Christmas Grace (Luke 1)
CHRISTMAS GRACE (LUKE 1:26-38)
There is a tradition that Jonathan Edwards, third president of Princeton and one of America’s greatest thinkers, had a daughter with an uncontrollable temper. But, as is often the case, this weakness was not known to the outside world.
A worthy young man fell in love with her and sought her hand in marriage. “You can’t have her,” was the abrupt answer of Jonathan Edwards.
“But I love her,” the young man replied.
“You can’t have her,” said Edwards.
“But she loves me,” continued the young man.
Again Edwards said, “You can’t have her.”
“Why?” asked the young man.
“Because she is not worthy of you.” “But,” he asked, “she is a Christian, is she not?”
“Yes, she is a Christian, but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live.” (from Illustrations of Bible Truths # 936)
Christmas is often associated with words such as joy, peace, worship, praise and goodwill, but the first good news of Christmas is that of grace.
What is Christmas grace? Why is grace a strength and not a weakness? How does grace make life worth living? How do we embrace grace?
Cast All Cares to the Lord
26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:26-29)
Fresh out of business school, the young man answered a want ad for an accountant. Now he was being interviewed by a very nervous man who ran a small business that he had started himself. "I need someone with an accounting degree," the man said. "But mainly, I'm looking for someone to do my worrying for me."
"Excuse me?" the accountant said.
"I worry about a lot of things," the man said. "But I don't want to have to worry about money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back."
"I see," the accountant said. "And how much does the job pay?"
"I'll start you at eighty thousand."
"Eighty thousand dollars!" the accountant exclaimed. "How can such a small business afford a sum like that?"
"That," the owner said, "is your first worry."
Christmas is the best of times despite the worst of times. Soon to be rocked by scandal, reviled by society and rife with questions, Mary understandably was “greatly troubled” (v 29) or “dia-tarasso” in Greek - shocked, stunned and shaken. The angel’s presence, ironically, did not ease her mind or help things out; instead, it stressed her out. Six months ago (Luke 1:24-26) an angel’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth’s family, specifically to the husband Zechariah, was the talk of the town, a tall tale at best, a terror even to skeptics. Zechariah was silent and unable to speak (Luke 1:20), remaining speechless since until who knew when.
Christmas is, in fact, the occasion of three “troubles” or “tarasso” in Greek. The first “trouble” describes how Zechariah was “startled/troubled” and was gripped with fear by an angel’s appearance (Luke 1:12). The last “trouble” sent shock waves, stirred a city, spawned much discontent and stimulated for change, recounting how King Herod, along with all Jerusalem, was “disturbed” by the magi’s news (Matt 2:3).
Sandwiched between two “troubles” is the mother of them all. Half a year after Zechariah’s trouble, Mary was “greatly troubled” (v 29) by an angel’s appearance and announcement. This Greek word (dia-tarasso) makes its first and only occurrence in the Bible, meaning “total, thorough, throughout” (dia-) and verse 12’s “troubled” (tarasso). Zechariah and Herod were troubled (tarasso) (Matt 2:3), but Mary was greatly troubled” (dia-tarasso). No one could imagine the tension, her turmoil and test. NASB translates it as “very perplexed.” Although Mary did not hear about her pregnancy yet, no biblical character had the same experience, no one could understand her feelings or share her emotions, and no one was in like quandary. You can say she was stretched to the limit. No wonder, her “wonder” (v 29) or “dia-logizomai” has the same preposition “dia” attached to it.
One can imagine the “great trouble” and the full impact of the angel’s sudden appearance, ironically the same angel, especially if upright and blameless relative Zechariah had experienced the same and ended up mute (Luke 1:12). It was an uninvited déjà vu moment and an unwanted “oh-oh” and “oh-no” experience.
But readers can see Mary was tough and tender, trusting and triumphant. Although she was confused to the limit, she was visited and comforted by the best. It was such extraordinary news that God sent one of his top angels to send the message with a message to rejoice. There are only two top named angels in the Bible –Michael and Gabriel. Michael brings bad news to God’s foes (Rev 12:7), and Gabriel brings good news to God’s friends (Luke 1:19, 26). The New Testament begins with Gabriel and ends with Michael. The news Gabriel brought was one: The Lord is with you (v 28). The Christmas message in Matthew is “God with US” (Matt 1:23), but the message of Luke is “the Lord is with YOU.” (Luke 1:28).
Count on Grace from the Lord
30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." 34 "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:30-34)
The 2011 Cannes Film Festival winner “The Tree of Life” champions the superiority of grace, with Brad Pitt acting as the father unhappy about and unfulfilled with his work. To a southern couple from Texas were born three boys in the 1950s. The three boys’ happy childhood were wrecked by a bitter, harsh and abusive dad, but rescued by a loving, sweet and tender mother. The boys were not allowed to call the father (Brad Pitt) “dad.” They have to close the door again 5o times if not done properly or too noisily. Every request to their father (e.g. passing the salt) must be accompanied by the title “Sir.”
The oldest son’s rebellion ranged from stealing neighbors’ underwear to harboring thoughts of killing his father. He was a successful architect as an adult but he could not shake off his frustrations, until he embraced his mother’s grace, love and forgiveness. His mother’s voice guided him to the right path, often whispering in the background:
“The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.”
“The nuns taught us there were two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow…Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. It accepts insults and injuries…Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.”
“No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.”
“Grace” is more uncommon than you think. Have you noticed how often grace is mentioned in Matthew and Mark? Not at all, because it occurs for the first time in the New Testament, both the verb (v 28 “highly favored”) and the noun (v 30 “favor”). Shockingly the word is absent from the gospels of Matthew and Mark, but it occurs four times in John (John 1:14, 16, 17) and eight times in Luke (Luke 1:30, 2:40, 2:52, 4:22, 6:32, 17:9), the most among the four gospels. Eight of its total 12 times in the gospels is related to Jesus or Mary. It is not too far-fetched to speculate that it is reserved for Mary’s occasion. No one deserves a better honor, tribute, praise and salutation.
What is GRACE then? It’s been said, Grace means God giving us what we do not deserve. An acrostic for grace says, “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” No one can quite epitomize, exemplify and embody grace like Mary. No one needs it, nurtures or normalizes grace for everyday living like Mary either. We can examine grace from the divine and human perspective. First, from God’s perspective:
1. It is a gift (2 Cor 8:4 - gift) or a present from Him. The word grace itself means gift.
2. It is a relationship with God (Luke 2:52 – Jesus grew in favor with God and man),
3. It is acceptance and approval by God through what Christ did on the cross,
4. It is the character of God – Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). We have all received grace upon grace…grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:16-17). Luke 4:22 – Jesus’ gracious words.
5. It is the exaltation from God (Luke 1:48 - bless).
From the human perspective to Mary as a recipient it means:
1. Living a life of gratitude (Luke 6:32-342 Cor 8:16), also translated “thanks” (2 Cor 2:14, 9:15).
2. Living a life of rejoicing. See Luke 1:47 - “rejoiced.” Philem 7 - translated as joy.
3. Living a life of abundance. (Luke 1:42, 1:45 “blessed”)
4. Living a life of courage (v 30)
5. Living a life with enough. My grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9)
There are many ways to see God’s untold, undeserving yet unveiled favor, in terms of time, role, purpose, character, residence and revelation, examining verse 30, verses 31-32a and 32b-33.
vv 30, 31-32a, 32b-33:
TIME - Current, Coming, Ceaseless
ROLE - Mary’s Child, God’s Son , David’s Heir
MISSION - His Person , His Power , His Promise
NATURE - Man, Maker, Messiah
RESIDENCE - Presence on Earth, Preexistence with God, Permanence in Reign
REVELATION - Savior: His Deliverance, Son: His Divinity, Sovereign : His Dominion
Are you carrying a heavy burden today? Is a cloud of darkness boxing you in? Cast all your anxiety on the Lord because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
Choose to Live for the Lord
38 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)
In the movie Captain America, Steve Rogers was a ninety-pound asthmatic weakling who never gives up fighting bullies although he was often rescued by his best friend. Receiving many rejection letters, he futilely uses many addresses to enlist in the army. An army scientist was impressed with his determination to succeed and cleared the path for him to join, hoping to use him as an experiment to create a super soldier to fight Hitler’s army.
Steve was a failure in all physical exercises. In one test, however, all recruits jumped away from a fake grenade thrown to the ground, but Steve grabbed it and covered it with his body, at the same time yelling for his fellow soldiers to leave.
When asked why he chose a scrawny, small fry like him instead of a strapping big guy, the scientist answered that he saw the good and courageous side of Steve, and that the powerful serum he created was not for everybody because it made “good people great and bad people worse.”
What kind of a woman did God choose to be the mother of Jesus? Mary was a graceful, giving, godly, good and gentle servant of God. Chronologically, the first servant (v 38) in the New Testament is a woman, the second servant being Simeon (Luke 2:29). In other gospels, the same word (doulos) is recorded much later (Matt 8:9, Mark 10:44, John 4:51). The climax of Luke’s account is not the proclamation of Gabriel or the promise of Jesus but the permission of Mary, especially the expression coming from her mouth (v 48). Her head comprehended it, her body conceived it, but her heart must confess it! A conversion and a conviction must happen, and not just a command or commission taking place.
The story moved from Mary’s troubles to her turnaround, and now to her trust. She reacted timidly, responded tentatively the second time, and rebounded triumphantly the last time. The first time she said nothing, the second she sought clarification, the third she sang praises. Note that Mary had no choice previously. The angel did not ask her before conception if she was willing to be the mother of Jesus. The first announcement was, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (vv 30-31). She was speechless until the angel’s second speech, for a reason. Also, Gabriel did not ask for her opinion, her endorsement and her consent. Presently, however, she had a choice on how to live her life - in fear or in faith, believing or begrudging, trust or distrust, hope or hopelessness, joy or judgment.
God had blessed Mary, a Jewish commoner from Nazareth, to be the mother of the Lord (Lk 1:43). Mary knew that she was not necessarily the most qualified, the most resourceful, and the most deserving. The only unique reason why God chose her was “grace” - that she was a descendant of David.
Before, Mary did not have to say yes and sign off to be a mother. Yet Mary now was more than the bearer and mother (Luke 2:34); she was a servant (v 38, 48), a believer and a leader (Acts 1:14). Mary’s response was short but decisive. She answered the angel Gabriel, “(Behold) I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38) Her life presently was one of confidence in God, cooperation with Him and commitment to Him. The “behold” (v 38) declaration means to see, listen, pay attention. It is designed to add interest, involvement, intensity to it, to echo the angel’s cry and call of conviction, confidence and certainty previously in verse 31 and 36. She became the first servant in the New Testament.
Conclusion: The greatest gift God gave to us for Christmas is to send the Savior, but the greatest gift we give to Him is to be a servant. As a servant (doulos) ask yourself: Am I distinguished in service? Am I obedient in tasks? Am I unflagging in effort? Am I lowly in attitude? Am I organized in life? Am I strong in body?
Who When Where
26 angel Gabriel
27 virgin 2x
31 a son
32 Lord God
35 Holy Ghost
the Son of God
36 cousin Elisabeth
38 handmaid of the Lord
26 sixth month
33 for ever
36 in her old age
29 in her mind
31 in thy womb