This Christmas season I want to expand on the meaning of Christmas. It’s all too noticed among Christians that secularism and pluralism combined to redefine Christmas as the “Holiday Season,” “Winter Break,” and other euphemisms to avoid using Christmas.
So this Christmas season I’m taking a closer look at how the Gospels and other parts of Scripture talk about Jesus’ birth. As you read the Christmas accounts each year, as my family has done since I was a child, you may wonder why Matthew and Luke include what they have included and don’t go into more detail in the things that interest us.
Matthew and Luke have very different audiences. But that’s only part of it. Matthew goes out of his way to link the events of Jesus’ birth to Old Testament prophecies. His book is widely considered to be written mostly to Jews.
Many scholars consider that Luke wrote mostly the Gentiles. He is more methodical, looking for the historical accuracies and sources. This may have been part of his professional training as a doctor.
But ultimately these Gospels were written under the careful inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He decides what goes into each account. I will also touch on John’s Gospel opening that shows an even broader picture of Jesus’ birth.
The Holy Spirit gives us at least three perspectives into the birth of Christ. He didn’t do that by accident. Each prospective gives us different facets of the same events in human history. I will attempt to give a chronological approach with each post. So let’s begin looking at the miracle of Christmas and the meaning of this incredible season!
O Favored One
Luke 1:26-38 opens the account of Jesus’ birth by talking about the perspective of Mary, the soon to be mother of Jesus. Many of us focus on the extraordinary accounts of angels, dreams, prophecies, and these events that descended on humanity during this time.
But we must understand that the unique events and characteristics of this season in time highlight its extraordinary nature across history. The only time dreams, angels, 700-year-old prophecies, a virgin giving birth, and other extraordinary events happen is because God is putting this singular event in human history on a pedestal.
Imagine Mary’s surprise when she’s going about a normal day and an angel appears to her (Luke 1:26-27). Gabriel the angel calls Mary “Favored one.” So why does she become so afraid at this greeting?
Have you ever noticed how almost every human reacts to the visitation of an angel in the Bible? What’s the big deal? After all, don’t angels look like cute little kids with wings? Angels are nothing like what we make them out to be today.
Michael the Archangel is a warrior for God. Aside from angelic beings that probably glow with God’s glory around them, perhaps a human appearance or one much more scary because they may be warriors, we get the wrong impression of Angels in the Bible.
Gabriel was a messenger angel for the Lord. He delivered pivotal messages in the changes in history. If Mary knew anything about angels from Old Testament times this was the reason for her reaction.
Angels didn’t always come with the happiest message from God. When Balaam struck his talking donkey and Angel chided him for his reaction (Numbers 22:32-33). Two angels with flaming swords guarded the way to the garden of Eden to keep Adam and Eve from reentering after they rebelled against God (Genesis 3:24). They don’t sound so cute and nice to me.
Gabriel visits Mary and calls her a favored one of God. Imagine his excitement as he received the privilege of telling Mary she was the chosen human to bear the Messiah, God’s Son. He could probably barely contain himself. Besides, angels never got used two remembering to say, “Fear not” before they blurted out the exciting news in God’s plan.
Jesus the Messiah
So he has to backtrack and calm Mary down before he can tell her the important news. And he gives her a mouthful. Gabriel tells Mary a host of impossibilities, that she a virgin will conceive and bear a son. This Son will be great and be called the son of the most high (which means He will be God.
God will give Him the throne of His father David, improbable to Mary’s understanding, although she may have understood its significance. And no need to talk about “forever” and “no end.”
This was the biggest message to one of the smallest and most insignificant towns. Nazareth was never mentioned in the Bible until now. It was ignored by historians, and Galilee, its region, probably had more gentiles than Jews in it.
I wonder if that’s what the prophet Isaiah was referring to when he said, “… Those who dwell in a land of deep darkness, on them as light shone”(Isaiah 9:2). This was a big deal! Gabriel hinted at the divinity of this child soon to be Mary’s womb.
Although she and Joseph were from King David’s lineage their families were on the backside of Israel. This was certainly not where great leaders and kings were born. But it appeared God had bigger plans for Mary.
Isaiah spoke of this moment 700 years in the past when he prophesied about God’s light coming in the darkness in dark times (Isaiah 9:2). His prophecy becomes even more strange to those who read it until now.
In a parallel structure he says, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). He goes on to talk about the government resting on His shoulder. Isaiah gives this Messiah four names with divine implications.
Only God can be a Wonderful Counselor, trusted in all His judgments. Another name for this divine Messiah is “Mighty God.” Third, Prince of Peace spoke of His rule. Though He is mighty He uses that power to bring peace.
And then comes the strangest name, “Everlasting Father.” Think of Ancient of Days. This divine figure that comes as a child that is God’s Son is forever, forever before and forever after.
The angel struck some of those same notes in describing the child Mary would bear. He would be mighty, called the Son of God, and bring a Kingdom of peace. This is the kind of King Jesus is today and will be.
It’s possible Mary didn’t hear much of the rest of what Gabriel said to her. Her first question was, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” She was still stuck on, “You will conceive…” But virgins by definition cannot conceive.
Luke’s account of Mary’s angelic visit begins, “In the six month” (Luke 1:26). If you read above Mary’s encounter, Luke begin by talking about John the Baptist’s unusual birth. The sixth month refers to Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Gabriel mentions this again as proof that God can do the impossible for her and Elizabeth (Luke 1:38).
Unlike Zechariah who was told about John’s birth by the angel and responded, “How shall I know this?” And proceeded to tell the angel why this would not work (Luke 1:18). He asked the question out of doubt.
But Mary asks out of faith and curiosity, “How will this be since I am a virgin” (Luke 1:34)? She uses the future tense, expecting it to be true. But her mind can’t wrap itself around how. So Gabriel answers her matter-of-factly.
Gabriel does not answer the question about how a virgin can bear a child directly. Instead, he talks about God’s involvement to do the actually impossible. For Gabriel, the more interesting question is how the child will be God’s Son, not how a virgin will bear a child.
He says the Holy Spirit will come upon her, a common action of the Spirit to give people power to do God’s will. But then it gets interesting. The power of the Most High will overshadow you. Overshadow? What does that mean?
It’s a question scholars have been asking for centuries. But believe it or not there is precedence for sort of understanding what the angel described. “Overshadow” means to cover with a shadow or provide a covering.
This word is used three other times in the Gospels. On the Mount of Transfiguration all three Gospel writers use this word, “overshadowed” to talk about the glory cloud of God the Father’s presence when He expressed His approval of Jesus, “This is My Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34).
And we have inklings of what it means here from the Old Testament. Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting because God’s weighty glory cloud settled on the tabernacle (Exodus 40:29). One Psalm describes God’s presence as a covering for protection (Psalm 90:4). And Psalm 139:8 describes God covering a warrior’s head in the day of battle.
The Exodus 40:29 passage identifies closest with the use of God’s glory cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration. The angel proclaimed that nothing short of God’s weighty glory cloud would rest on Mary by the Holy Spirit’s power to make two impossible things happen. A virgin will conceive and the child will be fully human and fully divine.
The Lord’s Servant
I don’t know about you but that would just leave me with more questions. When’s it going to happen? How will God do this biologically? And a host of other questions from what the angel did tell her when she asked.
As with many of God’s explanations they usually raise more questions for our finite human brains. But Mary didn’t ask all the questions she must have thought of. She didn’t turn to doubt or disbelief with such an incredible answer.
God chose Mary for her humility and faith. And He got just what He wanted from her. Instead of asking more questions, doubting, or being like Moses and asking God to send someone else, Mary answered simply and humbly, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
The angel had provided Mary with more than just the answer of God’s power overshadowing her. He declared nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). And then he clued Mary in to her relative Elizabeth, whom she knew was past the age of child bearing. Elizabeth who impossibly was pregnant was now in her sixth month (Luke 1:36).
If God could make an old woman passed the age of child bearing pregnant He could easily make a young virgin pregnant. Mary’s response furthers her faith. As the angel has spoken the near future events, she wants to play the part God has for her. She speaks out of faith to a future event. And that’s why she is favored of the Lord.
The Meaning of Christmas
God wants to use this Christmas season to remind you that no matter what implausible or impossible situation you face, what miracle you need, nothing is ever impossible with Him. You may doubt like Zechariah but God will still fulfill His promised word to you.
When you act and speak in faith God uses that faith to do the impossible. When you humbly accept and affirm it in faith He does the impossible in and through you. For nothing is impossible with God. Just believe it and let Him do the rest.
God uses small things to make big things happen. He said a mighty angel to it tiny, insignificant town in Galilee, the backwoods of Palestine. Gabriel came to a teenage virgin girl with an insignificant family.
And He did insurmountable, impossible, gigantic, history making, earth shattering things. And He wants to do the same in you. All you need is a little faith and a lot of humility.
We have seen Mary’s part in the greatest event in human history. Now we will see how God confirms His plan to Joseph. Join me as the adventure continues.