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God's Unlikely Plan For the Birth of His Son - Part 1

Tom Pennington Luke 1:26-38


This Sunday, as we anticipate the celebration of our Lord's birth this week, and next Sunday, as we look back on that celebration, the previous day; I want us to step away from our study through the book of Ephesians and The Believer's Armor, and I want us to contemplate the true meaning of Christmas.

Several years ago, now, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) hosted a program entitled "Christmas: Has It Lost Its Meaning?". They invited those who were tuned into the program to post their comments on the website. Several of those comments were quite interesting, but one specially stood out to me. One man named Anton Gustafson, from Denmark, wrote this, "Christmas to me is the saddest time of the year. It's cold and everyone's trying to get heat in their hearts, but very few actually can. For me, Christmas is a time of silence and loneliness. Of tears. A time of hope about redemption, understanding, and love that will never be. A time of despair. While for many, Christmas is a time to run into the stores to buy some happiness, and to wait for presents that will hopefully bring a bit of happiness they need; for me, Christmas is the saddest and most painful time of the year."

As I read and thought about that, I thought, how tragic. There's a man who has no idea the true meaning of Christmas. The meaning that actually fills our lives with joy and gladness, rather than despair. As I thought about that, I realized that many Christians, albeit, not to the same extent, also miss understanding the true meaning of the season.

We shouldn't. It's certainly not God's fault. It's not the writers' of the gospels fault. Over and over again they tell us in those early pages, as they unfold the birth of our Lord, the true meaning of His birth.

In fact, I want us to turn, this morning and next Sunday as well, to Luke chapter 1. Because the true meaning of Christmas was announced again and again leading up to that first Christmas, and you especially see that here in Luke's gospel. There are a number of announcements. We're of course most familiar with the one made by the angels to the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem the night of our Lord's birth in Luke 2. But Luke's gospel actually begins with two announcements about the birth of Jesus Christ – about its true significance.

The first announcement comes in Luke 1:5 and runs all the way down through verse 25. It's the angel Gabriel's announcement to Zacharias of the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner, the one who would announce the Lord. And then there is, beginning in Luke 1:26 and running down through verse 38, there's the announcement of Gabriel to Mary of Jesus' birth.

Now when you look at those two announcements, they have some very important things in common, which we'll look at in a little bit. But I want you to notice first of all, the contrast between those two announcements. There are major contrasts between the announcements to Zacharias and the announcement to Mary.

First of all, Zacharias, when he got the announcement, was standing in the Holy Place, in the temple ministering for God, and an angel suddenly appears in front of the table of incense. Mary, on the other hand, was in her own private home. Zacharias was in Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish world, the place where the temple stood, where the king reigned. Mary was in a little town called Nazareth. Zacharias was in Judea, that center again of the Israelite nation; that area where the tribe was based that had stayed faithful to God the longest and through the most of Israel's history. Mary was in Galilee, sometimes called Galilee of the Gentiles. Zacharias, a man. Mary, a woman. Zacharias, older than 60 years of age. Mary, probably 13 to 15. Zacharias had been married for many years. Mary had never been married, but was engaged. Zacharias had weak faith, as was manifest in his response to the angel. Mary's faith, as we will see, was strong.

But the most important distinction between these two announcements has to do with who is announced. To Zacharias, he is to be the father of the forerunner, the one who will announce the Messiah. And Mary is the mother of our Lord. The mother of the Messiah.

Last year we looked at the prophecy to Zacharias and the birth of John. Very important figure. We noted last year that it was so important for there to be John, because Jesus just didn't show up one day and decide He was going to be the Messiah. The Old Testament had ended with the promise that before the Messiah came, there would be a forerunner who would go before Him; and that's John. John is the sign and seal that Jesus is in fact the Messiah, because he points to Him and said, "There He is. Follow Him."

This year I want us to look together at Luke's record, not of the prophecy to Zacharias, but of his announcement to Mary of the birth of our Lord. Let me read it for you. Luke 1:26.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 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 bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

This text describes to us the angelic announcement to Mary of the miraculous conception of her firstborn son, the long-awaited Messiah. This amazing passage tells us much about who this child would be, even before He's conceived in Mary's womb. Luke provides us here with a glimpse of the uniqueness of this child. In fact, today and next week, Lord willing, I want us to look at four unique characteristics of this child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas time.

The first characteristic, and the one we want to examine today is this: Jesus' unlikely parents. There's a really amazing lesson here as we will see it unfold. If you were God, and if you were going to send your Son into the world, to whom would you entrust Him? How would you make that choice? Here, God's choice is unfolded for us. And it's a most unlikely choice.

Notice their background. Verse 26 begins by giving us a little bit of context, "Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God". Notice the time reference here, "in the sixth month". That refers back up to verses 24 and 25.

After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men."

So, for five months, even though she was pregnant, she kept herself secluded. Verse 26, "Now in the sixth month". So clearly then, the time reference here in verse 26 has to do with the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy with John, the forerunner.

Now when you put all of the evidence together, and I'm not going to do that for you this morning; if you're interested in really walking this through step by step, I would encourage you to listen to a series I did called "An Aerial View of the New Testament" in which I went through the entire New Testament in six messages. But I began by sort of piecing together a timeline of our Lord's life. I'm not going to do that here this morning, but let me just give you the big picture.

Jesus was probably born around the time of the winter solstice. As far as the exact month and day, we cannot be sure of that, but there is an ancient tradition that takes it to late December. I know and have heard and read the Christian writings that we shouldn't celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December because it's a pagan holiday. I've read all of those things. But according to Hippolytus, the December date was held to be Christ's birthdate in the second century AD. Less than 150 years after His birth. It only began to be widely observed in the time of Constantine. So, you take all the evidence together, and Jesus was likely born in the winter, possibly December, and probably in the years either 5 or 6 BC. The reason for that is we know that Herod died around April of 4 BC, and Jesus was obviously born before Herod's death. So, it had to be sometime around 5 or 6 BC. Again, you can track all of that with me if you want to in another message.

So, Jesus then, was announced to Mary in late March or early April of one of those years – 5 or 6 BC. It was an absolutely monumental event. I don't think we can fully appreciate how shocking this was. Understand that when we read the Bible, we think that miracles happened all the time. But in reality, that isn't true. The last miracle in the Old Testament and the last angelic appearance in the Old Testament were all the way back in the time of Daniel, when the angel came and shut the lion's mouths. That was 500 years before our Lord was born.

Not only had angels and miracles been sparse, but for hundreds of years, God hadn't spoken. Once Moses comes along, God speaks. And He speaks in almost every generation through a prophet. And you read about it in the Old Testament. People of Israel were used to God speaking. But the last time God had spoken was through the prophet Malachi – 420 years before Jesus. Hundreds of years had passed. No angel. No miracle. No voice from God. And then the angel Gabriel shows up in the temple in Jerusalem.

Look back at Luke 1:8. "Now it happened that while Zacharias", an elderly priest, "was performing his priestly service", there was a rotation, usually two weeks a year he got to serve at the temple. Verse 9, "according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense". This would have been the only time in Zacharias' long life as priest that he got to do this. Because he was chosen by lot; there were some 18,000 priests in the time of Jesus. There were only so many slots available. And once you got a chance to serve in this capacity, that was it. You were never chosen again. So, this would have been the only time in his life. This amazing opportunity to actually enter the Holy Place and offer up with those censers, coals taken from the bronze altar; taken in now and laid on the altar of incense where, as the fire and incense combined together, it symbolized the prayers of God's people rising to Him. And as he's there suddenly the angel Gabriel appears to him. Look at verse 10.

And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.

It's now, when we come to the passage we've just read, it's now some five months later. And that same angel shows up, not in the temple, not in Jerusalem, but in Galilee. Specifically, we're told in verse 26 that it was the angel Gabriel.

In Scripture, there's only one angel who's called an archangel – that's Michael. In Jude 9, he's called Michael the Archangel. That title archangel implies that he has authority over other angels. But Michael is also called, in Daniel, "one of the chief princes". And so, it suggests that there may be other archangels. And if that's so, then it's very possible that Gabriel is as well. Because in addition to Michael, he is the only other angel named in all of Scripture.

Gabriel probably means "God is strong". That's why the Jewish writings guess that it was Gabriel who in one night slew the 185,000 Assyrians. You remember that story? We can't be sure of that. But we do know this. It was Gabriel who brought the vision of the 70 weeks to Daniel in Daniel's prophecy. And in Luke 1:19, it was Gabriel who appeared to Zacharias in the temple five months before.

Now, five months later, God sends Gabriel back to Palestine again, and this time it's to announce the birth of Messiah to Mary. Verse 26, "Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth". Both Mary and Joseph were from this city of Nazareth. Jesus would call this home from about the time He was two years old until He was 30, when He would move His ministry headquarters to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee.

Now, if you'd never read this before this would be completely shocking to you. If you were God, where would you have your Son live out most of His earthly life? Before the first advent, nobody would've guessed that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the Son of God, would live most of His earthly life in Nazareth. I mean surely, if you were God and were going to send your Son into the world at that time in the first century, you might think, "I'm going to send Him to Rome. I'm going to send Him in the center of power. I want it to be known who He is and I want that power to be expressed." Or you might even say, "No, He's Jewish. It's God's people in Israel. He needs to be in Israel, so let's make it Jerusalem. Let's make it where all the scholars of the scripture are. Let's make it where the temple stands." But Nazareth? The little village of Nazareth?

Think about that for a moment. For 28 years of His earthly life, our Lord lived in Nazareth, grew up in Nazareth, worked there as a carpenter, and went to synagogue school in this tiny, little village. You see, Nazareth in the first century was not an important city. It's not mentioned in the Old Testament. Josephus, the Jewish historian, in his list of all the cities in Galilee doesn't mention Nazareth. It was a small town of probably less than 500 people. In other words, there were about as many people in Nazareth as are seated in this auditorium when it's full. Tiny, little town. It was large enough to have a synagogue. It was located about 15 miles west of the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and about 20 miles east of the Mediterranean.

Not only was it small, but it was of a small reputation, especially with the culturally elite down in Judea. They would've looked at somebody coming out of Nazareth like a New Yorker might look at somebody coming out of South Dakota. As Nathaniel said in John 1, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?". But this little town is the town to which Gabriel came.

Verse 27, he came to this town to see a specific person; "to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David". The Greek word Luke uses here for "virgin" always refers to an unmarried person who has never had sexual intercourse. But if there's any doubt in your mind about the meaning of the word, the New Testament authors go out of their way to make sure this point is clear. We'll talk more about this next week. But for now, look at Luke 1:34. Here's Mary's response to the prophesy that she's going to become pregnant, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?". Literally it says, "How can this be, since I have not known a man? I've not had a physical relationship with a man.". A virgin.

And verse 27 says this virgin was engaged. "Engaged to a man whose name was Joseph." We know very little about Joseph. Very little about Jesus' human father. We know he lived in Nazareth. We know he worked as a carpenter because in Matthew 13:55 they point to Jesus and say, "Is this not the carpenter's son?". But the word "carpenter" is even hard to pin down. Literally, it means a craftsman. The Greek word is broad, like our English word "builder". He was a builder. It could include the work of what we think of is a carpenter. It could include a mason, who actually built those mud-walled homes with stone. Or it could refer to woodworking. We really can't be sure.

The closest we can come is the writing of Justin Martyr, who lived shortly after John the Apostle's death, very close to the time of Jesus. He knew John. And he writes, "When Jesus was among men, He made plows, and yokes, and other farm implements.". Like son like father. If that's what Jesus did, then it's likely that's what Joseph did as well. But whatever he did, he was a builder. A mason, a carpenter, a woodworker, we don't know for sure.

But whatever it was, his trade had not made him a wealthy man, at least at this stage of his life. Because you remember at 40 days after Jesus' birth? Joseph and Mary, now married, were to take their firstborn to the temple and there they were to offer a sacrifice. Because the firstborn was holy to the Lord, as the Law required. The offering, required by the Old Testament, was a lamb and a dove or a pigeon. But, if the couple was poor, and they couldn't afford a lamb, then the Law allowed them to substitute two turtle doves – I know what you're thinking, a partridge in a pear tree, it's not true. Two turtle doves or two pigeons. So, if you couldn't afford a lamb then it could be two turtle doves or two pigeons.

Based on what Luke describes in Luke 2, that appears to be what Mary and Joseph offered. There's no lamb mentioned, but birds are mentioned. But, apparently, Joseph and Mary couldn't afford a lamb, they offered a couple of birds, even though their son was the Son of God. So apparently, like most young couples, they were starting out not wealthy.

The only other glimpses we get of Joseph are in Matthew 1. You don't have to turn there. You're familiar with it. We read it just a moment ago. We know that he was a true believer in the God of Israel. We know that he's called a "righteous man". That doesn't mean that he was deserving of God's grace. No one is righteous before God. Instead, it simply means that he'd come to a right relationship with God through faith. And he was seeking to live out his life in a way that honored his God.

He was also a gracious man. Because Matthew 1:19, the verse we read just a moment ago, said that Joseph, Mary's husband, "being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her planned to send her away secretly". There's a lot of insight into Joseph's character there. As far as Joseph knew at this point, his engaged bride, the woman he was supposed to marry, had been unfaithful to him with some other man. And she was now carrying that man's child. He could have been very well justified in saying "I want everybody to know that this isn't my child. I want everybody to know this isn't my reputation, this is hers. I'm going to bring this thing to a public trial. I want her exposed. I want the truth out. I want my pound of flesh. I'm just angry that she would reject me in this way." That wasn't Joseph. He decides not to publicly disgrace her, but to privately divorce her, which would still leave a shadow cast across his own reputation.

But none of those things are the most important thing about Joseph. The most important thing about Joseph is right here in this passage, Luke tells us. Look at verse 27, "a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David". Look over in Luke 2:4. You remember they go to register for the census, each to his own city, "Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he", that is Joseph, "was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child". In Matthew 1:20, we read it a few minutes ago, Gabriel refers to Joseph as son of David. Now that doesn't seem too important to us, but it was absolutely crucial. Because without this, Jesus could not qualify to be the Messiah.

You see, if you started reading through the Old Testament you would notice that there is an ever-narrowing funnel in terms of the prophecies about the Messiah. It starts out very broad. In Genesis 3:15 after the fall, after the sin of Adam and Eve, God says He's going to send a person to deal with sin. And that person is going to be the seed of the woman. So, all we know initially, is that it's going to be a human being. That's all we know. A human being is going to deal with sin. But as you go through the Old Testament, that funnel narrows until it ends up pointing at Jesus Christ and Him alone. Because what we learn in Genesis chapter 12, it's not just going to be a human being, it's going to be a descendant of one nation – the nation that comes from Abraham's loins. He's going to be Jewish. He's going to come from Israel. When you get to Genesis 21, we learn that it's not going to be through Ishmael, but it's going to be through the real son of Abraham, Isaac. In Genesis 28 we learn that it's not going to be through Esau, but it's going to be through Jacob. And then when you get to Genesis 49, it's going to be through one of the sons of Jacob and one tribe, and that's the tribe of Judah. The scepter shall not depart from Judah, the prophesy says. So, He's going to be from the tribe of Judah. But when you get to 2 Samuel 7:16, the funnel gets really narrow. Because now, He's not going to be just a human being, He's not just going to be an Israelite – a descendant of Abraham, he's not just going to be from Isaac, He's not just going to be from Jacob, He's not just going to be from Judah, the tribe, He's going to be from one family. The family of David.

In fact, turn back with me to 2 Samuel 7. This passage is called the Davidic Covenant because here David says he wants to build God a house, a temple. Nathan the prophet says that's a great idea. Let's do it. Neither of them bothered to consult God. And so, God comes to Nathan and says, Nathan, he's not going to build me a house. David's been a man of bloodshed. Instead his son will do it. But God, in an amazing act of grace toward David, sees his heart, his desire to honor God, and He says, listen David, you're not going to build me a house. Instead, I'm going to build you a house. And by that He didn't mean a physical structure. He meant a dynasty.

Look down in 2 Samuel 7:16. "Your house", David, "and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever". What God was saying to David was, the Messiah who will reign forever will come from your family. He will be one of your descendants. That's why it doesn't surprise us when we get to that great prophecy we read a few weeks ago of Isaiah 9:6.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it forever.

Turn over to Jeremiah 23. We'll look at this passage a little tonight as we look at the forgotten miracle of Christmas, but look at Jeremiah 23:5. After talking about all the bad kings that came from David, God promises this.

"Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. "In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, 'The Lord our righteousness.'

He's coming and He's going to be a descendant of David. When you come to the New Testament, even Jesus' enemies understood this. In Matthew 22, Jesus says, okay, let me ask you guys a question. Whose son is the Messiah? And they said, the Son of David. He has to be a descendant of David. You see this in the sermon in Acts 2. Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost. He brings out this very fact. Acts 2:30.

Because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ.

Who was none other than Jesus. This is absolutely crucial. He had to be a descendant of David. And so, the most important thing about Joseph is that he was a descendant of David. Through Joseph, Jesus gets the legal right to the throne. And so, this virgin is engaged to Joseph. A legal heir to David's throne.

They are engaged. Scripture doesn't tell us how old they were when they became engaged, but most men of that time in Israel were married before they were 20. And most Jewish girls were betrothed just after puberty. Somewhere between 13 and 15. It's possible that Mary was in her late teens at this point, but it's not very likely. She was probably in her mid-teens. They were engaged.

A first-century Jewish wedding consists of two parts. We've talked about this before. This is the first part – the betrothal period, called the "kiddushin". It usually lasted about a year. It was much more serious than our engagement period. The couple was not to live together. They were to keep themselves sexually pure. Any form of sexual sin was considered adultery. And the kiddushin, that betrothal period, could only be ended by divorce. The word Luke uses tells us it was during the kiddushin. They're engaged. Joseph and Mary.

Now what do we know about this woman? What do we know about Mary? The one who will bear the Messiah. She must be royalty. She must be a princess. She must live in the palace. No. She's an unknown virgin engaged to be married to the village carpenter in the backwater town of Nazareth. Her name is Mary. The Greek form is Maria. She was named after Moses' sister, Miriam. In fact, if you see it, it looks just like Miriam in the Greek text. Miriam and Joseph. Two young people engaged and living in a tiny Galilean town called Nazareth. A very unlikely pair to be the parents of the Son of God.

So, the question is, why? Why did God choose them? I want you to notice their selection. Clearly, they were both believers in the God of Israel. Joseph is called by Matthew, a righteous man. It's equally clear from what we call "Mary's Magnificat", her song of praise to God, that even as a teenager, she was very serious about God and her faith in Him. But it's equally clear that God did not choose these two young people to be parents of His Son because they were especially wonderful people.

I was reading this week from Psalm. And Psalm 143:2 says, "And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous." Oh, by the way, that includes Joseph. That includes Mary. So, why did God choose this pair? The answer to that question is found right here in this text and in the angel's words to Mary. Look at verse 28, "And coming in, he said to her, 'Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.'". Gabriel apparently either was invited in by Mary or came into Mary's home there in Nazareth, at least into the kind of courtyard that was common in those homes. It seems that Mary immediately recognized him to be an angel, to be a messenger from God. Angels can disguise themselves as human males. They do that occasionally in Scripture. In fact, Hebrews tells us that in the first century there were Christians who entertained angels unaware, or unknowingly. But Mary apparently knew this was a messenger from God.

And Gabriel begins, "Greetings". That was the standard first century greeting. It literally means "rejoice". It's not "greetings", it's "rejoice!". Why? Because you are a favored one. Literally translated, "the one being shown favor". And because you have been shown favor, the Lord is with you. He is with you in the since that He's present to bless you and to continue to show you that favor. Now here's where the confusion begins.

When Jerome translated the scripture into Latin, the Latin vulgate. He translated this expression of the angel Gabriel, "Hail Mary, full of grace". "Gratia plena." Which by the way, is not a bad translation if you understand it as Jerome understood it. Jerome meant that Mary was full of grace in the sense that she had received grace from God. Sadly, the Catholic church would eventually change that to mean, she was full of grace to give to others. She could extend grace to others. She was the repository of grace that could be meted out to others. And out of that, of course, came the "Hail Mary's", the prayers to Mary. Some of which, by the way, is biblical and comes out of Scripture. The third verse of which absolutely does not. When she is prayed to as an intermediary with God.

But imagine being Mary. A clearly recognizable angel; you know it's an angel, shows up in your home and begins by telling you to rejoice because you are highly favored by God and He is especially with you to bless you. Now you can understand Mary's reaction. Look at verse 29, "But she was very perplexed at this statement". Literally she was "confused at this word". "And kept pondering". The Greek word for kept pondering refers to a kind of internal debate. She thought this, and then she thought this, and then she thought this. She's kind of having this internal argument. What is this about? And what confused her was what kind of greeting this was. She was shocked by this greeting. Apparently, in her humility, she can't understand why she would be addressed like that. As William Hendrickson writes, "She knew she was but a young woman of lowly social position and therefore, could not understand how it was possible for her to be addressed in such lofty terms".

So, Gabriel picks up on that uneasiness and tries to reassure her. Look at verse 30. "The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God." It's interesting. Don't be afraid. Fear is the most common reaction to these powerful, intelligent beings the Bible calls, angels. Don't picture a chubby, little, fat baby. Look back at Luke 1:13. This was the same reaction of the old priest, Zacharias. Verse 12, "Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him". Fear seized him. He was terrified in the presence of this powerful being. But at the same time, I love the fact that every time angels interact with God's people in Scripture, they are always tender and kind. Why is that? Because as Hebrews says, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?". Think about that. Angels exist to serve God and to serve believers. So, Gabriel comforts Mary.

And then he explains his initial greeting. She was all confused about what the greeting meant, so in verse 30 he explains it, "you have found favor with God". Literally, you found favor with God. Now you know I love the NAS translation. It's a great, accurate translation. It's almost always better than the others in terms of accuracy. Here, I really regret the translation of the word "favor". Because the Greek word translated "favor" is the normal Greek word throughout the New Testament for "grace". You found grace with God. Now that is a very common expression in the Old Testament. In fact, those two Greek words "to find" and "grace" appear together some 35 times in the Old Testament. I won't take you back through them. But why did God choose Noah? Was it because Noah was just this wonderful person? You better read the rest of his life. No. It says, Noah, you have found grace in the eyes of the Lord. The same expression occurs about Abraham in Genesis 18:3. About Lot in Genesis 19:19. About Moses in Exodus 33:16. And in Acts 7:46 in Stephen's sermon, he says David found grace in the eyes of the Lord. So, to find grace means to find yourself the receiver of God's grace. That's what the angel is saying to Mary. Mary, you have found yourself to be the receiver of God's grace.

Now, what is grace? We've defined this before, but frankly as believers we can never hear it enough. What is grace? Grace is that quality in our God that permeates His entire being. That quality in our God that causes Him to delight to do good to those who deserve exactly the opposite. It's not just underserved favor. It's not just that, "well, I got really close to deserving it, but I didn't quite get there". No. It's God's goodness shown to those who not only don't deserve it, but who deserve the opposite of goodness. Who deserve wrath and judgment.

Now, do you see what the angel was saying to Mary? Mary, you have found yourself to be the receiver of God's goodness that you deserve the opposite of. Now, how exactly had Mary experienced God's grace? Well, first and foremost, in spiritual salvation. Look over in her Magnificat. Luke 1:46.

And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

Mary was not without sin. Mary needed a savior. She needed grace to be in right relationship to God. To experience God's goodness that she did not deserve, and in fact, that she deserved the opposite of. And now, Mary has found grace with God again. In verse 31, the angel tells her that that undeserved favor that has already been brought to her in salvation will now express itself in a very different way. Look at verse 31, "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus".

Here's the big question. Exactly why did God choose this most unlikely couple to be Jesus' human parents? You tell me. There's only one reason. It's because of sovereign grace alone. You have found yourself to be the receiver of God's goodness that you not only do not deserve, but you deserve the opposite of. Listen. Mary and Joseph were chosen for salvation, were chosen for their special roles in God's plan by sovereign grace alone. And this is so important. It's so sad that this story has been turned completely on its head for us. When we look at these stories, we tend to elevate the people as if they were the heroes. Folks, listen to me. Mary and Joseph are not the heroes of the Christmas story. The God of grace who sent His grace in a person, our Lord Jesus Christ, they're the heroes. So, when you look at Jesus' unlikely parents, what you see is a lesson in sovereign grace.

If you're here this morning and you're in Christ, you're a follower of Jesus Christ, understand this. That's not because God chose you because you were greater, you were more intelligent than people around you, you had greater potential. He chose you for the same reason He chose Mary and Joseph to be the parents of Jesus – so that He alone could get the glory.

Look at 1 Corinthians 1. You remember Paul's talking about the gospel and the message of the cross and in the middle of that; 1 Corinthians 1:26, he says, I want you to think about your calling, brothers. I want you to think about that effectual call when the Father was in the gospel effectually calling you to respond, and you responded. Why did that happen? Why not others? Verse 26.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."

Listen, God chose Mary and Joseph so He alone could get the glory. In sovereign grace made them the parents of our Lord so that Jesus would be the hero of the story, not Mary and Joseph. It's the same reason He chose you, so that He could be the hero, not you. So that your boast would be in Him and not in yourself.

If you're here this morning and you're not in Christ, listen. Your only hope is to find yourself alone with God and fall on your face before Him and to plead with Him to show you grace. That's your only hope. And here's the good news. If you will do that; you will not earn God's grace, it can't be earned, but God has sovereignly determined to bestow His grace on those who humble themselves before Him.

Psalm 138:6 says, "the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly". Or take our Lord's words in Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the beggars in spirit". That's how you've got to come to God. You've got to come to God like a beggar. On your face saying, God, I have noting to offer You that You want. All I can do is beg for You to show me grace. And Jesus says, "Blessed are the beggars in spirit, for to them belongs the kingdom of God". God responds to our humble cries for His grace.

Listen, as you celebrate Christmas this week, please remember that the real meaning of Christmas from beginning to end is grace. It's about God as a God of grace. From the couple that God chose to His actually giving us His Son, the Person of grace, it's about grace. It's about God manifesting that quality in Himself that absolutely delights to do good to those who have earned the opposite. That's something to celebrate.

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for this wonderful account, this record of the announcement to Mary. Lord, thank you that You are by nature a Rescuer, a Savior. And that you are by nature a God who delights in doing good to those who have earned the opposite. Father, we thank You for the lesson in the lives of Joseph and Mary. We thank You for the reminder of our own lives, those of us who are in Christ, Lord, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord this week, may we celebrate Your grace. Your grace in a Person, our Lord Jesus Christ. And Father, I pray for those here this morning who don't know Him. May they humble themselves before You, oh God. May they come as beggars, acknowledging that they have nothing You want. That they have earned the opposite of Your goodness. But throwing themselves on Your own character in Christ. Lord, may they be able to celebrate Christmas this week, understanding the true meaning of grace. We pray it in Jesus' name and for His sake. Amen.