Sermon delivered at Grace Presbyterian Church, December 17, 2000
The Greatest Turning Point!
Life is filled with turning points.
Yet there were other very important moments too: There was the day I married Lois, the birth of each of our children, and the day a tornado ripped our house apart.
You've all had turning points in your lives.
There are some events where the influence wasn't noticed at the time, but looking back you see that if things had gone differently your life would be different today.
The history of the whole world has turned
Sometimes seemingly little decisions have had enormous effects: such as the nailing of 95 theses for debate on the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517, or President Lincoln's choice to attend a stage play at the Ford Theater, or Kennedy's preference to ride in an open limousine one day in Dallas.
But its beyond debate that there was one event that has had a most significant effect than them all -- the birth of Jesus was the greatest turning point in the unfolding of history.
It began to be realized in a series of unnoticed events that happened to a humble family in Galilee. It was in that way that God's promise was turned into fulfillment. The longed for spiritual hope took on the clothing of physical reality.
Its first touch was felt by the world in the visit of an angel to a young girl named Mary:
This wasn't the sixth month of some calendar year.
There have been many detailed and complicated theories trying to figure this out. Some are based on when shepherds would have been out in the fields around Bethlehem. Others are based on the travels of the wise men from the East. Some even try to guess based on the appearance of the star of Bethlehem. But to do that the biblical account has to be changed to make it fit with astronomical theories. Guesses about conjoined planets or a supernova disagree with the descriptions in the Bible, and assume that errors are part of the biblical record.
Every one of the theories about Jesus' birth has as many problems as it gives answers. God doesn't tell us the day or month of his birth.
Christmas was set on December 25th as an arbitrary date. It was not based on a study of Scripture. And there is no other first hand record. It was probably decided to fit in with pagan holiday celebrations of the winter solstice. But December 25th is as good a date as any to remember the incarnation of our Lord.
Luke had just been telling about the promise of the birth of a baby named John to Elizabeth and Zecharias the high priest.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy:
He came to a young girl named Mary.
It says she was a virgin. The Greek word is parthenos. We see from what follows that it means she had not been with a man intimately.
But she was betrothed
The promises made are more similar to marriage vows today. During the betrothal, sexual infidelity was considered the same as the crime of adultery. A betrothal could only be ended by a formal divorce, which was not sanctioned by God.
But unlike our marriage ceremony, the couple didn't begin living together afterward. The union was not consummated yet. When it came time for the two to begin living as a married couple, the bridegroom would come for the bride and often in a procession and with a celebration take her to be his wife. It was then that they consummated their union.
When the angel came to Mary, she and Joseph were betrothed, but had not yet come together in marriage.
It appears that both Mary and Joseph
Joseph was a simple carpenter living in a simple town nestled on a hill far from Jerusalem. This was not the family of a learned rabbi, or a diplomat, or statesman. What an amazing beginning! Such was the first touch of the Messiah's promised coming.
The angel gave a startling greeting to this young Jewish girl:
The angel came in, presumably into her home. He greeted her with the common word khaire. The word "Hail" is a poor translation for today. It was used when people met. Its like our "Hello" or "Its good to see you."
But then he added some more unusual words ... He called her favored one. And he announced that the Lord was with her, obviously in some special way.
We don't have the details. But imagine a young girl busy about her home in Nazareth. It seems she was alone and probably her mind on usual things going about the chores of a usual day.
Then someone entered into her home. We don't know if she recognized that it was a spirit messenger in human form. But what he said was most unusual, and he gave her such an honored title!
She was greatly troubled at this statement. Notice that it wasn't the visitor or his coming that troubled her. It was what was said! The language implies that she was going back and forth in her mind trying to figure out what this greeting meant?
Then Gabriel continued ...
The angel immediately dealt with Mary's fears He called her by name, and repeated that she had found favor with God.
The favor of God is always an amazing bestowal: to Mary, to every child of God. But the details that were to follow were even more amazing. She was to become pregnant with a son! Nothing miraculous was mentioned just yet. The angel had just begun to amaze her!
Then the angel immediately gave details about who this child was to be: His name was to be Jesus. The name wasn't explained to her at this time. The name in Greek is Iaesou. But this is Luke's translation. The Aramaic or Hebrew name the angel spoke was Yeshu'a, short for Yehoshu'a. It literally means Yahveh (or Jehovah) saves or helps.
It was a common name among Jews. History shows there were others at that time named Jesus. There are even others by that name in the Bible.
Shortly after this the angel appeared to Joseph and explained the significance of the name to him:
Then the messenger of God explained the unique character of Jesus ...
He will be great:
He will be called Son of the Most High:
And he will reign forever in the kingly office promised to David:
Every Jew knew the words the angel referred to: The prophet Nathan said long ago to the great King David, in
Then in verse 16 Nathan concluded the promise to David ...
Imagine all this racing through the mind of this young girl!
She knew these teachings! It was the longed for promise of the Messiah. But did she comprehend that he was not just to be an earthly king as David was. He would be the seed of a woman promised to Eve at the gates of Eden! The one who would crush the head of the serpent and be the lamb of God the one foreshadowed by all the generations of sacrifices and miracles fulfilling the amazing prophecies she had learned as she was growing up.
But Mary had a very practical question:
Literally her question was: "How is this, since I know no man?"
Her question was certainly justified!
There is no indication of any lack of belief of what the angel said.
We should notice that there is absolutely no foundation to the Roman Catholic claim that Mary had taken a perpetual vow of virginity. If she had, then her betrothal vows to Joseph were a sin. The vows included the promise to be married and consummate the marriage faithfully.
The Angel continued:
The method of her pregnancy was graciously explained:
Somehow, God would cause a baby to come to life in her. He would be a true descendent of David and derive at least some of his genetic pattern from Mary.
But this would be a male child! There was genetic information Mary didn't already carry. It would truly be God assuming human flesh!
This has of course been rejected by non-Christians.
But there are problems with such unbelief. What kind of story would this be? Who would be expected to believed such a thing? Pregnant girls may say they were raped or admit their sin, but to say an angel came and God caused her pregnancy? Its unlikely the people of Nazareth would be so naive. There were other miraculous confirmations clearly recorded in the Bible. This was no made up story by a couple of immoral teens in Galilee.
Unbelievers begin by presuming they can absolutely rule out anything they don't understand. They assume that nothing beyond the natural is possible. Yet their theories and stories have no foundation in any evidence at all. They are only based on presumptions of comprehensive knowledge of all possibilities. Such arrogance betrays the blindness of the unregenerate heart.
The biblical record makes it clear that this was a supernatural conception.
Jesus was the holy offspring of God.
But the angel gave evidence too:
Mary would witness proof that God was at work in a special way.
What an amazing crescendo of information!
With all this shocking news, Mary showed humble submission to her Lord:
What a humble servant this young girl was!
She was certainly not a divine intercessor.
However, Mary was a humble and blessed woman chosen by God's grace. She is a worthy example for all who serve him.
This was certainly a turning point event in her life!
And her son -- who is he to us today?
Christmas Day may not be his actual birthdate. But its a wonderful opportunity. Then and always we can declare him to others, and be reminded ourselves, the promised kingdom of David continues beyond the palaces of this earth. We have a Sovereign Lord and Savior who changes lives. He is the hope of all the ages and of all the wise.
Tell those you meet at this season and always, about the hope God promises us in Jesus Christ.