Christmas Stories in the Bible, Part 8

Not only is Luke the longest of our four Gospels; his Christmas story dwarfs the others. Matthew’s story takes up 58 verses, but Luke’s 132. The main reason is that his story is really two birth stories, not just of Jesus, but also of John the Baptist. If we deleted what Luke has to say about John’s birth, then his version would still be the longest at 83 verses. Yet Luke sees the entire story as one, because Jesus and John the Baptist are cousins, and Mary and Elizabeth interacted during their pregnancies. Luke 1 is really an elaborate comparison. Elizabeth is advanced in age, barren and beyond typical childbearing age (probably late 40’s), Mary is young and a virgin. Zechariah is a priest, called righteous and a faithful adherent of God’s commandments, yet doubts the word of Gabriel to him (with strains of Gideon); Mary is a young woman, who humbly and obediently accepts the word of Gabriel, only asking how it will take place—a reasonable question from a virgin! The son of Zechariah and Elizabeth will prepare the people for what God is doing; the son of Mary will be called, “son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.” John the Baptist has a very important role, but Jesus is preeminent. Luke will continue this comparison later in his Gospel.

There are many other things I could say about Luke 1 (not least is the growth of faith in Zechariah), but I want to explore one thing more closely. Whereas Matthew centered on Joseph, Luke centers on Mary. “Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph from the house of David, and the name of the virgin was Mary.” Though the information is the same as Matthew, the focus is very different. Indeed, what Luke gives is the backstory to the consternation of Joseph in Matthew, which Luke never mentions. Instead, Luke gives Mary’s amazing story. Mary is a model of faith. Though her situation was literally unique and her encounter with the angel Gabriel was fearful, she responded with trust and wonder.

When Gabriel appears, he says, “Hail favored one! The Lord is with you.” Luke tells us Mary was terrified, yet she considered what sort of greeting this might be. Scared but curious.

When Gabriel proceeded to tell her she would conceive and bear the son of God, she didn’t ask “how will I know” like Zechariah—he was asking for a sign—but “how will this happen, since I am a virgin.” Mary trusted the angel, but was curious as to how God would work. Was this going to be a child she and Joseph would have together when they completed the marriage? No, something very different. Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would come and overshadow her, thus the child born would be called Son of God. Further a miracle was already happening with Elizabeth, because “no word from God is impossible” (Luke 1:37). Mary did not dispute his word at all but responded with some of the most beautiful and trusting words in the Bible: “Behold, the maid-servant of the Lord. May it happen to me according to your word.” Pure trust no matter what. During her visit with Elizabeth, Mary breaks out into what we now call the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior …” As the events unfold in Luke 2 (next post) Mary ponders all the events happening to her and around her quietly in her heart, no doubt astounded at the work of God in her. Along with the trust we see from Joseph in Matthew’s account, we see God’s hand in choosing those parents who would be there for Jesus as he grew toward his life purpose. 

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