Why have I entitled this message, “Nine Months Before Christmas”? If you’re a mother, you would have no difficulty understanding what I mean. Every year at this time, we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem. But there is another amazing miracle that is often overlooked during this season. If you believe that life begins at conception, as I do and as the Bible teaches, then the Lord Jesus Christ became a human person at the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary. I personally think that this is an even more amazing miracle than His birth. Since I already have at least two messages on this site that focus on the birth of Christ, and since this sermon’s title is often overlooked during the Christmas season, let’s study the sequence of events and the miracle that occurred at His conception.
I. THE SETTING (verses 26-27)
The story begins in Luke chapter 1. Verses 26 and 27 say: “Now in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.” Luke states that it is the “sixth month”. He means the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. He’s marking time from the last appearance of the Angel Gabriel, and the miracle of pregnancy that was promised to the aged priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth. They were going to be the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.
In verse 27 we are introduced to Mary, a virgin girl, probably in her early to mid-teen years, and she was engaged to a man named Joseph. They were both from Nazareth so they were probably very poor. This town, and the Jews in it, were despised by the Jews in Judea because Nazareth was a small, poor, out-of-the-way town in the region of Galilee where there were more gentiles than Jews.
Mary was “espoused” (betrothed, engaged) to Joseph. Among the Jews at that period of time, the marriage vows were said at the betrothal, and it required a divorce to end the relationship. It was the custom for there to be an interval of usually a year before she could take up residence in her husband’s house and the physical union could be consummated. It must have been near the end of that espousal period. I have more details about the marriage custom in my sermon on John 2:1-11.
II. THE GREETING (verses 28-29)
Everything seems to be going according to plan for Mary and Joseph, and then something unexpected happens. God sent the angel Gabriel on another mission, this time to Mary. Gabriel’s name means “the strength of God”, and he is often seen delivering messages of kindness and blessing. His appearance to Mary is recorded only in Luke’s gospel.
There seems to be a fascination with angels, especially at Christmas time. Recent surveys have shown that anywhere between 55-70% of Americans believe in the existence of angels and their activity in our world today. There have been several major motion pictures about angels, as well as movies having angels in them. The classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is shown every Christmas season, and the angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), shows George (James Stewart) what life would have been like if he had never been born. If you’ve never seen this movie, please put it on your “must see” list this year. You will really enjoy it!
The Bible says that angels are “innumerable” (Psalm 68:17). There are too many of them to count. Yet only two angels are named in the Bible: Gabriel and Michael. It’s interesting to note also that both Zacharias and Mary recognized that it was an angel who was visiting them. I’ve often wondered whether the faces of angels shone because of being in the presence of God and seeing Him face-to-face. We will know some day! Let’s see what the angel Gabriel has to say to Mary. Luke 1:28 says, “And coming in, he said to her, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you’.” Many of the homes in that day had a small or large courtyard just outside the living area. Apparently Gabriel entered that courtyard, and then greeted Mary as soon as she saw him. Gabriel greets Mary joyfully and respectfully, telling her that God has chosen her for a special privilege. He’s not putting Mary on a pedestal above other women He is letting her know that God has given her a unique role in His plan of salvation. It is an unmerited favor from God. She didn’t earn the right, nor did she deserve it, but as we shall see, she did not gloat over it but humbly accepted it. Stephen is also called “full of grace” in Acts 6:8.
In verse 29 we see Mary’s initial response to his greeting: “But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.” I can imagine that many thoughts and questions were going through her mind, such as “What an unusual greeting”. “Why would he be saying those words to me?” “I’m supposed to return his greeting; what words should I say?”
III. THE ANNOUNCEMENT (verse 30-33)
The angel Gabriel seems to understand her fears and concerns because he tells her: “Do not be afraid”, calling her by name. Then he declares to her the announcement that was given to him by God.
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”
After that description, I don’t think there was any doubt in Mary’s mind that this child he speaks of is going to be the Messiah. The phrase the “Son of Most High” is a Messianic title, and His lineage and everlasting reign eliminate all other possible contenders. (Psalm 89:36,37; Isaiah 9:6-7).
As a Jewess, should Mary have known that the Messiah was going to come by virgin-birth? Yes. Was it her fault that she didn’t know this? No. This information given by the Angel Gabriel should not have come as a surprise to the nation of Israel. There are at least two passages of Scripture in the Old Testament that point to the virgin birth of the Messiah. The first is Genesis 3:15. After the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, and they sinned, God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.” This verse is speaking of the Messiah. God says “her seed”. A woman doesn’t have a seed. She has eggs. The man has the seed. If this mother of the Messiah is going to have a seed apart from man, then she will remain a virgin, right? If the seed doesn’t come from man, then it has to come from God. Isaiah 7:14 confirms this. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name “Immanuel.” The Scribes and teachers of the Law ignored, overlooked, and failed to teach about the suffering Messiah because they were looking for the conquering Messiah.
IV. THE QUESTION AND THE ANSWER (verses 34-37)
Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement is not the same as the response of her relative Zacharias. When he was told by the angel that his elderly wife Elizabeth would have a son even though she was past child-bearing years. he questioned whether this could happen and asked for a sign to verify it. As a result, the angel Gabriel told Zacharias that he would not be able to speak until the child was born. Mary, however, believed that God could do what the angel said. She didn’t ask for a sign as proof that what he is saying is true. She is just curious as to the “process” by which it would be done since she was a virgin. So she asks the question: “How can this be since I am a virgin?”
The angel Gabriel goes on to answer her question and provide more information in verse 35. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.” Notice that all three members of the Trinity are mentioned in his answer (the Most High, the Holy Spirit, and the Son of God). This was to be a combined effort, and each Person of the Trinity had a specific role.
So, just how did this all come about? Obviously this was going to be no ordinary conception! Firstly, Gabriel says, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”. (Gabriel is answering her question with words that she would understand – words from the Old Testament Scriptures). When she heard those words from Gabriel, she was reminded of Old Testament stories she heard from her parents and learned in the synagogue about how the Spirit of God “came upon” Joshua (Num. 27:18), David (I Sam. 1612-18), Saul (I Sam. 10:10), Bezalel (Ex. 31::2-5), and others. In each case the Spirit came upon them to empower them and enable them to accomplish the work that God had called them to do. This would have directed her thoughts toward the power, the provision, and the faithfulness of God. As she did this, her worries would begin to fade away.
Secondly, he says, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The word translated “overshadow” means “to cover”. Any Jew during that time would associate that word with the tabernacle in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering in the desert. Exodus 40:34, 35 and 38 describe God’s “overshadowing” of His tabernacle after it had been erected. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. . . . For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”
The cloud over the tabernacle was a symbol of God’s glory and His continual presence with His people. To an Israelite it was comforting to think that God was hovering over them like an eagle over its nest, with wings outspread, keeping an eye on them and protecting them. The cloud also depicted the holiness of God, and therefore His worthiness to be worshipped. The angel Gabriel was telling Mary that her womb would be the tabernacle of the Son of God for nine months. He was directing her thoughts toward the holiness of God and the continual presence of God over her (and in her).
V. THE SECOND ANNOUNCEMENT (verses 36-37)
The angel Gabriel’s second announcement is one of joy and encouragement to Mary. She learns that her relative Elizabeth is pregnant and in her sixth month of pregnancy. Elizabeth was old enough to be Mary’s grandmother or even great-grandmother! What a pleasant surprise that must have been to hear that news about Elizabeth, and to hear the words that followed! In verse 37, the angel Gabriel ends his announcement with these words: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” It’s a reminder of the prophet Jeremiah’s words of praise to God in Jeremiah 29:17, “Ah, Lord God! Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee.”
VI. THE ACCEPTANCE (verse 38)
Verse 38 tells us Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” The Message puts it this way: “Yes, I see it all now; I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.” Then the angel left. As a humble servant of God, Mary accepted her calling from God immediately, in spite of the suffering, misunderstandings, and adjustments that might lie ahead for her. She joins the ranks of other virtuous women such as Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, and others who chose to obey God, and desired to be used by God in spite of the consequences to themselves.
VI. THE LESSONS
Thomas a Kempis, a Catholic priest in the 1400’s who wrote the book, The Imitation of Christ, had these words to say about obedience: “Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.” Are there things you know God wants you to do or complete, and you haven’t done them? Are there people you know God wants you to visit or contact; are there relationships God wants you to mend and you’ve been putting it off. You’re probably familiar with the saying, “Better late than never, but better never late.” Let’s turn that around for the things we need to catch up on with God, and then turn it back. “Better never late, but better late than never.”
Finally, is our devotion to God motived by love? Do we spend time daily in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer before we begin our other activities on our schedule for the day. Remember that the Lord Jesus spent nine months pretty-much incapacitated in Mary’s womb out of love for us, so that He might identify with us as our High Priest in heaven today. Is it asking too much this Christmas season for us to spend some time in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer as we begin our day? If we do so, He’ll be in our thoughts, and a source of joy throughout our day. We might enjoy the time with Him so much that we’ll want to do so “in season and out of season”! After all, we are always on His thoughts and in His mind, “in season and out of season”!
Welcome! I call this particular construction project: “Putting up the decorations for the Christmas season”. I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for what the Lord Jesus realized and experienced when He chose to become a human being like us in all things except sin (Hebrews 2:17). As I think of what Jesus experienced from the moment of conception, my heart is filled with awe and wonder. I hope this has been your experience also. May this Christmas season be filled with a fresh and ever-deepening love for our Savior as a result of examining more closely what’s recorded in His Word.
P.S. I’ve decided to end this message at verse 38. There are too many joy-filled words spoken by Elizabeth and Mary to “skim over”. Rather than being an “extra room”, they deserve a site of their own! See you in the next construction site! Hopefully I’ll have it completed before Christmas also.