Our choir beautifully sang the recent favorite, “Mary Did You Know?” When the angel appeared to teenage Mary and she consented to the angel’s request to become the mother of Jesus, I am confident that she didn’t know what would happen, of how her son’s life would unfold.
No parent does. Now we might say we want our child to do this or that, to act this way or that way. We might say we want our child to be good, but parents, even Mary, don’t know.
But Jesus’ father did know. The passage from Luke referenced that Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph; I focused on his story two weeks ago, but Joseph was not Jesus’ father. God is Jesus’ father. Another name for Jesus was “Son of the Most High,” or simply “Son of God.” The theological or church term is the Incarnation; think of a pouring process. Every morning, I pour coffee into a cup or mug. God was poured into human flesh in much the same way. Simply stated, Jesus was “God in a bod.”
When Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was six-months pregnant with a boy later known as John the Baptist, an angel appeared to young Mary. She lived in the small town of Nazareth, which was not known for anything significant on the world’s stage at that time. Nazareth was in the province of Galilee, which was north of Judea where the Temple in Jerusalem was located.
Devout girls in the region eagerly awaited the Messiah, of which they had heard all their lives. Prophesies abounded with what life would be like when Messiah finally came. Mary was devout in her beliefs; she followed God as best as she knew how to do. She probably regularly attended the synagogue in Nazareth where she heard the scripture read and prayers offered; she did what was expected of her.
And one day out of nowhere, an angel appeared to her and the messenger’s words startled her. “Hail full of grace; greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” I’d be startled too!
The angel Gabriel told her not to be afraid and that she had found favor with God. God had chosen her to bear a son, to give birth to a boy who would be named Jesus, and he would be called “Son of the Most High.” Gabriel described the role of the Messiah, which no doubt Mary quickly remembered, but she had a question, “How can this be?”
This child would be the child of God, which must have seemed impossible to Mary, because she was a virgin. She was given a choice: accept or reject. But she had to get past, “How can this be?” You and I also have to get past what may be presenting obstacles. Regularly, choices get presented to us by God and we have to accept or reject. Most often, unfortunately we adjust our blinders so that all we can view are the primary difficulties. Rather than hearing God’s voice and then looking with eyes of faith, we limit our vision only to what we can see ourselves. Mary wondered how she could be the mother of the Son of the Most High.
The angel told her that Jesus would be the Son of God; her baby would be fully human and fully divine. And to provide proof that the impossible could really happen, Gabriel told the story of cousin Elizabeth becoming pregnant also.
Even though Mary didn’t understand how it might happen, she said yes. She made herself available to become the mother of God’s Son.
Mary was no doubt hoping for, looking for the coming Messiah, but she had no idea she would be chosen by God to bring the Messiah into the world herself. The choice of Mary was not random; she was expectant before she was expecting.
Today’s scripture provided Luke’s readers and us with the affirmation of the virgin birth of Jesus. Luke wrote to a Gentile audience; his gospel affirmed the uniqueness of Jesus. First-century followers believed that Jesus was different from any person who had ever lived. The virgin birth traced his uniqueness, showing that God alone was responsible for this birth.
Our passage also showed that God’s Son was actually born of a human and entered the world as a human baby. This infant was to develop as every other infant, toddler, child, teen and adult with normal human processes. Mary was pregnant like other women; she gave birth to a baby who was helpless, yet this was no ordinary baby. The pre-existent Christ and the human Jesus were the same. We know that the Godhead, the Trinity, was present at the creation, because we read in Genesis 1, “Let us make man in our own image.” The plural pronoun “us” shows that the Christ was always present and now would be found in the human Jesus. “Son of the Most High” was a title for the Messiah. I trust that you are enjoying the Advent devotionals; focusing on the biblical names of Jesus helps prepare us to celebrate the birth of the greatest gift ever given. This “Son of the Most High” brought joy to Mary. She had been chosen. The news was intended to be joyful because God had chosen Mary, an honor for which so many Jewish women had prayed. This Jesus was fully divine, which means if we ever wonder anything about God, we can look at the example of Jesus. If Jesus was Son of the Most High, God in a bod, then we know that we can learn more about God by studying Jesus, who was the revelation of God.
It’s not enough to learn the stories found in the Bible; head-knowledge is not the point. Applying the biblical principles is the reason God gave us Scripture. Being able to recite the verses is not the same as trying to do the what the verses say.
What do we find about this God in a bod when we read the gospels? “Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to the blind man? Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm the storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God?”
I still don’t think that Mary knew exactly how the life of her son would unfold. But for those of us who call ourselves Christians, for those of us who want to be known as little Christs, we are to act like Christ, who was God in a bod. And what can we learn about who God is? I offer three examples from the life of the Son of the Most High.
In John 4, we read that Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee; John recorded that Jesus had to go through Samaria, which is a sentence that is often overlooked. Jews hated Samaritans so much that they preferred not to step on Samaritan soil for fear of contamination, so they generally walked around the province of Samaria. But Jesus and his disciples entered Samaria. His disciples went to buy food in a nearby village, and Jesus sat by a well at noon, when the hot middle-eastern sun was directly over his head. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus asked her to give him a drink. The conversation which John provides in his gospel is the longest we have of Jesus and another person. Jesus offered this Samaritan woman living water. Not only did Jews and Samaritans hate each other, but Jewish Rabbis did not speak to women in public, yet Jesus initiated conversation with her. The two could not have been more different: different race, different gender, different belief system, and different lifestyle, yet Jesus accepted her. Want to know what God is like? God in a bod accepted people who were different; the Son of the Most High didn’t fall into the traps of social stereotypes. Jesus accepted her right where she was; he didn’t say, “Get better and come back to me.” He loved her right where she was and didn’t see the differences. The Samaritan woman was one of God’s children; the Son of the Most High recognized that. If we call ourselves Christians, we are to act like God in a bod.
John 5 provides another glimpse of God’s greatest attributes. Jesus went by a pool where many sick and paralyzed people awaited the extraordinary stirring of the waters which many thought brought healing to the first one who entered. Jesus asked one man specifically, “Do you want to be healed?” The man had been sick for 38 years and then offered excuse after excuse of how others broke in line, were faster than him, or that no one would help. And then Jesus healed him, and by the way, all this happened on the Sabbath.
As the healed man was carrying his mat, the most religious of the day chastised the man for doing something unlawful on the Sabbath. The healed man then said, “But the man who healed me told me to carry my mat,” yet he didn’t even know Jesus’ name.
So a guy was sick for 38 years, with seemingly no initiative, no faith, and no gratitude, yet Jesus healed him. The man expected others to take care of him, passed the buck, and even finked on Jesus. What does this say about God in a bod? We will never deserve the grace of God, because it is unmerited and not dependent upon anything that we do; God is going to love us regardless of how grateful we are or not; how worthy we may think we are or not. We think that God loves us more because of what we do, and we look down on those who don’t do as much for God. We show love to those who we think merit our kindness and provide grace to those we know the best. The Son of the Most High extended grace to those who didn’t deserve it and then never asked for anything in return. That’s our example. If we call ourselves Christians, we are to act like God in a bod.
Finally, God is more interested in relationships than in rules. In John 8, we find a story of Jesus teaching in the Temple when he was interrupted by religious men dragging a woman who had been caught in the very act of committing adultery. They reminded Jesus that the Law commanded that this woman be stoned and then asked Jesus what he thought should happen. These religious men never acknowledged that it takes two to commit adultery.
Jesus knelt down and began writing in the dirt floor of the Temple. The religious rule-keepers continued to grandstand as a lawyer who thinks they have the upper hand. Finally Jesus straightened up and said, “If anyone among you is without sin, you can throw the first stone.” The Son of the Most High valued love and forgiveness over legalistic rule-keeping. Theologians have conjectured that when Jesus was writing in the dirt of the Temple floor, he was recording the names of the accusers and the sins which they had committed. None of us are without sin; none of us live in glass houses, therefore none of us are eligible to throw stones. The new covenant which Jesus created values relationships over rules. If we call ourselves Christians, we are to act like God in a bod.
Recalling the stories of Christmas become only historical narratives unless we apply their truths to how we live day-to-day. I find great joy in trying to follow the actions of God in a bod; while I fail, I do find great joy when I have acted like Jesus.
What about you? Want to find real joy? Claim to be a follower of Jesus? Live like God in a bod.