Come, little children, gather around, and we shall listen to the Christmas story.
You do remember, don’t you, that the angel Gabriel came to the temple in Jerusalem? He visited the priestZacharias in the Holy Place, and told him that he and his wife Elisabeth would have a son. For years they had wanted a baby. For years they had waited, but now they were actually too old to have children. So they had given up hoping for one. Yes, now that they were old they were going to have a son. This would be a very special son, because he would be a prophet who would point out the promised Savior. And that meant that soon the long awaited Savior would also be born. O, it seemed so strange to Zacharias, too strange to believe. He could not believe his ears. No, not even when an angel came direct from heaven to tell him. He should have believed it, for nothing is impossible with God. And yet he asked for a sign. Gabriel gave him a sign, but not a nice sign at all. Because he would not believe, he was not able to hear nor to speak until John was born.
A half year later Gabriel was again sent out by God. This time he was sent, not to Jerusalem, but to a far away city of Galilee. In this small city of Nazareth lived a young woman whose name was Mary. She was not married as yet, but she was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. Now both Mary and Joseph were poor. They did not belong to the rich, but to the poor among the Jews. Yet that did not bother them much. What did bother them was that wicked king Herod sat on the throne of David in Jerusalem. You see, they were both of the family of David. Mary was even of the kingly line of David, out of which the promised Savior was to be born. Mary was maybe even the last one of that royal line. And so in these dark times Mary and Joseph, along with many other God-fearing people, were looking eagerly for the promised Savior. They longed for the One Who would save them from their sin, for they knew that they needed such a Savior, just as we do.
And then one day as Mary was sitting alone in her small home, Gabriel came to her. I do not think that she heard him knock on the door. She likely did not even notice him until he stood there in front of her. She was surprised to see a young man, so beautiful, so holy, that she knew at once that he was an angel. Because she knew that she was a sinner, she felt very uncomfortable in his presence. For he had just come out of heaven. She wondered why a heavenly messenger should come and visit her, a common, ordinary woman. She was afraid.
But what made her more afraid was the message he brought. She heard him say, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you. Of all women you are the most blessed.” Why would he say that to her? What made her the favored one of God, the most blessed among women? She trembled in fear and wonder.
But Gabriel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God has chosen you to be the mother of the promised Savior.” And then he went on to tell her that she should call her son’s name Jesus. For He would be king to rule over God’s people, a king like David. And yet He would be far greater than David, because His kingdom is in heaven, where He will rule over all His people and over-all the new creation just for ever and ever.
That all seemed almost too wonderful to be true. She asked: “How shall this be? I am not even married.” Yes, she had promised Joseph to marry him, but could the great Son of David be the son of Joseph and of her, when she alone was of the royal line of David? With wonder in her eyes and amazement in her voice she whispered, “How shall this be since I am not married?”
Then angel Gabriel told her about one of the biggest wonders that has ever happened in this world. God told Gabriel exactly what to say, so that Mary would understand. And so he did. She knew that it must be true, because no one less than an angel had told her. And we know that it is true, because it is written for us in the Bible. It is such a great wonder, yet we believe it, because God gives us faith to believe it.
Do you know what the angel told Mary?
Listen. She would not need a husband to have this child. This son would not have an earthly father, as you and I do. God would be His Father. And He would be the very Son of God. As Mary listened she heard the angel say: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest will overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy One that shall be born of thee shall be called the SON of GOD.”
And then she found herself alone again, thrilled with the wonderful message that held her spell-bound with amazement.
Now the angel dropped a hint to her. He told her about Zachariah and Elisabeth, that they were to have a son in their old age. Gabriel wanted her to know that with the Lord nothing is impossible. He is able to do all things, even the greatest wonders.
As she sat there thinking, she began to see how hard it would be for her to tell these things to her family, to her friends, and especially to Joseph. How would they understand when it was so hard for her to grasp this wonder. Then she thought about Elisabeth. She would understand! For she also was expecting a baby by the wonder of God. O, how she wanted to talk to her cousin, just to pour out her soul to somebody who was able to be thrilled by this secret with her. It was a long journey, but she wanted to go so badly that even that did not stop her from going. And was that maybe the reason why the angel had told her about Elisabeth? It must be. The more she thought about it, the better she understood that God was telling her to go. So she went.
After traveling a few days she stood at the door of her cousin. Imagine Elisabeth’s surprise when she saw Mary. They threw their arms around each other in happy greeting. But at that moment something else happened. For months Elisabeth must have wondered about her own baby, who was to prepare the way for the Savior. And soon she began to wonder who that Savior would be. And who would be the happy mother. Now she knew. Before Mary could say a word to her she knew that God had chosen Mary to be the mother of Jesus.
She held Mary at arm’s length and almost shouted: “Ah, blessed mother of my Lord! And blessed is your son. How can God ever be so kind to me as to send you to me just at this time?”
How did she know? Her own baby stirred within her, telling her about Mary. No, that did not just happen. God was already using John to prepare the way before Jesus! The Holy Spirit told Elisabeth: “Your son is already meeting his Lord and preparing the way before Him. Mary is the mother of the promised Savior.”
Now it was Mary’s turn to be surprised. For now she knew that what the angel told her had already happened. The Holy Ghost had come upon her. The power of the Most High God had already worked within her, and was working even now to make her the mother of God’s holy Son, Jesus.
Mary stayed there three months. She and Elisabeth had so many things to talk about. Every day they talked about the great wonders that God was working to bring salvation to His people. They marveled to think that God would use them to carry out His promises.
And all the while Mary sang in her heart:
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
He that is mighty hath done to me great things;
And holy is His Name.