27 Dec The Son of the Most High
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Merry Christmas. Does anyone wish they could go on a holiday trip this Christmas? Usually, during December and January, I did not see some of your faces. But this year is different. Most of you are here. It is not that you don’t want to go on a holiday, but you can’t. Let’s talk about a holiday trip for a bit. When we talk about a holiday trip, there are two types of people. First is the planners. These are those who have their holiday mapped out weeks prior to the holiday. So, if they go on a holiday to Europe, they know exactly where they will be and what they will do on Monday from 3 PM to 5 PM. It is all written on their spreadsheet. They have everything planned to the very detail. What time they leave the hotel, which sites to visit, which restaurants to try, what clothes to wear, and they even have a block on their spreadsheet on when to take a quick rest. Spreadsheet is their best friend. They try to cram as much as possible in one day. Second is the easy goers. When they are on a holiday, they are on a holiday. They don’t really have a plan. They have a rough idea of where to visit and where to eat, but they are a lot more carefree and flexible. For them, a holiday is a time to relax and laid back. If they oversleep and get out of the hotel at 2 PM, they do not freak out. They rather get one thing done and enjoy the time of leisure than to cram as much as possible in one day. Quick question. Raise your hand high if you lean more toward the planner type? Keep it up. Now if you are single and easy goer, look around to the singles that raise their hands. These are the people you should consider marrying. You need their help to organize your life. By whatever reason, these two different types usually attract one another, get married and fight on their holiday trip.
In our passage for today, we find a young girl who probably already have a plan for her life. She does not plan to change the world or do anything significant. She is an unknown girl in an unknown town in the middle of nowhere. She is a nobody. And her plan for her life is to live like all other girls around her. Her plan is to get married, have children, and live an ordinary life as a wife and a mother. But then one day, she receives a surprise gift from God. At first, she doesn’t know what to do with it and she is troubled by it. But then she accepts and opens the gift. And when she does, her life is never the same. All her plan for her life is changed the very moment she opens that gift. Her story is the story of the first Christmas gift.
I do not know what your plan was for 2020 but I do know that we are forced to change many of our plans this year. Some of you planned to go on a holiday trip this year. Some of you planned to get married. Some planned to get engaged. Some planned to start own business. Some planned to buy a new house or apartment. Some planned to walk down the aisle for graduation. Some did not plan to have a child this year. But then all of us received an unexpected gift called Covid19. And all our plans were changed. Some for the better, but mostly for the worse. The point is every one of us is affected by Covid19. The same can be said about Christmas. Christmas is a day where we celebrate the gift we have received from God. And this gift is one that should radically change everything about us. But I think if we are not careful, the gift of Christmas can be a very familiar story to the point that we are no longer staggered by it.
There was one time I went to visit a friend who lived very close to a train track. I was sitting on their living room when all of the sudden there was this loud noise “dug dug dug dug…” I jumped to my feet and said, “What is that noise?” And they replied, “What’s what?” For them, the loud noise of the train had become so familiar to the point that they were not surprised by it anymore. And I think this is the challenge of preaching a Christmas story. We are very familiar with Christmas narratives to the point that we are no longer amazed by it. For example, I don’t know if it is just me, but I saw tons of Timothy Keller’s Christmas quotes on my social media in the last few days. It seems like everyone was quoting Keller or reposting something that Keller wrote. Anyone else noticed the same thing? My initial thought was, “Is this the problem of social dilemma that Netflix warned me? Am I seeing what I want to see?” At first, I read all those beautiful quotes by our favorite grandpa. After a few quotes, I just skim through it. And later the moment I saw the name Keller at the end of the quote, I moved on to the next post. I did not even bother to skim the quote. In the same way, we can be very familiar with Christmas that we are no longer excited at the true gift of Christmas. But the true gift of Christmas is nothing short of breathtaking.
Listen to what John Piper said about Christmas. “Christmas is about the Creator of the universe, who is not himself part of the universe, moving himself, in the person of his Son, into the universe he made. And what makes this fact even more remarkable is that this created universe – the personal part of it, the more part of it – is in rebellion against its Maker, and yet he came into the universe that he made in order to save those who are in active rebellion against him.” Did you hear that? The true gift of Christmas is life-shattering and life-changing. We cannot receive this gift and remain the same. In our passage for today, it tells us what the true gift of Christmas is and how this gift changes everything about us.
There are four things that we can see in this passage: The surprise; the gift; the explanation; the response. And then I am going to give you three applications at the end.
Luke 1:26-29 – 26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
Notice that Luke specifically mentions that Mary is greatly troubled by what happened. She is extremely surprised by it. First, she does not expect an angel of the Lord to come to her. And second, for the angel to call her “O favoured one.” Why? Because nothing about her life show that she is favoured by God. Let’s look at Mary’s resume. Most scholars believe that Mary is about 13 or 14 years old at this time. She is a young teenager. She also comes from a poor family. She is an uneducated, unprivileged young girl. And she lived in a city called Nazareth. Today, we hear a lot about Nazareth from Christmas stories. But at that time, Nazareth is practically an unknown city in the middle of nowhere. To the point that people would ask, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” So, Mary is a nobody living in an unknown city in the middle of nowhere. Her only aspiration is to be married to her fiancé and raise her children. And out of the blue, here comes an angel of the Lord saying, “Greetings, O favored one!”
This is the surprise of Christmas. The first gift of Christmas is not given to someone who is well off. The question is, why Mary? Why not give the first gift of Christmas to some other more influential young girl? For example, Caiaphas’ daughter. Caiaphas is the high priest of Israel. And if God wants to give the gift of Christmas to a young girl, why not her? She is far more qualified than Mary. She is the daughter of the high priest of Israel. She is educated. She is raised in a good family with a great reputation. Why Mary? The surprise of Christmas is that the first gift of Christmas is given to a nobody in an unknown city in the middle of nowhere. Christmas is not good news for those who think they are strong but those who are weak and needy. The surprise of Christmas is that God favoured the lowly.
Now, we need to be clear about this. Some people believe that Mary is favoured by God because of her merits. They think of Mary as having special access to God that no one else does. So, they pray to Mary to appeal to God on their behalf. But that is wrong. Yes, Mary is favoured by God. But Mary is not favoured because of her own merit but because God has chosen her out of all woman. It is God who chose to show his favour to Mary. In fact, the word favoured is a passive participle in the original language. It means that Mary is not the source of favour but the object of favour. Mary is a lowly woman who received an unmerited favour from God. And it does not stop there. Mary is not only favoured because God has chosen her, but also by the fact that the Lord is with her. And I believe this is the true meaning of favour. Often times, we have wrong understandings of the favour of God. We think of favour of God when we get a good parking space every Sunday night when we go out to eat; when we get a pay rise in our work; when we get High Distinction. But the favour of God is not about getting what you want in life and post it on Instagram with #favour. The favour of God is not so much about getting promoted at work. It is not so much about getting a good grade at school. It is not so much about having a happy family. It is not so much about having a new car, apartment, house, gadgets. The favour of God is when God himself is with us. It is knowing that we do not deserve him, but he comes to be with us. That the God of heaven and earth would enter our misery and save us from our misery so that he could be with us. This is the surprise of Christmas.
Luke 1:30-33 – 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
After the surprise, here comes the gift of Christmas. And the gift is beyond what Mary could ever imagine. God has given her a son as a Christmas gift. And the son is no ordinary son. Gabriel is explicitly clear about who the son is. First of all, the son shall be named Jesus. And this is interesting. Think about it. Mary does not get to name her own son. Usually, the right and the authority to name a child belong to the parents. Imagine if you are eight months pregnant, and I come up to you and say, “You must name your child Yosia if it is a boy or Yosiana if it is a girl. Because I think it is the greatest name in the universe.” What would you do? You would say to me, “Who do you think you are? You don’t have the authority to name my child. This baby is mine. I and my husband have the right to name the child.” Am I right? But Mary does not get to name this son. With another word, Gabriel is saying, “You can name all your other child but not this one. This son is special. When this son comes into your life, you are not going to have authority over him. He is going to have authority over you. You don’t name him, but he names you. You don’t save him, but he saves you. You will call him Jesus, which mean God saves. He will be your Saviour.”
Second, the son will be great. Great in what? It does not say. Usually when someone is called great in the Bible, there is an explanation attached to it. For example, in the earlier verses when Gabriel tells Zachariah about John, Gabriel says that John will be great before the Lord. But not so with Jesus. Gabriel says that Jesus will be great. Full stop. It means that Jesus will be the very definition of great. He will be great in all things. Jesus might have born in a lowly place, but he is destined for greatness.
Third, the son will be called the Son of the Most High. The Most High is one of the titles of the God of Israel. With another word, Gabriel says that the son of Mary will be called the Son of God. And fourth, the son will receive the throne of David forever. This is very crucial. Because all of Israel is waiting for the son of David to come. God has promised to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 – 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. Yes, this promise does speak of Solomon, but it is not just about Solomon. This promise is pointing toward the offspring of David who will sit on the throne of David forever. There will be no end to his kingdom. All of Israel is waiting for this offspring of David to come. And now Gabriel tells Mary, “Your son is it. He is the fulfilment of all the promises of God toward Israel. He will be the most powerful ruler in the history of the world and his reign is forever.”
So, let’s put all of it together. Gabriel is saying to Mary, “Mary, your son will be named Jesus, he will be Saviour of the world. Your son will be great in all things. Your son will be called the Son of God. Your son will sit in the throne of David forever.” The gift of Christmas is far greater than what Mary could have imagined. No wonder Gabriel called Mary the favoured one. There is one Christmas song that asks the question, “Mary did you know that your baby boy…?” And if Mary is alive to hear the song, she would reply, “What make you think I did not know that my baby boy…? What do you think Gabriel is telling me about my son?” So here is the wonder of Christmas. The wonder of Christmas is that the baby that Mary will hold in her hand is none other than the God of the universe himself. This is how Timothy Keller puts it. “At Christmas Day, the infinite became finite, the immortal became mortal, the omnipotent literally became impotent, because the Creator of the universe became a single cell, the weakest and smallest version of life in the universe. The ideal became real. The supernatural became natural. The metaphysical became physical. The invulnerable became vulnerable. The impossible became possible.” At this time, Mary’s head is exploded. *kaboosh* Which leads to the next point.
Luke 1:34-37 – 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
After hearing the gift that she will receive, Mary is puzzled. She asks the question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Pay attention to what Mary is asking. Because earlier in the passage, Zachariah also asks the same question to Gabriel when he tells him that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son. Luke 1:18 – 18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And Gabriel answers by making Zechariah mute for his unbelief. But not Mary. Mary asks a similar question but instead of becoming mute, she receives an answer. What’s the difference? Did Gabriel forget to drink his morning coffee before he talks to Zechariah and that is why he is grumpy? I don’t think so.
Here is the difference between Zechariah’s question and Mary’s question. Zechariah is not sure whether or not he can believe what Gabriel said and he asks for confirmation. While Mary believes Gabriel, but she cannot imagine how it would happen. There are two kinds of doubts: cynical doubt and honest doubt. Cynical doubt looks at the promise of God and says, “There is no way this could be true. I can’t believe it. I need another sign for confirmation.” This is Zechariah. Honest doubt looks at the promise of God and says, “This promise is too wonderful for me. I don’t understand but I want to learn. Teach me.” This is Mary. Cynical doubt is not seeking for an answer. Cynical doubt already assumes that there is no answer. Honest doubt admits that it does not know and asks questions in order to find answers. Honest doubt is humble. Cynical doubt is rooted in unbelief. Honest doubt is rooted in “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” And because Mary asks the angel with honest doubt, she receives an answer. God is not afraid of our honest doubts.
So, Mary asks a question out of honest doubt. At that time, Mary is engaged already. Girls in those days get married really young. Engagement usually happens a year before the marriage. And Mary does not live together with her fiancé. She does not have a sexual relationship with him. And Mary knows her biology. She knows that in order to have a child, she needs to have sex with a man. But she hasn’t. She is a virgin. So, she asks, “How can I have a son when I never had sex?” And Gabriel answers, “Oh, don’t worry. You don’t need to have sex for this one. This son is special. What will happen is the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of God’s presence will make you pregnant. You will remain a virgin, but you will give birth to a son. And your son will be holy because he is the Son of God.”
I know your objection. “Wait! What? A virgin birth? A child conceived without sexual intercourse? Yos, are you serious? Do you want me to believe such nonsense?” Yes. I am not saying that it is easy to believe in a virgin birth, but I am saying that it is true. It is extremely important that Jesus is born of a virgin. Only a virgin birth preserves both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. If Jesus is not born of a woman, then Jesus could not be fully human. And it is necessary for Jesus to be fully human. Since it is human who sinned against God, it takes another human to succeed where the other had failed. But it is also necessary for Jesus to be fully God. If Jesus is not conceived by the Holy Spirit, he cannot be God. He is just an ordinary man. And if Jesus is not God, then he cannot save us. All of us are infected with a disease called sin from the moment of our conception. All of us are born with a propensity to do what is evil. If you do not believe me, join Sunday School ministry. I guarantee it won’t take you more than 10 minutes to believe that no child is born innocent. That means for someone to save us from sin, he must come from outside of us. He cannot be affected by our sinful nature. That is why Mary is conceived by the Holy Spirit. That is why Jesus is not just the son of Mary but he is also the Son of God. A virgin birth is necessary for Jesus to be both fully human and fully God.
And at this time, Mary still finds it hard to put her mind around the idea of a virgin birth. So, Gabriel gives her a sign. “Remember your cousin Elizabeth? She is in her old age and she was barren. But God has opened her womb and she conceived a son, and she is in her sixth month now.” With another word, Gabriel is telling Mary that if God is able to open a barren womb, he is also able to give a child to a virgin womb. And then comes one of the greatest declarations of the Bible. Luke 1:37 – For nothing will be impossible with God. My friends, listen to this. If God can give a child to a virgin womb, is there anything too hard for God to do in your life? Is there anything in your life that seems impossible? Is there a family problem that you cannot solve? Is there a financial problem that you cannot get rid of? Is there a relationship problem that you cannot reconcile? Is there a sin that you cannot forgive? Is there a person that you think cannot be saved? Is there a wall in your life that you cannot climb? Hear the word of the Lord on this Christmas day. Our God is the God of the virgin birth. And if God can do that, there is nothing impossible for him to do in our life. There is no problem too hard for him to solve. There is no wall too thick for him to destroy. There is no sin he cannot forgive. There is no relationship he cannot reconcile. There is no need he cannot meet. There is no sinner he cannot save. For nothing will be impossible with God.
Luke 1:38 – 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
I loved Mary’s response. After Gabriel gives her the explanation, she has no objection. She is willing to take God at his word. She believes that she is favoured by God. Look at her response. She does not say, “I must be a very special person for God to allow me to conceive his Son. I shall call myself the mother of God.” No, she doesn’t. But rather, she said, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” What a young girl! Now, think about it. When Mary called herself the servant of the Lord, she does not sign up to be the queen mother of God’s kingdom. She does not sign up for a life of pleasure. It is the other way around. When she gladly received the gift of Christmas, she signs up for a life of great sufferings. She is committing her life in total surrender to God. Think of what she has to go through.
First, she must be willing to give up on her engagement. There is no guarantee that her fiancé would be able to accept a pregnant fiancé, especially when it is not his. Second, she must be willing to give up on her reputation. Think of the absurd conversation she would have with other people. “Oh, I can see you are pregnant. How many months?” “Seven months. “Oh, that’s wonderful. Is it a boy or a girl?” “It’s a boy.” “Who is the father?” “The Holy Spirit. I never had sex.” “Okay, 911, there is a crazy girl loose on the street.” Right? Let’s say that her fiancé does accept her. Here is another problem. People count the date. They will find out that she got pregnant before the wedding. And they will talk. She will forever be known as the girl who conceived out of wedlock. Third, she must be willing to go through the physical pain of pregnancy. I heard the pain is enough to turn an angel into a temporary demon. And here is the most important part. In those days, there is no epidural. I heard it helps. And fourth, the worst of all, she must be willing to witness the death of her son. Nothing is more painful for parents than to witness the death of their own child. These are what Mary signed up for when she received the gift of Christmas. The gift of Christmas changes her life forever. And when we received the true gift of Christmas, it changes our life forever as well.
First, receive the Son. Here is our number one problem in life. We are sinful people. That means we are the enemy of God. We are not neutral. We hate God. But the radical claim of Christianity is that God made himself vulnerable to restore our relationship with him. We can’t enter a true relationship without making ourselves vulnerable. Let me give you an example. Back in the days, I used to fight with my older sister all the time. She was like my archenemy. Does anyone fight a lot with their sibling? So, every time we argued, we always blamed one another. “It’s your fault. You are the one who started the fight.” “No, it’s your fault. You did it.” “Oh no, it’s you.” “Oh no, no, it’s you.” “Oh no, no, no, it’s you.” And the no kept getting longer before we eventually wrestled one another. What happened? The relationship was falling apart because none of us would take the blame. None of us would admit where we were wrong. None of us wanted to drop our defences. We were defending ourselves at every point. And as long as those defences were up, I would not be able to have a proper relationship with her. But today, my sister is one of my best friends. Do you know what changed? Along the way, we learned to lower our defences. The no was getting shorter. So, it would sound like this. “It’s your fault. You are the one who started the fight.” “No, it’s your fault. You did it.” “Oh no, it’s you.” Then me being the mature one in the relationship, I would say, “Okay, maybe it’s me.” “Yes it’s… wait… what did you say?” And because of it, the relationship started to heal. The relationship started to deepen. Why? Because one of us dropped our defences. I mean, she might be 90% wrong most of the times and I was only 10% wrong. But when I made myself vulnerable and owned the 10% wrong that I did, the relationship slowly got better. Was it easy? No, it was very hard. It hurt. But was it worth it? Yes. Today, I have a sister who is also my best friend because of it. But it began with us letting our defences down and became vulnerable.
And this is the radical claim of Christianity. God is 100% right. We are 100% wrong. But God made himself vulnerable for us. God literally became breakable for us. He became fragile. He lowered his defences. The God of the universe became a baby who could be killed. He made himself vulnerable to restore our relationship with him. Jesus came to live a perfect life we could not and died a miserable death we deserved. He took all the blame so that he could give salvation to those who received him. Don’t miss it. Jesus Christ made himself vulnerable and gave himself as the true gift of Christmas so that we can have relationship with him. This is God’s way of saying that we cannot save ourselves. He must do it for us. If there is any other way, he would not give us himself. The only way for us to be saved is to receive the gift of Christmas. Have you received the Son?
Second, comfort in suffering. When Gabriel tells Mary that she is favoured by God, he also tells her that the Lord is with her. God knows exactly the kind of life Mary will have to go through. She will have to go through many pains and sufferings. But God assures her from the very beginning that she is not alone. The Lord is with her. Here is a question. What do we need most in our suffering? This is a tough lesson that I learned over the years. Back in my early pastoral days, whenever someone came up to me and told me their struggles, I would lecture them with Bible verses. I would tell them off and they would be upset with me. Some of you had been on the receiving end of it. I did not help you at all. I only succeeded in making you cry. On my defence, what I said was most likely true. But over the years, I learned that what suffering people need the most from me is not Biblical Theology 101. There is a time for that. But what they need the most from me is my presence. For me just to be there with them in their suffering. Isn’t that true about all of us? What we need most in our time of suffering is not a lecture but a presence. And this is the gift of Christmas. Every religion of the world has some kind of answers to the question of suffering. But only Christianity gives us the presence of God in the midst of suffering. The God of Christianity is not a God who is absent in our suffering. The God of Christianity entered our suffering. He became one of us and he was wounded just like us so that we can have the confidence that he is with us in our suffering.
Third, total surrender. The only appropriate response to the gift of Christmas is total surrender. If the God of the universe gave himself for us to save us completely, then all our life belongs to him. There is not one spot in our life where we can rightly say, “It’s mine.” Everything in our life is his. The question is, have we surrendered all to him? Have we surrendered our relationship to him? Have we surrendered our daily work to him? Have we surrendered our ministry to him? Have we surrendered our family to him? Have we surrendered our future to him? Or do we still want to be in control of our own life? Because there is no such thing as partial surrender before God. When we received the gift of Christmas, its either we give God all of us or none of us. Because that is what Jesus did. Look at what it cost Jesus to save us. It cost him everything. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus pleaded to God for God to remove the cup of his wrath from him. But then he said, “Not my will but Your will be done.” Jesus surrendered his life completely for our sake. And my prayer is that when we have received the true gift of Christmas, our response would be, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Let’s pray.
- Look back to 2020. What frustrated you the most and why?
- What is God’s favour? How do we know we have it?
- Explain the difference between cynical doubt and honest doubt. Why is it okay for us to have honest doubt?
- Read Luke 1:37. What do you think is the right application of this verse? Why do you think it is hard to trust it?
- Explain why it is good news that God made himself vulnerable for us.
- “The only appropriate response to the gift of Christmas is total surrender.” Is there any area in your life that you find difficult to surrender to God?