|Luke #3 Behold, The Slave-girl of the Lord
Behold, The Slave-girl of the Lord
Reading: Luke 1:26-38
Introduction: I need to ask a huge favor this morning of all the young ladies in our audience that are between the ages of 12 and 14 years old. Would you please raise your hands just for a moment? Now the embarrassing part: Would you mind standing up and turning around and facing the audience so they can see you? Thank you so much! I asked these young ladies to help me out because this morning's story is about a girl probably was about the age of these girls. In the first century, it was common for marriages to be arranged by the parents of an 18-20 year old young man and a 12-14 year old daughter. If we were reading or hearing this story for the first time along with Theophilus, our story this morning would be one of great similarity and great contrast to the first episode. Last week we saw God at work in the lives of a couple that was righteous, tied closely to the temple, but too old to have children.
This week we leave the temple setting, and the talk about righteous people, and a woman too old to have children, and we are faced with a very different problem. The setting is rural Israel, an inconsequential village called Nazareth, and we see Gabriel again, the heavenly messenger who stands in the presence of God, only he has returned to earth. As he comes to the home of this girl named Mary, think of those faces you saw standing a few moments ago. If you are parents of a 14 year old daughter, put yourself in the shoes of Mary's parents for a few minutes as we witness this encounter between Gabriel and Mary. In just the last few months you have carefully arranged for Mary to be married to Joseph, a nice young man—their family actually traces their lineage back to king David, but the family trade is carpentry. Such a marriage would not be possible were your daughter not a virgin—twice Luke reminds us that Mary is still a virgin. Joseph and Mary seem like a good match for each other, and the dowry was set and the engagement made official. We need to remember that these people didn't start dating and fall in love and then ask permission and blessing from the parents to get married. Maybe they had known of each other. All of the male high school seniors and college freshmen should think about the idea of being engaged to a 14 year old! We would call them cradle robbers for sure, wouldn't we? Which of you parents would even allow your 13 or 14 year old daughter to date an 18 year old? But those were different times. The courtship would have progressed over the year of engagement—love would have been a decision, feelings would have come later.
Evidently there are no parents around when the strange man comes to the door. Nazareth is a safe place, so there is no perceived threat of danger when someone knocks on the door and young Mary responds by opening the door and seeing a complete stranger. “Hail, oh favored one, The Lord is with you” he says! No “Hello, my name is Gabriel.” No evidence as there seems to have been in Zechariah's case that this was a heavenly being. And what a strange greeting from a strange man! Our translation says that Mary was greatly troubled—“Utterly confused” may be a better sense of it. What kind of greeting is that from a strange man at the front door—“Hail, oh favored one, the Lord is with you.”
The angel senses her discomfort as he continues: “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor (literally grace) before God. Behold you will become pregnant and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (There is something very odd in the story at this point, especially in comparison to the previous one where God went to the man, not the woman, to reveal what was to happen, and told the man what the child’s name would be). It was the father’s decision in that culture to name the baby. Here we hear almost nothing about the supposed father, Joseph, except the assurance that he is a descendent of David. We will have to read Matthew's account to know more about Joseph’s role in the story. Remember now that you are a young teenage girl, listening to a stranger at your door telling you that you have found favor with God and that you are about to be a mom—you’re going to have a baby! You, not the father, but you will name him Jesus. All of that is the easy part, but Gabriel is not through. “He will be great and will be called son of the Most High (a title for God) and the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David” (his father David—this is the first link to Joseph that you have heard). “And he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
How in this world is a 13 or 14 year old girl supposed to comprehend all of that? And yet this girl’s response is remarkable. When Zechariah heard the news about his son John, he said, “How shall I know this?” In other words, where is some proof for these claims. Mary says, “How shall this be, since I do not know a man” (literally). Since I have had no sexual relations with a man, how will this take place? As unreal as the story was to this point it now turns an even more incredible corner. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the most High will overshadow you. The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
Holy Spirit conception; the child will be Holy, Son of God. As hearers of the story, we are dying to ask, How? When? In the first centuries, Luke's audience would have been well aware of the legendary stories of the divine births of Alexander the Great and Augustus, both mythically linked to the gods by divine birth stories. In each case their mothers had night time encounters with snakes in their beds, and nine or ten months later gave birth to sons, each of whom was believed to be a son of the god Apollo because of the snake experience. Here of course, there is no speculation about how, only the call to believe.
As proof of what he is saying, Gabriel refers back to his earlier encounter with Zechariah and to what is by now an accomplished fact. Mary's kinswoman, Elizabeth, the one barren for all these years, is now in her sixth month of pregnancy. And then comes the punch-line not just of this episode but with the entire two volume work of Luke-Acts: For with God nothing will be impossible! Almost the exact words are found in Genesis 18 when Abraham and Sarah learn they will indeed have a son. “With God, nothing will be impossible.”
So here we are listening to a story, watching this young, innocent, teenage girl trying to understand all that this stranger at the door is telling her. "Hail oh favored one. The Lord is with you. You will have a son...name him Jesus... be great...son most high...throne of David, forever. ..kingdom no end. Holy Spirit come upon you...”
Before this guy showed up, it was just an ordinary day, with mom's list of chores, day dreams about Joseph and getting married, and all the fears and the excitement that go with wedding plans. What about Joseph? What about her wedding? What about her kinswoman Elizabeth?
Then comes her incredible response: “Behold, the hand-maiden”—literally, the slave girl—“of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” I'm yours Lord, everything I’ve got, everything I am and everything I’m not. I’m yours Lord let it be to me according to your word. In some ways, perhaps it is easier to say that at 12 or 13 or 14 than at 24 or 32 or 53. Too innocent, too naive, to question or doubt, simply a response of faith. Behold the Lord’s servant girl. Total allegiance and resignation to be the Lord’s person come what may. And how would she tell mom and dad about this conversation? How would she tell Joseph. How will either of them try to explain this to the rest of the folks in Nazareth when she is pregnant and they’re not married?
In the larger context of Luke's story, think for a moment about the contrast between these two birth announcements. John will be great before the Lord; Jesus will be great and Son of the Most High. John will prepare a people; Jesus will rule a people. John’s role is temporary; Jesus' kingdom will never end. John is to be a prophet; Jesus will be more than a prophet—he is Son of God! John will be filled with the Holy Spirit. The overshadowing of the Spirit and Power will make Jesus the HOLY ONE.
In contrast to Zechariah's official position in the priesthood and the declared righteousness of both him and Elizabeth, there is Mary, who holds no official position. She is young in a world that values age, female in a world ruled by men, poor in a stratified economy, and she has no husband or child to validate her experience. But she has found favor with God. God has chosen her to be the mother of his one-and-only son born in human flesh. She has heard the heavenly messenger speak, worked through the immediate confusion created by his opening comments and her response is, Behold the Lord’s slave-girl.
Anyone here want to trade places with her? Does anyone here have the courage, even in the circumstances we've been given in life to say, “Behold the Lord's servant. Let it be to me according to your word.” Anyone here ready to believe with her, “With God nothing will be impossible”? In our personal lives and in the life of this church, there are so many opportunities to view life through the glasses that say, NO. No, that’s not possible, that’s not realistic. No, that’s never happened before, not a part of my experience. You want me to do that? I’m just not comfortable.
It’s not a question of worthiness. Nothing in this story except perhaps her answer suggests Mary merited God’s choosing her. God's grace chose her. God’s Spirit would overshadow her. Throughout this story God is the great actor, and Mary is correct—she simply submits to service, to what God is going to do in her and through her. So with you and me: We've done nothing to merit the salvation that he offers, even the innate abilities we have we did nothing to merit--they are a gift from God as well. And how silly it sounds then, to tell the one who created us and who calls us--No, not me.
Lois Cheney writes: Moses said, “Oh come on now! Be sensible! Not me! I’m a terrible speaker. They’d never listen to me.” And God said, “Oh, for crying out loud! O.K., I’ll use your brother to help with the speaking.” And Moses led God’s people out of disintegration.
Jonah said, “Oh Come on now! Be sensible! Not me! I’m not the type.” And after a rather unexpected vacation in a fish, just thinking things over, he talked to God’s people, and led them God’s way.
And Zacharias said, “Oh come on now! Be sensible! Not me! My wife and I are too old to have any kids.” And God said, “Oh shut up!” And he did shut up—for nine months. And John was born and the way for the Christ opened up.
And I heard a child say, “I can’t serve God, I’m too young.”
And I heard a boy say, “I can’t serve God, I’m not good enough.”
And I heard a woman say, “I can’t serve God, I’m not skilled enough.”
I wonder if God ever gets any new problems.
(From Lois Cheney, God Is No Fool, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1969, 130-31).
Who will say with Mary this morning, “Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” Who will believe with Mary this morning: Nothing, NOTHING will be impossible with God!
Delivered at Brentwood Hills, October 3, 1993 a.m.
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