, Lord! This will never happen to You.” (Matthew 16:22)
When they ask Him about being the greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus shows His disciples a child. He tells them that “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus calls us to turn and become like children. Sounds similar to turning back the clock, perhaps wiping the slate clean and starting over from a place of innocence and great humility. We are to think better of others than we do of ourselves; treat others as we would wish to be treated. We are not to put stumbling blocks in the way of others; or lead others into temptation. Jesus warns, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened about his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” says Jesus. “For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)
The longing in His human heart perhaps is enormous; for the boy Jesus leaves His earthly parents and finds His Father’s house at the conclusion of the Feast of the Passover. “The boy Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem. His parents do not know it, but supposing Him to be in the group they go a day’s journey, but then begin to search for Him among their relatives and acquaintances.” (Luke 2:43-44)
Joseph and Mary spend three days searching “in great distress” for their son, Jesus. (Luke 2:48) Oddly enough, they fail to look in the most obvious place — the temple. They look “in the group,” “among their relatives,” and even among their “acquaintances;” but they fail to look “in My Father’s house” as Jesus says when they find Him. (Luke 2:49) Of course, Jesus is there “in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46) Logically, if not “in the group” or “among relatives and acquaintances” where else would He be? Joseph and Mary ought to know better.
Yet, Jesus — despite being twelve and about His Father’s business — “goes down with [His parents] and comes to Nazareth and is submissive to them.” (Luke 2:51) And His mother Mary, with her firsthand knowledge of God, the Holy Spirit, “treasures all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51)
“Who is a god like You? You take away guilt, You pass over the sin of the remnant of Your own people, You do not let Your anger rage for ever but delight in love that will not change. Once more You will show us tender affection and wash out our guilt, casting all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show good faith to Jacob, unchanging love to Abraham, as You did swear to our fathers in days gone by.”
“And Mary says: ‘Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord, rejoice, rejoice, my spirit, in God my saviour… His Name is Holy; His mercy sure from generation to generation toward those who fear Him; the deeds His own right arm has done disclose His might: the arrogant of heart and mind He has put to rout, He has brought down monarchs from their thrones, but the humble have been lifted high. The hungry He has satisfied with good things, but the rich sent empty away. He has ranged Himself at the side of Israel His servant; firm in His promise to our forefathers, He has not forgotten to show mercy to Abraham and his children’s children, for ever.’ ” (Luke 1:46-47,49-55)
God does not forget. He remembers His promises. He takes away guilt; He casts all our sins into the sea. His love is unchanging; His mercy sure. He satisfies the hungry; and sends away the rich. He heals the sick; and questions the healthy, saying: “I guess you have no need of Me?” He routs the arrogant; and lifts the humble. He does not forget His promises to the remnant of His people — those He loves and calls according to His purpose.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, says: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” In her praise of God, Mary mentions or references the Lord a total of seventeen times. She mentions or references herself only six times. In the mention of herself, she speaks of her “soul” and her “spirit,” her “humble condition;” and that “from now on” she will be called “blessed” by “all generations.” (Luke 1:46,47,48) She also refers to herself as “[God’s] slave.”
In speaking of God, Mary refers to her Lord as “great,” “Mighty,” “holy.” She delineates God’s accomplishments: “He has looked with favor” on her. He “has done great things for” her. He has been merciful “from generation to generation.” “He has scattered the proud” and “toppled the mighty” while “exalting the lowly.” “He has satisfied the hungry with good things.” “He has helped.” (Luke 1: 48-54)
Of herself, Mary only acknowledges that she is God’s slave; and that because of His favor and mercy, she will be called blessed. Mary takes no credit for this, giving all the glory back to God — the only One to whom it belongs.