In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
Some years ago Bette Midler made popular the song “From A Distance”, with the haunting refrain: “God is watching us / God is watching us / God is watching us / From a distance”. The song gave the idea that if God is doing anything at all, He is pretty much just hanging out, keeping His distance from us, and watching us.
Fortunately, this is not the God revealed to us in Bible, or the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. God is intimately, compassionately involved in the world making and keeping promises to us. Contrary to the post-Enlightenment, secular myth about living in a “closed continuum of cause and effect”, God does intervene in time and space. God does miraculously enter into our lives.
The miracle of Christmas begins as the Maker of Heaven and Earth dispatches Gabriel to earth with astounding news. Gabriel is God’s messenger angel who delivers critical, world-changing messages. It was Gabriel who was sent by God to the prophet Daniel to set forth the course of redemption history (Daniel 8:15-26; 9:21-27). It was Gabriel sent by God to announce the birth of John the Baptist who would prepare the way for Messiah (Luke 1:8-20).
Now Gabriel is “sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth”. Notice in today’s text that Nazareth is so small, so insignificant, that the Gospel writer has to identify its location for any who are outside of Palestine: it is “a town in Galilee”. Nazareth is so inconsequential to the world that it is not even mentioned in the Old Testament, the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, or the rabbinic writings of some two thousand people. But it is to little Nazareth, to a virgin no more than twelve or thirteen years of age, that God’s special messenger angel is sent.
That the Gospel writer identities her as a “virgin” is meant to show her as the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s promise seven hundred years before: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The Lord is a God of the impossible, bringing life out of death, light out of darkness, and a Savior from a virgin womb. But this is how God has acted time and again throughout history, creating and caring for His people through miraculous and impossible births.
Remember how Abraham and Sarah were 100 and 90 years old, but God brought forth from them Isaac, the child of God’s promise (Genesis 17:15-21; 21:1-3). Then there were Isaac and Rebekah, who were barren until old age when they conceived twins, Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:19-26). This theme of God’s miraculous births continues in the conception stories of Samson and Samuel (Judges 13:2-7; I Samuel 1:1-20). Both men were born to barren women, raised up in time of national crisis, acting as God’s deliverers of His people. Miraculous births in the Bible serve to remind us that we are all created and sustained by God’s amazing grace.
Gabriel’s astonishing announcement to a young virgin is linked in the text to a barren couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who conceive John the Baptist in their older years. The text notes that Gabriel went to a virgin named Mary in the “sixth month”. This is the “sixth month” of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and sets the stage for the Messiah’s birth. God brings forth John the Baptist from Elizabeth in her old age, and brings forth the Messiah from a young girl who is a virgin.
Humanly speaking this is impossible, except that God keeps His promise of world redemption. God is about to do the extraordinary through an ordinary life, in an ordinary little town. The ordinariness of it all is what makes this Christmas story so extraordinary. In much the same way today, God goes about His extraordinary work of using ordinary people like you and me to bring in the Kingdom of God.
Read through today’s text once again, slowly and prayerfully. Sit with it for a few moments, asking God to speak to you.
- How do you picture Gabriel, God’s special messenger angel? His appearance? His countenance? His voice?
- Why do you think God chooses to work through situations that are humanly impossible?
- Think of times that you have seen God do the extraordinary through the ordinary.