(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

This passage reminds us that Christianity is based on facts. The incarnation in all its mystery took place at a certain time, in a particular place and involved a real person. In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin .... . The virgin's name was Mary. v26and27. These words are strangely comforting - no time, no place and no person is insignificant to God.

(B) The maid.

What do we know about Mary? She was:

(1) An inhabitant of Nazareth.

Nazareth was an ill-regarded town in the despised province of Galilee. When Philip told Nathanael that they had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, Nathanael retorted: "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Jn1v46. The orthodox Jews of Judea had a low opinion of Galileans because of their closer association with Gentiles. They were more open to non-Jewish influences than, for example, the residents of Jerusalem.

Some parts of the British Isles, like Galilee of long ago, have a poor reputation. I do not think it is without significance that we have never had a prime minister from Northern Ireland. There have been Welsh, Scottish and English prime ministers but not an Irish one!

Christians might care to ponder that Jesus and the majority of his disciples did not come from the militant wing of Judaism but from the more liberal Galilean faction who were more open to new ideas.

(2) Of low social standing.

Mary was a descendant of David on her father's side. It is probable that Heli was her father if the genealogy of Luke 3 is of Mary's lineage as some scholars believe. She was a descendant of Aaron on her mother's side. Her mother and her cousin Elizabeth's father were sister and brother. It is interesting that Elizabeth was old and Mary was so young. (Women married early in New Testament times.) There is every likelihood that Mary was a daughter of her mother's advancing years and by the age of 14 could have been an orphan. When Mary conceived she confided in her elderly cousin, Elizabeth; not her mother or father. She might well have been a poor orphan.

(3) Engaged to an elderly carpenter.

Joseph belonged to the working class. He could not have been a highly skilled carpenter because of his poverty. When Joseph and Mary presented their firstborn to God in the temple they could only afford to sacrifice a couple of pigeons. So although Joseph had been at work for several years he had not been able to save anything. If Mary was a poor orphan I don't suppose she had much choice who she married.

(4) Highly regarded by God.

Gabriel announced: "You have found favour with God." v30. Mary was little regarded in society. She was only a poor, young orphan from Nazareth - a nonentity to the Jewish elite who considered her poverty a sign of disfavour with God. How wrong the experts were!

One of the heartening features of the ministry of Jesus is the number of obscure characters who met with his approval: the widow who gave her mite, the woman who touched the hem of his garment, the man born blind, the prostitute in Simon's house and the dying thief. Note: the gospel writers did not even see fit to give the names of these people who so pleased the Lord.

A lovely feature of Dicken's novels is the way qualities of sterling worth are displayed by some of the most humble, odd, disregarded and put upon characters. In Bleak House Mr Snagsby, the law stationer, is an unassertive, rather colourless individual who is completely dominated by his virago of a wife but whenever he has the opportunity to slip a half-a-crown to poor young Joe, the crossing sweeper, he does so.

Last year I took the funeral service of my old friend Ivy. She was a poor, simple, talkative, comical creature. Her two sons, although much devoted to their mother, used to give her some stick! But she was equable, honest, sociable, generous and humble. Ivy enhanced the lives of others. Our chapel was full to overflowing for her funeral. She found favour with both man and God.

(C) The message.

Gabriel's message contained:

(1) Words of reassurance for Mary.

The angel brought Mary a positive greeting: "Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you." v28. But, in spite of this, Mary was apprehensive. She realised that you didn't get a visit from an angel unless God had plans for you! So, Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. v29. She wondered what it portended. What had God got in store for her! The angel found it necessary to reassure Mary: "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God." v30.

In John Bunyan's, 'Pilgrim's Progress', there were several occasions when Christian was afraid. We are often apprehensive when our circumstances change. It is a comfort then to know that: "The Lord is with you" and to call to mind your favoured status as a son of God.

Paul's arrest during his visit to Jerusalem drastically changed his life. He would no longer be a free agent and able to travel throughout the Roman Empire preaching the gospel. Paul would be imprisoned many, many months. The night after his arrest: The Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." Acts23v11. Jesus reassured Paul of his continued usefulness as an evangelist.

I can testify that during the changes in my life God has been with me. He was with me when I left home to attend university in London; he was with me when I gave up teaching to care for my father; he was with me after my father died and I had to find my way back into teaching.

(2) A promise of redemption for sinners.

Gabriel had the best of news for sinners: "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus." v31. Later the angel told Joseph in a dream: "You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Mt1v21.

There have been many saviours - Churchill, Blake, Nelson, Alexander Fleming and the engineer who built the London sewers. But none of these saved alone - they saved with and through others.

Jesus is the ONLY saviour from sin. He performed his saving work alone. Peter said: "Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Acts4v12. Jesus saves from sin which spoils, sin that cripples, sin that scars, sin that stunts, sin that burdens and sin that destroys.

            No other name is given,
            No other way is known;
            'Tis Jesus Christ, the First and Last -
            He saves, and He alone!

Whenever I read Gabriel's instructions to Mary, "You are to give him the name Jesus." I think of the simple chorus I used to sing in Sunday school:

            He did not come to judge the world,
            He did not come to blame;
            He did not only come to seek,
            It was to save he came:
            And when we call him Saviour,
            Then we call him by his Name.

(3) A description of Christ's relationship with God.

Gabriel told Mary: "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High." v32.

    (a) Jesus was Mary's child but also the Son of the Most High. It is amazing that the son of a lowly maid was also the only begotten of the Father - full of grace and truth. Jesus, child of poor parents, a child of the backwoods, a child influenced by the culture of his time was aware by the age of 12 that he had to be in his Father's house. Lk2v49.

    (b) He was great. Charles Haddon Spurgeon has a wonderful sermon on this text in which he tries to describe just how great Jesus was.

      (I) He deals with great things. It was a great ruin he came to restore, great sin that he came to do away with, great pardon that he came to bestow.
      (II) He has great supplies to meet our wants. He is the bread of heaven to satisfy a great hunger, the living water to quench a great thirst, the light of the world to illuminate a great darkness, the Lamb of God to pay a great debt and the resurrection and the life to dispel a great despair.
      (III) He is a Christ of great preparations. He is engaged before the throne, today, in preparing a great heaven for his people; it will be made up of a great deliverance, great peace, great rest, great joy, great victory, great discovery, great fellowship, great rapture, great glory.

      Thank you Jesus.

    (c) He makes us great. Remember what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Brothers think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many of you were influential; not many were of noble birth. 1Cor2v26.

    In my lifetime the members of the church I attend in Suffolk have been farmers, housewifes, bakers, cleaners, labourers, shopkeepers, gardeners, painters, car mechanics, factory workers, schoolteachers, salesmen, insurance agents .... . None of us amount to much in the eyes of the world. But Christ has made us great - sons of God and his joint heirs. Paul tells the Ephesians: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Eph2v13. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household. v19.

(4) A prediction of a reign without end.

In hindsight this seems a strange prediction: "The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, his kingdom will never end." v33.

Christians know that Jesus' kingdom will never end because it is a spiritual kingdom. Jesus reigns in the hearts of men. All over the world there are millions whose first allegiance is to Jesus. We look forward with the author of, 'Once in royal David's city,' to a time when:

            Not in that poor lowly stable,
            With the oxen standing by,
            We shall see Him, but in heaven,
            Set at God's right hand on high,
            When, like stars, His children crowned,
            All in white shall wait around.

It is not easy to see in what sense Christ has been given the throne of his father David or how he reigns over the house of Jacob. Some argue that this will happen in the future. I consider it very doubtful that Jesus will ever reign on earth as an earthly monarch. Will he who eschewed the sword exercise power on earth by force of arms? I don't think so! What would be the point?

We must go back to 2Sam7 and look at God's promise to David. It is clear that God always intended the kingdom of David's greater son to be spiritual in nature. God told David: "He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his Kingdom for ever." 2Sam7v13.

The house of Jacob refers to God's chosen people. Under the new covenant all who believe in Jesus are the children of God. Christians, members of God's family by faith, constitute the house of Jacob; they are the new heirs to the promises and subjects of God's kingdom.

(D) The mystery.

Mary is tested as she is confronted by great mysteries and it reveals three things about her:

(1) Her thoughtfulness.

After Gabriel's promise: "You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus" Mary asks, "How will this be, since I am a virgin." v34.

The question that immediately suggests itself is: Why didn't Mary assume she would have a child by Joseph? She didn't need to remain a virgin for long! However, even as a very youthful teenager, Mary was perceptive and thoughtful. Gabriel had appeared to her and not to Joseph. If Jesus was going to be the natural son of Joseph surely the angel would have appeared first to the father - as in the case of Isaac and John the Baptist. It is also probable that Jesus was not a name found in the family of Joseph. At the circumcision of John the Baptist the guests were surprised at the choice of name because no-one among Zechariah's relatives was called John. See Luke1v59to61. So, Mary inquired about the process: How was she, a virgin, to get pregnant? The maid kept calm in a crisis. I think it showed a considerable degree of self-possession to cross-examine an angel!

People like Mr Jones of Dad's Army who are prone to panic are not much help in times of trouble. It is not much good crying out, "Don't panic! Don't panic!" and running around like a headless chicken. Sadly, some Christians are very much fair weather sailors. The first sign of a squall and they are scurrying for cover. The writer to the Hebrews rebukes the gutless believer with these words: We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. Heb3v14. See story about old Dick.

Mary did receive a mysterious and beautiful explanation of how she would conceive the holy child: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." v35. I find this a deeply satisfying explanation and one entirely appropriate for the conception of the son of the Most High God. Why should any Christian doubt it? Is the virgin birth too hard a thing for the Creator? As Gabriel said to Mary: For nothing is impossible with God." v37.

(2) Her humility.

Mary's reaction to Gabriel's mysterious information was to say, "I am the Lord's servant." v38. She described herself as the handmaid of the Lord - the lowliest of God's servants.

When I visit 96-year-old Dorothy Boreham she sometimes tells me about her time in service after leaving school aged 14. She had to get up at 5am, rake out the ashes of the previous day's fire and light a new one. Then she had to boil a kettle and take her mistress up a cup of tea. Another visit upstairs followed with hot water for her mistress to wash in. Before breakfast Dorothy had to do the dusting. When her mistress finally arrived on the scene the first thing she did was to take a white handkerchief and brush it across the mantelshelf and other ledges to check that the dusting had been done properly. There are not many who would take a job like this today!

In Isaiah49v6 God asks the prophet: It is too small a thing for you to be my servant? It is too small a thing for some of us to be God's humble servant - but it was not for Mary.

Being the Lord's servant is not easy. Success is not guaranteed. Isaiah complained: But I said, "I have laboured to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing." v4. Mary's intimate relationship with Jesus was not without misunderstandings, disappointments and sorrow.

The greatest reward of being the Lord's servant is, in the words of Isaiah: That you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth. v6. Those who serve God have a share in Christ's redeeming work. Mary played her part in redemptions story and so may we. There are millions and millions of believers in the world today and every single one of them is the outcome of someone's Christian service. A day is coming when every handmaid of the Lord will be honoured with the words: "Well done good and faithful servant! .... Come and share your master's happiness." Mt25v23.

(3) Her submissiveness.

Mary was able to say to Gabriel: "May it be to me as you have said." v38. She accepts the role she is given to be the mother of Jesus. A cost was involved. Joseph was very upset initially. People talked and rumours persisted for many years. Her reputation suffered. But as William Barclay put it so well: Mary learned to forget the world's commonest prayer - "Thy will be changed" - and to pray the world's greatest prayer - "Thy will be done."

Submission to God's will is often difficult but there is no peace for those who resist him. Submission does involve making sacrifices but it is not without its rewards! What a son Mary had! The blessed Saviour of all mankind - and Mary's Saviour too!