For Christmas

December 21, 2008

Explore the Bible Series


Background Passage:  Luke 1:26-56

Lesson Passage: Luke 1:26-38, 46-48, 54-55



In July, 1960, Joy Davidman died.  C.S. Lewis married Davidman a few years early (1956), after cancer had brought her to the brink of death. Remarkably, she recovered for a time, and the newlyweds enjoyed a few years of profound marital happiness. During a trip to Greece, Joy’s illness returned with a fury.  Shortly thereafter, she died, and her passing devastated Lewis.


Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, had not married until his late fifties, but when he found love, he relished very moment he shared with his American bride.  At once, he became a husband and father (Joy’s two small boys from a previous marriage), and for about four years Lewis found the greatest happiness of his life.  He married Davidman during her first bout with cancer, but her illness seemed only to deepen his love for her. Davidman’s death crushed Lewis, and, a year after her passing, he published A Grief Observed, his reflections on the sorrow that overwhelmed him. 


Meanwhile, where is God?  This is one of the most disquieting symptoms.  When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms.  But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting from the inside.  After that, silence. You may as well turn away.  The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.  There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once.  And that seeming was as strong as this.  What can this mean?  Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?


Two thousand years ago Israel must have felt something like Lewis expressed.  Since the time of Abraham he Hebrews had often heard the voice of God through law, judge, and prophet.  Yet, in the four centuries since Malachi’s oracles, heaven remained silent—cold, alien, distressing silence.  Then, the word of God, expressed through an angelic visitation, came to peasant girl in a cultural backwater named Nazareth.  God’s voice, at this point, echo resoundingly through the world; rather, it came in the private audience with a little girl (perhaps only in her mid-teens).  Nevertheless, the silence had been broken. 


Perhaps, some of you have endured a season of silence.  Some profound heartache has settled in your heart, and you feel alone in your distress.  Like C.S. Lewis, you have cried out to God, but heaven seems like an impenetrable vault.  Silence. 


Two thousand years ago God spoke, clearly and unmistakably.  He sent his Son Jesus, not merely in the garb of a prophet who speaks about God; rather, he came, in flesh, as God, to speak to a cold, dark, silent world.  I am convinced that the New Testament Gospels preserve an accurate, reliable account of God’s self-revelation in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  The Holy Spirit employs these Gospel accounts to bring god’s voice to you silence and mine.


Lesson Outline:


I.                   The Appearance of Gabriel to Mary of Nazareth (vv. 26-38)

A.    The timing of the appearance (v.26):  Luke dates this appearance six months after Zechariah was told of the conception of John (See 1:5-25).  The text seems to indicate that Mary did not know of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  Gabriel appears four times in the Bible (See Daniel 8:15-27; 9:20-27; Luke 1:5-25; Luke 1:26).  Each time, the angel carried messages concerning profound historical turning points.

B.     The venue of the appearance (v. 26): Mary lived in Nazareth, a small village located about seventy miles north of Jerusalem, in Galilee.  This little town was dwarfed by nearby Sepphoris, the Roman seat of government in Galilee.  Apparently, Nazareth did not enjoy a favorable reputation in the region (See John 1:46). 

C.     Mary’s betrothal to Joseph (v. 27): Contemporary Western culture has no parallel to betrothal.  It was binding engagement that could only be broken by formal divorce.  This arrangement sometimes lasted for months, and, though the couple did not live together, the culture viewed them as devoted to one another.  We know little about Joseph.  The Bible tells us he was a descendant of David and worked as a carpenter. He probably died before Jesus reached adulthood.  Our text makes clear that Mary had not engaged in sexual relations with Joseph (consistent with betrothal standards).

D.    Gabriel’s message to Mary (vv. 28-38)

1.      God’s favor toward Mary (vv. 28-30): Gabriel announced God’s grace to Mary.  At this point, of course, she did not know the nature of this favor, but the angel’s words troubled her.  In response to her concern, Gabriel comforted the little peasant girl, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

2.      The promise of a child (vv. 31-33): The passage indicates that the miraculous conception had not yet occurred, but soon she would bear a child and call his name Jesus.  Moreover, he would be the Son of the Most High and reign from the throne of David forever.  We should note that the text gives no indication of the angel seeking Mary’s consent for the miraculous conception; instead, he simply announced that this wonderful miracle would occur.  This dear young lady did submit to God’s providence, but the conception of Jesus did not hinge on Mary’s permission.

3.      Mary’s puzzled response (vv. 34-35): Like most children raised in an agrarian society, Mary understood basic reproductive biology.  How, she asked, could she bear a child without relations with a man?  Again, Gabriel reassured her, this time by revealing that the Holy Spirit would conceive the child; therefore, the Son would have no earthly, biological father. 

4.      Gabriel’s announcement of the pregnancy of Elizabeth (v.36): We don’t know the exact familial relation between Elizabeth and Mary.  Elizabeth descended from the priestly tribe of Levi, and she married a priest named Zechariah.  In her old age, Elizabeth had borne no children.  Six months before Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, Zechariah was informed that he and Elizabeth would have a son, the forerunner of the Lord.  Again, Mary had no knowledge of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. 

5.      Mary’s gracious submission to Gabriel’s news (vv. 37-38)


II.                Mary’s Visit with Zechariah and Elizabeth (vv. 39-56)

A.    The journey to the hill country of Judah (v. 39-40): The Bible does not reveal much about Mary’s journey.  It seems that she would not make such a perilous trip by herself, but we simply don’t know how she arrived safely at the home of Elizabeth.  We do know that Mary did not waste any time, “she went with haste.”  Verse Fifty Six says that Mary visited her kinsmen for three months.

B.     Elizabeth’s greeting (vv. 41-45): As the two women met, Zechariah disappears from this part of the narrative.  Perhaps he could not have understood the profound emotions exchanged between the expectant mothers.  Note the elevated roles played by women in this magnificent drama.  For a moment, men recede into the background, and two women, one old and one young, extol the glory of the Lord’s dealings with them.  Of all the people in human history, these two expectant mothers played critical roles in the plan of redemption. 

C.     Mary’s Magnificat (vv. 46-55): Based largely on Hannah’s hymn (See I Samuel 2:1-10), praised the Lord for the divine plan of salvation. 

1.      “He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” (vv. 46-49): In a sense, Mary was not an exceptional girl.  She did not possess extraordinary social status, intellectual abilities, or personal charisma.  By her own reckoning, she was a simple handmaiden (servant girl) of the Lord. Yet God did extraordinary things in the life of this ordinary young woman.  She marveled at the Lord’s gracious blessings and anticipated that generations to follow would call he blessed. 

2.      “His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation” (vv. 50-55): Mary possessed an impressive awareness of the course of redemptive history.  She blessed the Lord for his perpetual concern for the poor and lowly and his judgment on powerful oppressors.

3.      “He has helped his servant Israel” (vv. 54-56): Finally, Mary blessed the Lord for his faithfulness to his covenant with the patriarchs.  Two thousand years before Mary was born, God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel), and she knew that the child she carried was the fulfillment of God’s promise, so many centuries before.