The Beautiful Trouble of Christmas
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.
When you read the Christmas narratives in Matthew 1-2 and in Luke 1-2 you realize that God is doing something REALLY BIG!
These events are along the lines of God speaking to Moses out of the burning bush. They are as profound as God speaking to Abraham in Genesis 12. God is about to do something big in salvation history.
One of the things that strikes me is the trouble that results when God breaks into human history in such a miraculous way. It seems pretty consistent. God promises Abraham an heir and he must then wait for 20 years. (Not to mention the whole sacrifice Isaac story.) God speaks to Moses and then sends him to a hard hearted Pharaoh who will have to see 10 big miracles and then experience the Red Sea drowning of his army. Each step of the way there is trouble. Why does God act in our lives in this way?
Maybe it is just inevitable that when folks who spend all their attention on the natural and what they can see come into contact with the supernatural that they cannot see, there is tension. This trouble, this tension is what I want us to look at today. But the trouble turns out to be good in every instance! What is going on??
God uses trouble to get out attention
- Trouble Gets Our Attention
- God provides Mary with trouble
It seems everyone in the Incarnation stories gets some trouble along with the blessing!
Zechariah and Elizabeth, the Shepherds, the Magi all experience trouble in the carrying out of God’s great plans!
I love Mary’s response: “How can this be?!” And she is faced with the task of informing Joseph and he is not sold on the virgin birth idea! He is going to break off the engagement politely.
The trouble for Joseph is a fiancé who is bearing a child. This will go with him his entire life. This will go with Mary her entire life.
John 8: 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?”
39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”
My own mother went through this in the 1950’s. Maybe this is why I am sensitive to it. My mom left home and went to live in a home for unwed mothers in Oakland California 120 miles away from her home. And Mary’s culture is even more unforgiving! She is protected by Joseph graciously. She is protected by the angels, and she is protected by God. God causes the trouble and then God protects from the trouble.
- God protects from the trouble
- Joseph is going to put Mary away. This would be the end of their marriage before it even began. This would be big trouble for Mary’s family. This would be huge trouble for Mary for the rest of her life. But God prevents this. The great natural initial fears will not be realized. God graciously sends an angel to Joseph. And God continues to work in their lives to confirm His hand in their situation.
- But even more than this. The very fact that God is so obviously interacting with their circumstances lets them know that more is going on than meets the eye. The trouble that comes from this is nothing compared to being the parents of Messiah! (Which as we read on, we realize has its own issues attached to it.)
God protects the Magi, God comforts the Shepherds, God sends angels to Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah. God sends Mary to Elizabeth. And at each step, God sends His Word because it is the Word of God that expresses the will of God throughout history!
- During Trouble God Speaks
- Angels are God’s messengers
This is pretty consistent throughout the Old Testament. Often God is speaking to His people through angels. Angels handle the announcement at Jesus’ tomb, even John, in his Revelation about Jesus is spoken to by an angel. And of course in the birth narratives, the angels carry all the information. But it does not matter if the information comes from angels or otherwise, God speaks during trouble to His people. And He gives them the wisdom and direction that they need in order to do His will.
- Scripture speaks
Why does Mary need to be a virgin and have a baby? To fulfill what is written by the prophet Isaiah in Scripture:
Why the miraculous birth for Zechariah and Elizabeth? It follows the Old Testament pattern of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Joseph, Samson, Samuel and now John the Baptist.
In each of these instances, Scripture lets us know that what is happening, while unusual, is not disconnected from God. In fact, it follows after what God has done before and what God has said that He would do.
Why the death of the children and flight into Egypt?
- It is prophesied, so God knew Herod would be a maniac and selfishly destroy children to protect himself in his paranoia.
- Jesus is a prophet like Moses and this is a key symbol that shows that connection!
So, God speaks to us, what do we need to do?
- Believe God’s Word
Here we have a surprising contrast in the story. Zechariah is not willing to believe, so God gives him a painful sign.
Mary and Joseph believe and act accordingly.
The shepherds believe and go to find Jesus.
The Magi are warned in a dream and after seeing Jesus, they provide gifts to provide for his family in their exile and they obey and do not return to Herod.
Ok, so what is the reaction to God working in the lives of all these folks in the Incarnation narratives?
III. Trouble Gets Overwhelmed
- Trouble proves God’s goodness
Mary is the one most closely related to Jesus’ Incarnation. She will hold the pregnancy, she will have, nurture and raise the baby. She will minister to Him during His three year public ministry. She will be at the cross as He is crucified. She is a lifetime believer in the deity of her Son. Mary’s response at the announcement of the angel is amazing!
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
- Trouble proves God’s love
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
From generation to generation. Just like God has worked in the past because of His covenant love for His people, so He is working now. God is expressing His mercy in the incarnation of His Son. And to show that Jesus is the “Second Adam” and therefore a sinless sacrifice, He will be born of a virgin. He is both God and man. This makes the virgin birth, though strange, a necessity!
For God so loved the world, He gave His one and only Son!
And this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His Son to be the payment for our sins. I John 4:10
- Trouble proves God’s power
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
God has the power to break into history. God has the power to take trouble and turn it into blessing! God has the power to care for us in every life circumstance. If we don’t go through those circumstances, then we don’t know this from personal experience. And so, we go through the trouble.
- Trouble proves God’s wisdom
Will you trust God in your trouble? When you do you are living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, and not just bread alone. When you do, then the prayer: Thy kingdom come… is answered. When you do, then you have discovered your daily bread. When you do, you have discovered and lived out God’s will. You are following Jesus Christ’s teaching and example! Christmas has born the appropriate fruit in your life and the trouble experienced by everyone in the very first Christmas is now worth it!!
God works in mysterious ways we say. All this means is that His ways are not our ways. Why would this be?
So, what is God’s goal for your life? He wants you to believe that He is there and then obey His will and desire for your life. He wants to give you the best life possible for you. You should look for direction for your marriage, your family, your friends, your work, your church and your community. God has instructions for how to direct your relationships and what to do with all of your life. Be blessed like Mary!