God’s prophet, Isaiah, got it right when he wrote these words: “Unto us, a Child is born, unto us, a Son is given…and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). During the Christmas season, we Christians do not just celebrate the birth of the “Christ Child,” born to us, but rejoice that the “Son of God” was given for us.
Isaiah prophesied not only the Messiah’s virgin birth, but also his virgin life, as well as the purpose of his coming into the world as God’s “anointed one” (the meaning of the Hebrew word, Messiah). It had been revealed to Isaiah that the Messiah would not be the “warrior king” God’s covenant people were expecting and praying for, another mighty ruler from the line of David who would overthrow their Roman oppressors and return Israel to her former glory, but rather a Suffering Servant who would be rejected by his own people and “…led as a lamb to the slaughter,” one would be “…wounded for our transgressions, and bruised (more literally translated“crushed”) for our iniquities” as “an offering for sin,”slain according to God’s will, for our salvation (read Isaiah 53:1-6). Isaiah even foretold the Messiah’s death as a criminal, although unjustly condemned for he would be innocent and blameless, suffering silently, “opening not his mouth”, condemned without protest or any self-defense — dying as “the righteous one,” although mocked and “numbered among the wicked” (i.e., along with others guilty of the crimes for which they too would also be condemned to death) — and finally, Isaiah also foretelling how the “tomb” where the body of the Messiah would be buried would be among the “rich” (just as a wealthy man, who had become a “secret disciple” of Jesus, did allow the crucified Christ to be buried in a tomb that had been prepared for himself), but the Messiah would not be a “victim,” but in reality the Victor over sin, suffering, death, and the darkness of the grave,” seeing light,” the dawning of a new day, a turning of all our sunsets into a sunrise, “making many righteous,” and serving as our great High Priest “making intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:7-12).
Then, seven hundred years later these prophecies were completely fulfilled, begining with Gabriel, who appeared to Mary in the village of Nazareth, with this startling news: “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you! Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son; you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor, David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:26-33)
Mary could not believe that she had been chosen. Yes, she believed in God, but who was she to be called by God to be the mother of the Messiah, the mother of the Christ, the Word of God made flesh, in human form? Yes, she had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. She knew the prophecies and believed the promises of God would always come true. She had heard the words of Isaiah that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, that the Christ Child would be born, and a Son would be given. But surely the angel of the Lord God had made a mistake, had just gotten his addresses mixed up and gone to the wrong house! His message, no doubt, was intended for a different Mary! This “favor” of which the angel spoke would undoubtedly be given to a woman of noble birth, from one of the priestly families, not to an ordinary peasant girl! She had no formal training. She had only been educated in the little synagogue school in Nazareth. She had no suitable background that qualified her for such a high and holy task.
Mary had never learned that God does not call the qualified; he qualifies the called! We see this lesson throughout the scriptures, God’s choice of Abraham, Moses, Jacob, the prophets, and the ones Jesus called to be his first disciples and later, Saul of Tarsus of all people! Yes, Mary had tried to live a good life. She had kept the commandments, but she knew in her heart that she did not deserve to be chosen by God. Of course, none of us do! Mary asked the angel, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34). She was not only thinking of her virginity, and her lack of qualifications, when she asked that question; she was thinking about such an incredible event as a virgin birth! However, Mary believed in a God for whom there are no impossibilities! She knew better than to continue questioning God’s wisdom in choosing her. No, it is not wrong to question God. Even Jesus questioned his Father from the cross, crying out, “Why, Father? Why have you forsaken me?” I believe that all of our “whys” are summed up in that one geat “why?” of our Lord from the cross! If it was not wrong for Jesus to question his Father in heaven, then it is surely not wrong for us with our feeble minds, to ask God, “Why?”
We can be sure Mary continued to question God as her son, Jesus, was nurtured in the faith of her fathers, as he “grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God,” and as it became obvious to her that Jesus was indeed the “Suffering Servant” God’s prophet, Isaiah, had foretold. Mary and Joseph tried to protect Jesus from the time of his birth, for King Herod had learned of one who was born in Bethlehem who was to become “king of the Jews.” Herod would not tolerate any other claims to the throne and had even had his own sons killed. The infant Jesus had to be nurtured in flight, as the holy family fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of the kIng. They did not return to their homeland, and their hometown, Nazareth, until they learned of Herod’s death. Then, after growing to manhood and taking his father’s place in the carpenter’s shop, the day finally came when Jesus knew he must begin his earthly ministry. He swept the floor, cleaned up the shavings, put away his tools, locked the door of the shop and told his mother he was going to the Judean wilderness to be baptized by John, who would proclaim him to be “…the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world.” Mary must have trembled, for she was so afraid for her son, still concerned for his safety. Jesus had told her as a boy that he had to be “…about his Father’s business.” He had grown in that conviction through the years, and like his mother, Jesus knew he had to be obedient to his Father in heaven, and submissive to his will.
Try to imagine Mary’s anguish as she followed him during his three years of public ministry, then “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” rather than remaining in Galilee where he would be so much safer. Most of all, try to grasp her sense of despair, feeling so helpless and hopeless, as he was falsely accused of crimes he had never really committed, unjustly tried, condemned to death, scourged, spat upon, mocked in vulgar jest and nailed to a cruel cross. Imagine hearing him as he prayed, asking his heavenly Father to forgive the sins of those who had been in charge of the detail of hammer and nails, for they did not know what they were doing! I doubt if Mary was able to join her son in that prayer, although she knew God had a larger plan, a higher purpose than she was able to understand. Finally, consider how Mary must have suffered an unimaginable anguish of soul, the horrible pain of a broken heart, when she heard her suffering son speaking those last words with his final breath, “It is finished…Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” — as his head fell to his battered, bruised, and bloodstained body. Finally, imagine the horror of helping those who had the task of removing his lifeless body from the cross, lovingly wrapping it in the cloths and carrying it to the nearby garden where a tomb had been prepared for his burial. Although Jesus had told Mary and his friends that he would only be in the grave “three days,” they had not taken those words literally. They believed all the chosen people of God would be raised on the “last day,” whenever that day came.
Once again, try to imagine Mary helping to complete the traditional burial preparations, placing the grave clothes around the washed body of Jesus, with spices between the folds, and a napkin about his head. Finally, what a jolt it must have been for Mary when a huge round stone was rolled across the entrance to the tomb with a dreadful thud of finality! We really cannot even begin to imagine how troubled her spirit was, for it must have seemed to her, as well as the few disciples and other women who were at the tomb, that the enemies of Jesus had succeeded in putting a bloody period to his life! But once again, it was prophecy fulfilled! God was not taken by surprise; He never is!
No wonder it was John who was called “the beloved disciple.” No wonder it was to John’s care that Jesus would commit his mother, telling her from his cross, “Woman, behold your son,” and telling John “Behold your mother!” For John was the only one of the original twelve disciples who went all the way to the cross with Jesus! When Jesus was calling disciples to follow him, twelve came. When he later asked all his followers, “How many of you are willing to visit others in their homes, 70 came. When he taught, 500 came. When he fed, 5000 came! But when he went to the Garden of Gethsemane to agonize in prayer, was lonely and asked some of the disciples to go with him, to pray with him and stay with him, 3 came! Then when Jesus made his way to that hill named “Golgotha,” for it was “shaped like a skull” the place where he would be crucified – only 1 came – John! It was John who received that incredible vision we can read about in the Book of Revelation today.
Angels announced the birth of the Christ Child. His birth was announced on wings of song, first to a group of humble shepherds: “For to YOU is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord” — and the angels in heaven trembled when Christ the Lord, in human form, died as the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. Then the angels in heaven rejoiced when the crucified Christ was raised from the dead in power and glory! Then when the risen Christ ascending into heaven, they bowed down before him when he was seated on his heavenly throne. They have continued to sing his praises ever since, through the ages until the present time —and will continue to do so for all eternity! However, they know that the Son was not given for them, and they cannot sing, “Worthy is the Lamb slain for US.” But we will be able to do so, if we are numbered among the redeemed, just as we have sung on earth, “Joy to the world!, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.”
Isaiah got it right! “Unto US a child is born; unto US a Son is given!”