In this lesson, we revisit, with a sense of reverent awe, the events of the first Christmas.
If we can read the Christmas story in Luke 1 with a sense of wonder today, it will most assuredly take on new meaning for us. We’ve heard it so many times that if we are not careful, it settles down into the comfort zone of our mental process and we lose the sense of the incredible wonder of what happened when Christ was born.
I. Five Statements that Were Fulfilled
a. The Virgin Birth
b. The Humanity of Jesus
c. The Messiahship of Jesus
d. The Omnipotence of God
e. The Deity of Jesus
II. Two Statements Yet to Be Fulfilled
a. The Throne of David
b. He Shall Reign Forever
In Luke 1:26–38 we read:
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
A young virgin named Mary is engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. Then Mary is visited by an angel. This particular passage is referred to as “The Annunciation.” Many believe that Luke learned the details of this story directly from Mary as he researched the background of the gospel.
The angel Gabriel, who appeared to Mary, is one of two angels mentioned by name in the Bible. Michael is the great defender, while Gabriel is the great revealer. This whole dialog probably took place in Mary’s home. She lived in a city of questionable reputation, yet we know she was of a pharisaic line and of royal descent. When the angel came to Mary, many people of her day were totally oblivious to any events that would have a permanent or universal influence. But one thing was true: every woman desired to become the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.
In verse 28 we read that the angel spoke to Mary and said, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women.” This was the introduction to the message that would change the course of the world.
Perhaps no section of the gospel narrative has been more misunderstood than the words the angel spoke to Mary. When the angel said, “Rejoice, highly favored one,” he was simply giving to her a greeting of great importance. In the King James Version, it is translated “full of grace.” Likewise, the Latin Vulgate speaks of her as being “full of grace.”
One commentator points out that “if by full of grace we mean full of grace received, then we understand the passage. But if we mean full of grace to give to others, then we have totally misapplied the words of the angel. Mary does not have grace that she bestows on others, no matter what anyone may teach.”
Then the angel said, “Blessed are you among women.” Elizabeth uses the same expression later on in the same chapter. “Blessed are you among women” is simply an expression that explains how Mary had been chosen from among the women to be the mother of our Lord. There is no indication that this choice was due to Mary’s own worthiness. She was selected by the sovereignty of God.
“The Lord is with you,” said the angel. That does not mean that at that moment conception took place miraculously. It simply conveys the idea that through this very difficult process the Lord would be with her and help her to comprehend all of the imponderables that were cast upon her that day.
And then in verses 30–31, the message of this great wonder comes home to the heart of this young woman. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.” Once again, when the angel said that Mary had found favor with God, he was conveying no more than was communicated about Noah in the Old Testament, where we read that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
The Child’s name is given by God, and we are told that His name is Jesus.
In verses 30 and following, seven statements that the angel gave to Mary are prophetic statements of great importance. Five of them were fulfilled when Jesus came the first time. Two of them will be fulfilled in the future.
Five Statements that Were Fulfilled
Notice what the angel told Mary about her yet-to-be-born baby: “You will conceive in your womb.” “You will … bring forth a Son.” “You … shall call his name Jesus.” “He will be great.” And, “He … will be called the Son of the Highest.”
Wrapped up in those first five statements by the angel to Mary are some of the greatest doctrines of the Christian faith. “You will conceive in your womb.” That’s the doctrine of the virgin birth.
“You will … bring forth a Son.” That’s the doctrine of the humanity of Jesus.
“You … shall call his name Jesus.” That’s the truth of His Messiahship. He is our Messiah.
“He will be great.” That’s the doctrine of the omnipotence of God.
And “He … will be called the Son of the Highest” tells us that Jesus is Deity.
All of these things were true of Jesus as He was born. Every prophecy of the angel to Mary was borne out in the birth of Jesus.
Two Statements Yet to Be Fulfilled
The Bible says that yet to come are these two dimensions of our Savior: “The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David,” and, “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Just as surely as the first five of those prophecies were fulfilled in the person of our Lord, you can be confident that the next two also will be fulfilled. The day is coming when Jesus Christ will reign on the throne of His father David; and He shall reign over the house of Jacob, and of His kingdom there shall be no end. It is yet future, but it will come to pass.
Isaiah the Prophet says, “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever” (Isaiah 9:7). Jesus Christ who came in a manger will someday come in glory.
Now put yourself for a moment into the heart and mind and spirit of Mary. She is perhaps 16 years old. In that day, girls often were married at the age of 14 and had given birth by the time they were 15 or 16. So perhaps at the age of 16 or 17 she heard this overwhelming message from an angel, and then had to absorb it all.
We should have no difficulty comprehending her confusion. Verse 29 says, “When she saw him, she was troubled at his saying.” That has to be one of the great understatements of the New Testament! She was perplexed. The angel’s words awakened in her a sense of wonder and uneasiness, and she began to wonder what this could mean. In verse 29 she considered what manner of greeting this was.
And then she begins to ask the normal questions. These are the questions you would expect her to ask. Her first one is, how can this be? “Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ ” (Luke 1:34). She is not talking about casual acquaintance here. This is the New Testament word for a sexual relationship. She is saying, “How can I be pregnant when I have not had any sexual relationship with a man?”
The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). In other words, “Mary, you are going to be with child in a way that no one has ever been with child before, or shall ever be afterwards.” She will be with child by the Holy Spirit.
There are many ways humanity has come into being. Adam and Eve were created directly by God. They did not come through the birth process. Today, we are the products of a relationship between our mother and our father. But Jesus was uniquely born in the sense that He was born of His mother, but had no earthly father. So Mary was asked, at the age of 16, to comprehend a concept, a birth process, that had never before occurred in the history of humanity. No wonder she was perplexed!
This is the glory and the wonder of Christmas, that God could plant not only into the womb of this woman the Son of God, but He could plant in her heart the faith to believe the message that she received from the angel. Her response has always overwhelmed me with a sense of absolute submission that ought to be in the heart of every child of God. Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
In one of his writings, C. S. Lewis said: “The whole thing narrows and narrows until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear: A Jewish girl at her prayers. Today as I read the accounts of Jesus’ birth, I tremble to think of the fate of the world resting on the response of two rural teenagers. How many times did Mary review the angel’s words as she felt the Son of God kicking against the walls of her uterus? How many times did Joseph second guess his own encounter with an angel—just a dream?—as he endured the hot shame of living among villagers who could plainly see the changing shape of his fiancé.”
The Virgin Mary, whose parenthood was unplanned, heard the angel out, pondered the repercussions, and replied: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain. In this matter-of-fact response, Mary embraced both pain and joy. She was the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms, regardless of personal cost. She accepted Him as her baby.
The wonder of Christmas!
We should be overwhelmed that God should love us so much, that Christ His Son would allow Himself to be born into humanity to ultimately pay the penalty for our sin.
1. Based on your understanding of Jewish culture, what response to her unwed pregnancy might Mary have expected from the community around her?
Where, in Luke 1:46–55, does she project what others will call her in the future? What does this reveal about Mary’s spirit and attitude?
2. What does Luke 2:19 reveal about Mary’s perspective on the events surrounding Jesus’ conception and birth?
Why was this remarkable?
3. What word does Mary use to describe herself in Luke 1:38 and in Luke 1:48?
Does this seem to confirm or contradict other aspects of her character?
How does this compare or contrast with the view of Mary held by some religious groups?
4. Why do you think Joseph and Mary did not “go public” with the news of the angelic visits? In addition to Mary’s humiliation, what might Joseph have had to endure?
What attitude do you think made it possible for them to do this?
5. What was Simeon’s attitude concerning the arrival of Messiah, according to Luke 2:29–32? How did Joseph and Mary respond to his statements?
6. How might we respond to the season celebrating His birth, in light of the responses of those closest to Him at His birth?
Did You Know?
Because the timetable for the arrival of Messiah is so precise in Daniel 9:25–26, there were some during the days leading up to Jesus’ birth who were faithfully watching for Messiah’s birth somewhere near the “69 weeks” (483 years) following the decree of Artaxerxes found in Nehemiah 2:1–8 (made in 444 b.c.). But that also meant there were a multitude of imposters trying to cash in on Daniel’s prophecy by claiming to be the Messiah.
God’s solution to the problem of imposters was to provide a multitude of qualifications Messiah would have to meet—including genealogical criteria, the ability to effect Messianic signs, a sinless life, and ultimately power over Satan and death itself. And, although most (if not all) believing Jews did not foresee the death and resurrection of Messiah, once it was all accomplished, they could write with great wonder and awe about the perfection of God’s plan as it unfolded in Jesus the Messiah. Thus the New Testament is filled to the brim with quotations and allusions to the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the Babe born at Bethlehem.
Star of Wonder
Atop many a Christmas tree is the Christmas Star. To most Christians it is a symbol of Jesus, who is often called the ‘bright and morning star.’ Ancient people looked upon stars as gods and created myths about them. Before there was Christmas, stars held importance in ancient religions.
The Babylonians used three stars to represent a god. The Egyptians believed that certain gods controlled different stars and constellations. The six-pointed star of David became the symbol of the Hebrew nation. The North American Blackfoot Indian tribe believed that every star at one time was a human being. But the five-pointed star of Christmas holds center stage. Its appearance is recorded in the Bible in the New Testament, which says it appeared over Bethlehem and served as a guiding light to lead the wise men to the Holy Child.
 Jeremiah, D. (1999). Celebrate his love: Study guide (pp. 40–49). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.