Luke 1:38 “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.”
In the Christmas Eve Service this year at North Life, we will be reading through the Christmas narrative as recorded in Scripture in sequential order. As any student of the Word knows, context is extremely vital to a faithful understanding and application. But…so is sequence-a sequence that is not always immediately apparent to the reader accustomed to journeying predictably from the front cover to the back of their English Bible. (This is where Baker’s Harmony of the Gospels and other such resources can provide added insight.) May I encourage you to join our church during this sacred season by reading each text and then prayerfully meditating upon and responding to the God who wrote the entire story.
John 1:1-5, 14
All four Gospels begin by placing Jesus within a historical setting, but the Gospel of John is unique in the way it opens. The Book of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus that connects Him to David and Abraham. Mark starts with the preaching of John the Baptist. Luke has a dedication of his work to Theophilus and follows that with a prediction of the birth of John the Baptist. But John begins with a theological prologue. It is almost as if John had said, “I want you to consider Jesus in His teaching and deeds. But you will not understand the good news of Jesus in its fullest sense unless you view Him from this point of view. Jesus is God manifest in the flesh, and His words and deeds are those of the God-Man.”
Prayer: Thank you, Father, for sending Jesus from God as God to reveal God’s mind-boggling grace and truth to me and everybody around me, before me, and after me.
Unlike Zacharias earlier in this chapter, Mary had faith that God would do what He promised. She asked, “How shall this be?” and not “How can this be?” Since Jesus existed before His mother, He could not be conceived in the womb in the normal way. The virgin birth is a miracle of God that brought the eternal Son of God into the world without any taint of sin in His human nature. Mary yielded herself to the Holy Spirit knowing full well that she would experience shame and misunderstanding. Mary’s song of praise is called “The Magnificat” (from the Latin word for “magnify”). Mary knew the Scriptures, for there are at least fifteen OT quotations or allusions in her song. Note that Mary acknowledged God as her Savior (v. 47), which indicates that she had trusted the Lord for her own salvation. She praised God for what He did for her (vv. 46–49), for all who fear Him (vv. 50–53), and for His people Israel (vv. 54–55).
Prayer: Lord, enable me to exhibit the faith and submission modeled by Mary who humbly received your grace and became a vessel through which you could do the impossible that led to the salvation of so many including me.
“Betrothal” (engagement) among the Jews was as binding as marriage. When Joseph discovered Mary’s condition, he naturally assumed she had been unfaithful to him. Note his prudence: “While he thought on these things” (v. 20). How important it is to be “slow to wrath” and to consider matters thoughtfully! According to Deut. 22:23–24, Mary could have been stoned. Indications are that the Jews did not obey this law but rather allowed the innocent party to divorce the unfaithful mate. It took great faith for Joseph to believe God’s message in the dream. His love for God and for Mary made him willing to “bear reproach” for Christ. We must also appreciate Joseph’s immediate obedience (v. 24). He was careful to keep his relationship with Mary pure and chaste.
Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to exhibit the restraint and character embodied by Joseph that allows my heart, home, and church to intimately receive the presence and power of the Incarnation this Christmas.
For the census Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home. Mary accompanied Joseph for several reasons. The couple knew she would have the Baby during the time Joseph was gone, and they most likely did not want to be separated at that event. Also both of them knew that the Child was the Messiah. They also would have known that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Mi. 5:2). In that day, shepherds were considered to be at the lowest rung of the social ladder. Their work not only kept them away from the temple and the synagogue, but it made them ceremonially unclean. Yet in His grace, God gave the first announcement of the Savior’s birth to lowly shepherds! The first human ambassadors of the Gospel were humble shepherds who hastened to see the Baby and then told everybody what they had seen and heard.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, enlighten me to fully see that you are moving and directing the circumstances and social status of my life to share in your eternal, redemptive plan that brings glory to you and peace on earth.
There was a remnant of believing Jews, waiting for their Redeemer (v. 38); Simeon and Anna were among them. We do not know how old Simeon was, but he was probably elderly. The Spirit both taught him and led him, so he was right there when Mary and Joseph came with their Baby. The remarkable thing about his hymn of praise is that he included the Gentiles! He was now ready to die because he had seen the Messiah with his own eyes. Simeon blessed God, and he also blessed Mary and Joseph; but he did not bless the Baby, because Jesus is the source of every blessing. Anna was 84 years old and had devoted herself completely to the Lord’s service in the temple since her husband had died years before. She announced to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (v. 25) that the Messiah had come. The word about Jesus was likely known throughout the entire city as people either believed or disbelieved the words of the old prophet and the widowed prophetess.
Prayer: Lord, help me to age with tenacious, optimistic faith and be known as a testifying member of the remnant that are still counting upon you to fulfill ALL of your reconciling promises to your people.
Though not all scholars agree on the timing of the arrival of the Magi from the East, they apparently came some time after the birth of Jesus. Jesus and Mary and Joseph, though still in Bethlehem, were now in a house (v. 11). This revelation could have come through some contact with Jewish scholars who had migrated to the East with copies of Old Testament manuscripts. Many feel the Magi’s comments reflected a knowledge of Balaam’s prophecy concerning the “star” that would “come out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17). Whatever the source, they came to Jerusalem to worship the newborn King of the Jews. After the uproar in Jerusalem, they were led to the Child by the reappearing star and going in, they worshiped Him. Their worship was heightened by the giving of gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh. Some believe the gifts had further significance by reflecting on the character of this Child’s life. Gold might represent His deity or purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death (myrrh was used for embalming). These gifts were obviously the means by which Joseph took his family to Egypt and sustained them there until Herod died. The wise men were warned by God not to return and report to Herod, so they returned to their homes by another route.
Prayer: God of the Ages, infuse me with a sweet, steady focus to follow your constant guidance, no matter the distance I feel or distractions others provide, toward greater worship and sacrifice in your manifested presence.
By His presence among men the “Word” would bring an illumination surpassing that which He had been affording men before His coming. The Light was real and glowing, but the response was disappointing. Failure to discern the preincarnate Logos is more understandable than the tragic refusal of His own people to receive Him when He came among them. Not all refused the Light. Those who received Him gained power (authority, right) to become (then and there) sons (children) of God. Those who received are described as those who believe on His name. Believers are further described in terms of what God does for them. They are born . . . of God. The spiritual birth spoken of in the previous verse is not of blood. It is not on the basis of lineage or Jewish heritage. It is nor of the will of the flesh or a carnal desire. It is not of the will of man or human in its origin. It is of God. This birth is supernatural.
Prayer: If I have yet to do so, God I choose to repent of sin and receive Jesus not only as God of the world but also as my personal Savior. If I am a believer, God help me this Christmas to more fully appreciate and steward being a son of God born through your glorious will.