Dec 28 2012
“You want to feel God? Feel here!”
Trauma! That’s the only way to describe the Christmas story. You’re in your final year of engagement, the wedding day is in sight, and suddenly you’re pregnant, and the baby doesn’t belong to the man you’re marrying! This is trauma, this is pain! To make it worse; this is a culture where loss of virginity before marriage is not tolerated. Anyone who had sex before marriage had the image of a prostitute. They brought lasting shame on their family, and the guilty parties could face execution by stoning. This was trauma of the highest degree!
For Mary to go through this, she would need an angel, and that is what she got. But no ordinary angel – this was Gabriel; God wasn’t taking this lightly.
♦ Gabriel told all. Mary would have a son who would inherit David’s throne and rule forever. Dramatic stuff! But the only thing Mary could think of was, “How…I’m a virgin!” Gabriel explains that the conception will be by the Holy Spirit, and as proof that God can do this he points out that her relative Elizabeth who was barren and old is now six months pregnant by a miracle of God.
As soon as the angel left, Mary hurried off to see Elizabeth. If she found Elizabeth pregnant she would be a much needed ally. Elizabeth was old and wise, and had a reputation in the family.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth three months which was a clever move. She needed to be away from Joseph’s family till she saw the first signs of life inside her. What an awesome time those three months must have been. What mystery to know that the individual inside you has no human father. I can imagine Mary putting Elizabeth’s hand on her stomach and saying, “You want to feel God? Feel that!”
Luke’s gospel focuses on the moment Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting. It sounds like Mary called her from a distance and at that moment little Johnny, soon to be Baptist, leapt inside her and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. This is real. If any of you witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Toronto during the 90s, you will know how a voice on the other side of a room can cause the Holy Spirit to come on someone causing them to leap, shake, and prophecy. Well, little Johnny leapt, Elizabeth was filled, and then she prophesied over Mary pronouncing God’s blessing on her.
Mary now had God’s confirmation through someone she knew and trusted. Isn’t it true that no matter how dramatically God’s voice is, we still need other kinds of confirmation? Especially the prophetic word through those we trust.
The big test however was still ahead. Mary had to face Joseph and his family. Well, we know what happened. Joseph did not accept the story … Well, would you? Who of us would accept that our fiancé had been made pregnant by God? We would see this as outright sin – fornication. I can imagine the scene. There must have been tears, accusations, anger, disappointment, and looks that could kill. I can see Joseph saying, “A few months to go to our dream wedding and you go out on the street and behave like a common prostitute!” That’s certainly the way it would have looked in first century Judea.
And how did Mary feel? She must have felt alienated, misunderstood, a source of conflict and shame for both families. Perhaps she had moments where she wondered if she was going mad, perhaps there were times when she felt angry at God for getting her into this. One thing I am certain of is that she must have prayed desperately. Have you been there? Were you one of those people who were doing fine, and as soon as God came into your life everything went wrong! If so, you and Mary have a lot in common. These are testing times.
Spare a thought for Joseph too. He was probably as sad as he was angry. He decided not to make the whole issue public; he would just divorce Mary quietly and do his best to move on. He must have been shattered. What had happened to the innocent Mary he knew?
At this point Joseph had his dream (Mt 1.18-25). And now it was his time to see an angel. I wonder if it was Gabriel again. The angel told him not to be ‘afraid’ to take Mary as his wife. That’s an interesting term. Was he afraid that he might marry a bad girl? Was he afraid what the community might do if his wife was found to be pregnant before the wedding day? Both of these could be real concerns. But the angel said two things that must have convinced him. The angel confirmed that the conception was by the Holy Spirit, and that the son to be born was to be called Jesus; exactly what Mary said. But it was one thing to hear it from Mary, quite another to hear it from an angel. When someone has a word from God that affects you, you need to hear from God for yourself. God understands this. Even today there are people who will say, “You must marry me; God told me so!” We must not accept it till we hear from God for ourselves.
We are not told what happened next, but Joseph must have contacted Mary and said, “We need to talk.” How did he explain himself? He had rejected her angelic experience and now he had had his own! I think there must have been a certain amount of teasing before there was laughter.
Matthews’s gospel focuses on the prophecy, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” I wonder how long it took for Mary to realize that she was in the scriptures! That would be mind blowing! Imagine discovering that an incident in your life was foretold in the Bible! I am sure she and Joseph would have run down to the local synagogue to check the book of Isaiah for themselves. Can you imagine the synagogue ruler’s curiosity? “What do you mean; you’re the ‘virgin with child?’”
For Matthew however, it was the end part of the prophecy that was most important, “They will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” Matthew had met Jesus as an adult. As an apostle of Christ he had witnessed his miracles, preaching, and resurrection, so he knew from experience that Jesus was ‘God with us.’ Now he was using his experience to back up the testimony of Joseph and Mary.
Its Christmas time but this is not a message about Christ’s birth, it’s a message about his conception. We are talking about the extraordinary events that occurred when Jesus ‘The Word’ (Jn 1.14) was conceived in Mary. But did you know that God’s Word is still being conceived today? Yes, his Word is being conceived in believers everywhere. And all of us go through a certain amount of conflict like Mary did as God brings his promise to full term and a final birth. I can testify that God has impregnated me with His Word; I have vision for things that have not yet occurred. And sometimes what God has promised in the heavens just doesn’t seem to be happening on the ground. Sometimes I think I’m like Mary who is believing the promise, but watching Joseph leave. But right at that moment God found a way to bring them together.
Are you carrying God’s Word? Are you carrying His vision? If not, pray for his Spirit to come upon you and for His Word to be conceived in you; there must be something He wants to do in your life. And if you know you have conceived a Word from Him, pray that He will encourage you as you wait for Him to bring it to full term. Perhaps He will send an Elizabeth who will confirm that God is indeed doing a work within you. Merry Christmas!
Words to Vineyard Mombasa: Tongues of fire conceiving God’s word | Encouraging each other prophetically like Elizabeth did.
Other Illustrations: Dreaming of Wimber.
EMMANUEL by Chris Tomlin may be fitting way to finish:
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