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Dec 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 5, 2010

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

INTRO: On one of our trips to Russia, we walked through a park near the Kremlin in Moscow

Observing that the large metal sculptures reminded me of fairytales, I asked our translators whether the one closest to us was the story of the fish that begged for its life, promising to fulfill a wish for the man who caught it. The translators confirmed that it was what I had guessed and they were surprised to learn that I knew those same fairytales (I was surprised to learn how many fairytales have come to us from Russia). I recognized the sculptures because the familiar images belong to both cultures

It seems to me that this very familiarity poses a danger when we come to our story in Luke
– we are all too familiar with the image of the angel delivering the annunciation to Mary
– the many paintings and Christmas greeting cards depict a scene that is both distant and ethereal
– is it possible that we have been lulled into treating it with the same (dis)regard we give to fairytales?

Do you believe in angels? If so, why? Try to produce a rational answer for your belief in angels

Luke begins a new story in verse 26, but with strong parallels to the previous story
– the parallels between Zacharias and Mary highlight their differences

male – female
priestly tribe of Levi – royal tribe of Judah
married, yet childless – virgin and childless
resistant to the promise – receptive to the promise

There is a lot of information in this passage (vv. 26-56), so where will we focus our attention?
– what does Luke want us to look at in the text? What were we meant to see?
– five times we come across the word “Behold,” so we will follow that visual clue to find key points in the story

Gabriel’s First Speech (verses 26-33)

This is the center of the plot – the most important statements occur here
– Mary “kept pondering” Gabriel’s greeting – she was trying to figure out what it meant
– as if she were wondering, “Where’s he going with this?”

  • Mary is a thinker–a lot goes on in her mind
  • Mary is also a conemplative–a lot goes on in her heart (Lk. 2:19, 51)

Gabriel’s, “Do not be afraid” has a different significance than when he said it to Zacharias
– unlike the priest, who was gripped with fear at Gabriel’s sudden appearance, we do not read that Mary was afraid,  rather, whe was “perplexed”
– so perhaps in this instance the potential fear had to do with the future and what lay in store for Mary

v. 31, The first “behold” – “you will conceive . . .”

The will of God intrudes into Mary’s life in two stages: it first enters her home and then enters her body
– once that happens, the next events will follow like a dam burst

Polysyndeton is a literary device that writers use for effect
– it refers to the repeated use of a conjunction (such as but or and) in string a number of thoughts together
– notice how Luke uses the word and to tie together all of his statements about Jesus (even beginning the sentence with “And,” vv. 31-33)
– the effect of one statement coming quickly on the heels of another is to heighten our sense of the magnitude of this one life to which Mary has been called to give birth

God was stepping into world history and he needed a human entry point

Zacharias was punished for raising a question regarding Gabriel’s word, but when Mary raised a question, the angel patiently gave her a complete answer
– what made her question different from that of Zacharias?
– it comes down to one word: know

  • Zacharias wanted to process this information through his intellect
    – it was if he had to understand it before he could accept or allow it to happen
    – we can understand the old guy’s misgivings–he and his wife had prayed for years to have a child (1:13)
    – no doubt there were many times when their hopes were raised only to be shattered
    – only long after he had given up the dream was he told it would finally come true
    – but his hopes have been raised before–this time he needs proof
    – how can he know for certain that this time he and Elizabeth will actually have a child?
    – Gabriel interpreted this need to know as resistance rather than cooperation
  • Mary, however, did not ask, “How can I know?,” but “How can it be?
    – she did not raise a barrier or condition, but merely asked about logistics
    – built into her question was her readiness to comply
    – some times it is more important to God that we be than that we know

Gabriel’s Second Speech (verses 35-37)

At this point, Luke begins to tie the two stories together
– for the remainder of the chapter (and through chapter 3) the stories of Jesus and John will be intertwined

v. 36, The second “behold” – “your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age”
– with Mary, we are to look at Elizabeth’s pregnancy as an example of the truth that when it comes to Jesus, from his birth to his death, “nothing will be impossible with God”

The last time we saw Elizabeth, she had sequestered herself (lit. hid herself)
– it is possible that Mary knew nothing of Elizabeth’s pregnancy until now
– so Gabriel both breaks the news to her (angelic wiki-leak) and also uses it to illustrate God’s hand in all of this

Mary’s Response (verse 38)

v. 38, The third “behold” – Mary presents herself to God
– notice how she refers to herself in the third person (this is a humble or self-effacing way to point to oneself)
– the bondslave (Grk. doule, feminine form) was not a domestic or servant, but the lowest form of slavery
– the doule had no will of her own, but lived entirely for the service of others
– this behold highlights her total surrender to God’s word

Elizabeth’s Blessing (verses 39-45–note the three blessing statements)

v. 44, The fourth “behold” – “the baby leaped in my womb for joy”
– John, who was “filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb” (v. 15) responded to Mary’s greeting
– it was this unusual prenatal event that confirmed to Elizabeth that Mary was the mother of her Lord

It is not surprising that the recurring reference to blessing should be a sub-theme in the birth narrative of Jesus

Mary’s Song (verses 46-56)

The song is about reversals


He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
(v. 48)

He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
(vv. 52-53)

What Mary envisions is a divine reorganization of society, turning it on its head
– but as events unfold in the life of Jesus, this reorganization does turn out to be a revolution
– it develops quietly, subtly in Jesus and in his teaching and ministry
– for example, notice how verse 53 is echoed in chapter 6:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied
. (Lk. 6:20-21)

But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.
Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry
. (Lk. 6:24-25)

v. 48, The fifth “behold” – an invitation to observe the transformation God made in Mary’s life
– it begins in her and then ripples out into whole nation

Valuable insights regarding our spiritual journey

  1. Mary shows us how a believer is to receive God’s Word
    – a complete openness to it
    – a voluntary surrender to it
    – that it is received as a life–the very life of Jesus–planted within us
    Paul: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you . . .” (Gal. 4:19)
    – he alludes to labor pains to describe his eagerness to see Jesus Christ taking shape in their lives
  2. The spiritual journey is about God giving birth to something new in us
    – Mary’s body nurtured the new life that was planted inside her; that was her role
    – it is the role of believers to nurture the divine life planted within us

How do we nurture the life of the Word within us?
– not by mere knowledge of information–our intellect cannot get us there

Imagine that God told you, “I want to pour something wonderful into your life” and you replied, “Okay, Lord, on one condition: I must first understand what it is that You are pouring into me, what it is supposed to do inside of me, and what I am supposed to do about it.” How do you think God would respond?
I imagine him saying, “Well now, that’s a problem. Are you certain that you want Me to pass everything I have to give you through your brain? That’s a very narrow funnel, you know. If you have to understand what I give you as a condition for receiving it, then I’m afraid you will never experience all I want to do in your life. In fact, you will only experience a small trickle compared to what is in My heart for you.”

But it is typical of our culture to think that the important things in life come to us through knowledge
– so we insist on knowing as much as we can before committing ourselves to God and his Word
– what assumptions lie behind the impulse of wanting to know?

  • We perceive a distance between where we are and where the promise would take us
    – naturally we want to close that distance
  • We assign the task of closing the distance to our mind
    – as a result, we are constantly calculating the distance that remains, mentally working on ways to get further along, and thinking, thinking, thinking
    – “How much further is it?”
    – some of the thinking is destructive, because it involves condemning ourselves for not being futher along
    – we can become obsessed with gathering information–yet, at the same time, we live far away from anywhere that our actions could accomplish some real good in the world

Zacharias wanted to know – Mary was willing to be

To be with God’s Word is to allow him to span the distance between where we are and the promise
– it is refusing to allow our intellect to be the gatekeeper of our experience of God
– God does not explain everything to us–he does not ask us to understand, but to cooperate

To not know and to be okay with not knowing is to give up our need for control
– or our need to feel like we’re in control

And this brings us to the role given to us on our side of the spiritual journey

The starting point is surrender:
“Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word”
– Mary laid her life open to God
– and he gave her a completely different life; not a new patch on an old coat
– the life of her childhood dreams evaporated
– the new God-give life was one of greater joy than she had imagined for herself
– it was also a life of greater pain than she would have chosen (Lk. 2:35)

Knowing that in herself she was incapable of fulfilling God’s will, Mary asked how it could be
Answer: the Holy Spirit

  • come upon: a phrase from the Hebrew Scriptures that describes divine energy at work in a human person
  • overshadow: delicate language that conceals more than it reveals
    – it will happen in the darkness of a shadow–you won’t see anything (it is darkness to the senses)
    – but it is God’s shadow (see the other occurrence of this word in Luke’s gospel, 9:34)

We cannot think our way into this – we cannot make it happen
We can only be with it – be receptive and be surrendered: “according to your word”

So it is that the Spirit of God in and through the Word gives birth to a new life within us
– are you aware of the fact that God is working something new into you?

CONC: Through this whole episode, God is in the background of the story

Yet he is behind it all and everything hinges on him
– v. 26, “God sent”; 30, “you have found favor with God”; 37, “nothing will be impossible with God”; etc.

Return for a moment to verse 45, “And blessed is she who believed . . .”
– Mary’s belief is directly linked to the fulfillment of the word given to her
– faith plays a crucial role in the new work God is producing in our lives
Faith is the point where we become involved – it is a choice that we make (continually)
– so you see, if you believe in angels it is not because you have evidence that is absolute and rational
– it is because somewhere along the line you made a choice

Mary was fortunate that before setting out on this adventure she was visited by Gabriel
– an angel’s visitation would leave no lingering doubts about God’s will
– in our case, however, we must forge ahead without the angel’s word
– for that reason, our decision to believe and be with the Word is probably more difficult
– but it is choosing to believe that brings God’s work in us into reality

For the next week, every time you are reminded of Christmas–city lights and banners, Christmas cards, ads, etc.
– take a moment to give your consent to God and what it is he is doing
“I surrender, Lord, to that new thing You are giving birth to within me”
– then be
be with the gestation of Jesus’ life as it forms within you and shapes your life
Know that his is possible because “you have found favor with God”

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