Bible Studies for Life Series for December 16
Being changed by the Savior
• Luke 1:26-56
First Baptist Church, Gatesville
Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. Sometimes it breeds complacency, which, I would contend, is a form of contempt. So it is with this story. Most of us know this story so well we don’t really need to read it.
I used to spend a week or two with my grandparents each summer. Every day, they would get up, get a cup of coffee and then read the Bible together and pray. Each of them had read it several times. I remember asking why they would read something again and again when they already knew it. My granddaddy replied, “With the Bible, there is always something knew to learn.”
And so it is, even if we don’t learn something knew, our faith is deepened and our eyes opened more to the majesty and grace of God.
The story of the announcement to Mary of her role in the birth of Jesus divides the story of Elizabeth and the coming of John the Baptist. The story of Mary and Jesus bounces between the story of Elizabeth and John. First we see Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Luke then moves to Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and her sharing this with Elizabeth. He then moves back to the birth of John and finally to the birth of Jesus. Luke tells this as two different stories and one story. The stories are as different as night and day and the same as two peas in a pod.
Zechariah and Elizabeth are established; they are well past the age of childbearing. Mary is the opposite—a young virgin anticipating her upcoming marriage. But the similarities far outweigh any differences we might see. In fact, the differences serve to heighten the similarity. In both stories, God takes the initiative. In both stories, we see God reveal his grace and his power.
They are stories of grace in that through their sons God expresses his grace to the world, and they are stories of grace in that, no matter how faithful Mary and Elizabeth are, God uses sinful people in his work of redemption. Neither Mary nor Elizabeth conceive by their own volition, Luke makes it abundantly clear that God is the power behind the conception and birth of both John and Jesus. Both women expressed dismay, Elizabeth because of her age, and Mary because she was a virgin, but God used both to reveal that, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
The virgin birth is an important part not only of the Christmas story, but of our Christian heritage. It is one of the pointers to the incarnation, that God became flesh. It helps us to grasp that Jesus is both God and human, that in Jesus, God has come to us. This miraculous conception takes place solely by the will and word of God; it takes place purely by God’s initiative.
That Jesus was both God and man is crucial to the Christian understanding of salvation. Many of the heresies throughout the history of the church have their basis in a misunderstanding of the nature of Jesus’ person. They either deny the humanity or deity of Christ. Any belief that denies the deity or humanity of Christ ceases to be Christian. That Jesus was born is evidence of his humanity, but that is not the full story. The Word that became flesh did not originate from human origins. Joseph cared for Jesus, and filled the role of his father on Earth but Christ came from God, and no other.
Not only should we take note of the means of Jesus’ birth, we also should take note of several things about Mary. Mary is told the Lord is with her and that she is highly favored. Mary is the recipient of God’s grace.
We usually understand grace to be God’s unmerited favor, and we should, but the best definition that I know comes from T.F. Torrance: “Grace is not some thing God gives us, it is the way God gives us himself.” To know grace is to know the presence of the Lord in our lives. The grace she knows results in her obedience, her faithfulness and her worship.
Verses 46-55 comprise Mary’s song, or the Magnificat. The song is Mary’s response to the outpouring of God’s grace and the evidence of God’s grace in her life and in the life of Elizabeth. It is a response full of gratitude, praise and assurance proclaiming the goodness, power and grace of God.
In the first section, Mary praises God for the favor he bestows on her. Fred Craddock says that even this section is not purely autobiographical but that through Mary God has begun to reverse the fortunes of the world so that the last shall be first and the first last. The kingdom of God is intruding on the kingdoms of this world and turning them upside down.
What fascinates me most about this song is the tense in which Mary sings. Each time that Mary sings of God she sings of what God has done. Each line begins with, “He has …” and lists the mighty acts of God. There has been some discussion as to how we should understand these acts of which Mary sings. Should we understand them as a recitation of things God already has done? Is Mary singing only in the past tense, or is there more to it than that?
In light of what Mary has been through with the announcement by Gabriel and her encounter with Elizabeth, I think that it is best to read this song in light of what God is doing now. The fulfillment of the promises of God are so certain Mary can sing of them as having already being accomplished. There is no question in her mind God is at work bringing his rule to bear on his world.
That is the kind of assurance we can seek this Christmas. Our familiarity with the story, but more importantly with the Christ who has come should bring us to live in the assurance that God will complete all that he has begun in Christ. May God bring us to live our lives in the recognition that all he is doing is a done deal.