This is a copy of my talk given at Emmanuel, Billericay, on Sunday 20 December 2020. The Bible reading was Luke 1:26-38.
Although integral to the Christmas story, Mary isn’t often spoken about at Christmas services and I think that’s because Mary is one of history’s most misunderstood women. She’s been misunderstood by those who claim she was a perpetual, sinless virgin and by those who see her, rather than Jesus, as the mediator between God and men. But we can miss how remarkable a woman Mary was. A woman devoted to God in her thoughts, words and actions. A woman whose life was consumed by God, to such an extent, she was willing to commit herself, totally, to the sacrifice she was being asked to make. This morning I want to think about four ways in which ‘Mary was a Bringer of Hope’ – and hope is something I’ve spoken a lot about in recent weeks/months.
1) Mary: A Woman of Hope.
Was it a dream? Was she hallucinating? She couldn’t be sure. But it’s interesting to read that Mary was more troubled by what the angel said, vs29, than by the fact an angel had appeared before her. And as Mary, vs29: … wondered what kind of greeting this might be … Gabriel speaks again, vs30-33: Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name 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, his kingdom shall never end.
Mary lived in the knowledge that God had spoken through the prophets and she, along with her people, was longing for, and expecting, the anointed one from God, the Messiah, the one who would give them back their land and re-establish the golden age which they’d experienced under King David (just as the angel had promised in vs32-33).
And even though several thousand years had passed since God made His covenant with Abraham, Mary lived in the hope that God would fulfil all that he had promised vs54-55. But God’s choosing of Mary reminds us, even as we approach the end of 2020, that the God of history is as faithful to us today as he has been since before time itself began.
2) Mary: A Source of Hope.
Mary is overwhelmed when the angel tells her that she, a lowly peasant girl, is to be the mother of the Messiah and she is amazed that she was to play such a strategic part in His coming, vs31. Mary realises that she’s not simply going to have a baby but will bear a son who will fulfil the promises of God to his chosen people. We know that Mary was content to be a servant, vs38, but I’m not sure how much Mary understood what being the earthly mother of the Messiah would mean. She trusted in God and her words of prophecy certainly say what she believed, but did she know what it would entail?
Did Mary know the heartache she would face, the kind that only a mother could experience, when she would see her son hanging on a cross? Did she really understand, when she questioned God’s plans and purposes, where it would all end? However, because of her faith, Mary doesn’t doubt for one moment what the angel has to say, though she wants to sort out one or two of practicalities, vs34: How can this be since I am a virgin? How can this be? This is surely the question that rests on so many of our hearts when we hear the story of Mary.
A young boy told his mum that he had some homework, so he asked her how he was born. ‘Er … a stork brought you’ said his embarrassed mother. Looking a little confused, he turned to his grandmother; ‘How was mum born?’ he asked. ‘Well … your grandfather and I prayed to God and one day we found your mum under a gooseberry bush.’ She replied. ‘And what about you, were you born the same way?’ ‘Oh yes’ replied his grandmother. Later the boy wrote in his homework report: ‘There hasn’t been a natural birth in my family for three generations.’
The angel answers both Mary’s, and our, question, vs35-37: …The Holy Spirit will come upon you … the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God … for nothing is impossible with God. Mary is fully prepared to accept that nothing is impossible to God, and that yes, God is with her and wants to bless her and, through her, bless others, and how he wants to use her to as an instrument in ensuring His promises of healing and of wholeness and of salvation become a reality. I wonder, what would our reaction be? Would we believe, doubt, or just be plain terrified? Would our soul glorify the Lord and our Spirit rejoice in God our Saviour?
3) Mary: Saw Hope in God’s Mercy
There’s no doubt Mary’s role, as a willing servant, would require selfless obedience. It wasn’t without great cost and would present her with many potential difficulties because of her situation. She was a single woman who was pregnant. The pressures, both socially and religiously, were immense. Imagine the scepticism and alienation Mary faced by her assertion that the child she was carrying was to be the Son of God!
And in the midst of all this makes reference, in her song of praise, of those who will receive, and experience, God’s mercy for themselves, just as she did. In fact, there are three specific groups mentioned: the helpless, vs51; the humble, vs52; the hungry, vs53. Mary saw the Lord turning everything upside down (down side up): the weak dethrone the mighty; the humble scatter the proud; the hungry are filled and the rich end up poor. Mercy means that God withholds judgement when it’s deserved and God’s grace works contrary to the thoughts and values of this world.
God is merciful to those who throw themselves at his mercy. It’s not His will to judge or condemn anyone. 2 Peter 3:9: … the Lord does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. And those who believe and trust in Him will, and do, find God to be both merciful and forgiving.
4) Mary: Gave Hope to the World
A humble young peasant girl had been chosen to serve God in a very special way and Mary’s obedience made it possible for the hope of the coming Messiah to be made a reality. Mary lacks all the credentials that most humans think important for anyone making such a dramatic change in history. An illustration, if any is needed, that God (does indeed) choose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. (1 Corinthians 1:27).
God chooses the ordinary things of life to make his presence known. And it’s from small towns like Bethlehem where a child is born to a peasant woman from Nazareth in Galilee, whose son is the hope of the nations.
Mary said that the Messiah would bring justice and salvation, forgiveness and healing, and lead His people back to a time of peace and prosperity. The Jews, of course, were hoping for a warrior king, but He would be born in a stable not a palace. He would wear a crown of thorns not of gold.
It would be thirty years before he would be ready to fulfil his ministry. They wanted Him to ride on a thoroughbred, yet he rode on a donkey. He would die a criminal’s death, not one of great honour and glory in battle. An anonymous poet once said:
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent an economist. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour.
Someone once wrote: Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live – and that’s so true. In the difficult and often confusing COVID 19 world in which we live today hope, for many people, is something that seems to be short supply. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that in a world of pain, grief and sorrow, of complex family relationships, of problems at work – alongside many other hardships of life causing sadness, loneliness and depression – hope, for many people, has died a death!
But hope, I believe, is one of the key Christian attributes and one of the most important gifts we can give to the world today. And nothing, nothing, brings hope back to life like the Christmas story. For the Christmas message of peace on earth and good will to all men, gives us hope in a bewildering world and hope to face the uncertainties of the future.
Mary’s willingness to put everything to one side in order to allow the King of heaven to have His way in her life is one of the most important lessons we could ever learn. Mary was a woman of hope, living in a community of hope, who expected God to make his presence felt in the world. May I encourage each of us to ask the Lord to give us a spirit of hope this Christmas – just like Mary – a hope that can change and transform the hearts and lives of ordinary people like Mary, like me and like you.
This is one of my all-time favourite Christmas songs, sung by one of my fave country artists, Kathy Mattea.
There have been several versions of this song over the years, with some amazing videos showing the life of Jesus – google them and see!
This is a simple version (and the original) which let’s the words and music speak for itself without distraction.