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The Annunciation of Jesus

By R. Kent Hughes
Author, "The Gift of Christmas" from The Gift of Christmas)The annunciation story is a story of singular beauty and wonder. But its beauty is especially piercing because it is true, firmly fixed in real people in an actual place in history.

The setting was in fact a shock to first-century Jews -- that the angel Gabriel would ignore Judea, the heartland of God's work through the centuries, and go instead to the region of Galilee, a land of abiding contempt because of its religious impurity. Even more, that the angel would bypass the majestic city of Jerusalem for the lowly village of Nazareth.

Nazareth was a "non-place" -- not even mentioned in the Old Testament or in any Jewish writings of the day. Nazareth was a shoddy, corrupt halfway stop between the port cities of Tyre and Sidon, overrun by Gentiles and Roman soldiers. Straight-talking Nathaniel, Jesus' disciple, even exclaimed, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 14:6). Everybody knew Nazareth wasn't much.

Yet Gabriel skipped Judea and Jerusalem and even the Jewish Temple, the most holy place of all. By what strange, divine design would the choice fall upon the humble home of Mary, which certainly wasn't much?

And in the world's eyes, Mary surely wasn't much either. She was too young to have accomplished anything -- perhaps fourteen, more probably just twelve, as leading scholars conclude. A poor pheasant girl, in a no-place village, she would have been illiterate, her knowledge of the Scriptures limited to what she has heard in the synagogue and committed to memory in her home.

We can only imagine how Mary felt when Gabriel appeared to her. In the familiarity of Luke's words we almost miss the startling reality:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"

What could Mary have thought -- the angel Gabriel standing before her, and then this strange greeting? What could it possibly mean?

We must all agree that the Virgin Mary is the most blessed of women, and that "the Blessed Virgin Mary" is therefore a fitting designation. The title springs naturally from Mary's own words in her Magnificat: "From now on all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48). Mary was the only woman out of all the billions ever to live on our planet who was chosen to carry and nurse God's Son. For that we must call her "blessed." The Savior would come from her womb. He bored the look of her human features. Jesus' face could be seen in hers.

Mary's response to Gabriel's greeting reveals another of her blessed heart's qualities: She "was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what kind of greeting this might be." Literally, she kept pondering the meaning of the greeting, searching its depths.

This is a truly remarkable picture. Young and inexperienced as she was, Mary was reflective and meditative. She knew the theological grace of contemplation. She stood atop the mount of grace and meditated upon what this meant for her and what it would require from her. In our frenetic, uncontemplative age, Mary's example has special relevance. For only those who take the time to ponder God's Word will experience the birth of the Savior in their lives.

If Mary was surprised by the initial greeting, how much more by the Annunciation itself! Gabriel's words are shocking: "And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.'"

At this point Mary hardly could have understood everything, "Jesus" was a common name that meant "savior." But what did this really mean? "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High," Gabriel continued -- and the vagueness immediately evaporated.

The impact must have been staggering. The child would be God's won Son: "And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be on end." Gabriel was telling Mary that she would mother the long-awaited Messiah. Without a doubt Mary understood! Gabriel was reciting the messianic prophecy called the "Davidic Covenant" -- the same prophetic words Mary and every devout Jew of the day had heard time and again in the synagogue readings and longed to see fulfilled.

The meaning, in all its stupendous significance, was clear to Mary: "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus."

Humbly, knowingly, Mary reflected on Gabriel's words. But something didn't make sense. Her question was only logical: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" Mary did not disbelieve -- she was merely asking for enlightenment. The question was simply biological: "God, how are You going to do this?"

Mary is the spiritual model for every believer -- for all who experience the Savior's birth. For the answer to Mary's question -- "God, how is it possible?" -- must be found by everyone who would have the birth of the Savior in their own lives.

The answer Mary received marvelously foreshadowed God's personal answer to us: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you," Gabriel explained, "and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy -- the Son of God." The words of Gabriel describe nothing less than the virgin birth of Christ.

God's answer to Mary beautifully parallels the experience of all who have personally come to know the birth of Christ as the miraculous, life-giving work of the Holy Spirit come upon them, transforming them and bestowing life within.

Mary's encounter with Gabriel was nearly over, but before returning to the heavens, Gabriel left Mary with a sign and an unshakable promise. "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." All of this is incredibly impossible, the modern critic would say. And as if to answer directly, Gabriel proclaimed the timeless truth that "nothing will be impossible with God." God will fulfill His Word. It is as simple as that.

Mary, of course, knew instinctively that her story would be questioned, and indeed even Joseph himself doubted. She knew that the death penalty was prescribed for adultery in ancient Israel. But despite these daunting realities, Mary's ringing response was, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." Mary's submission to God was total and absolute.

For Luke the theologian, Mary was the model for all who experience the birth of Christ in their lives. The answer to all our deepest needs comes in one word: submission to God's will. "I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." These are the words that bring God's blessing. These are the words that bring eternal life.

In the world's eyes, Mary certainly wasn't much -- a poor peasant girl in a no-place village. But she was willing to submit herself completely to the Lord. As such she reveals the eternal truth that God comes only to those who are humble and poor in spirit, who acknowledge their weakness and sin, who realize they need Him -- they cannot make it on their own. And to all who humbly come to Him in belief, He gives the gift of eternal life.

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R. Kent Hughes has been in the pastoral ministry for forty years, the last twenty-five as pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Dr. Hughes is the author of 25 books, among them the best-selling Disciplines of a Godly Man, and is editor of the projected 50-volume Preaching the Word Bible Commentary series. He and his wife, Barbara, have four children and eighteen grandchildren.

Excerpted from The GIft of Christmas, copyright © 1994 by R. Keny Hughes. Used by Permission

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