Anticipating the Coming King

Luke 1:46-55

This has been a year of anticipation for us.  Waiting on two grandchildren to be born (both of which took longer to arrive than was expected). An anxious week in the hospital praying for Diana’s father’s recovery – hoping for the best, preparing for the worst. Life is like that – anticipating the future, knowing that it is all in God’s hands, but wishing for a glimpse into what it holds.

When was the first time you remember sensing a real need for Christ?  For some of us that’s a hard question – we were raised in the church, knowing about Christ, hearing about him every Sunday, knowing that someday we too would take that walk down the aisle to be baptized.  It might be difficult to pin-point a time when we changed from knowing about Christ to having a deep desire to know Christ.  For others of us, God’s entrance into our lives was more dramatic – we remember clearly that feeling of “Aha! Oh no!” as we were introduced to the wonderful news that Jesus had died on the cross, but that it was our sin that put him there.  And for us, baptism was a watershed event where we literally left the old life to become a new creation. 

That yearning – it’s been around a long time.  Even before there were words to express it, or a Christ to embody it.

We began last week talking about the anticipation of a deliverer that flowed out of the Maccabean revolt and Rededication of the Temple two hundred years before the coming of Jesus. These two Sundays between now and Christmas, we’ll talk about anticipating the Savior.  That’s what much of the OT is about, anticipating – anticipating what God is going to do next, anticipating promises that would be fulfilled after a thousand years of waiting, anticipating a king who was promised – not just a king, but the king, the messiah who would come and save them, anticipating a coming – a coming of God’s salvation.

Even as Jesus is making his entrance into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion, the crowd was still anticipating this coming king:  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,  “Hosanna!’” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”  “Hosanna in the highest!”

Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah was already anticipating a coming king:  “Therefore the Lord will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa 7:14).

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (Isa. 9:6-7).

Jeremiah had described what God was planning to do:   “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’” declares the LORD.  “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:31-34).

And back to Isaiah:  “I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.”  This is what the LORD says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:  “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”  (Isa. 43:15-19)

God’s people had always had an underlying consciousness that God was getting ready to break forth with something new.  It was an anticipation that lay just underneath the surface through centuries and generations.

Peter, looking back, describes that anticipation:  “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11).

But their anticipation was also clothed with some assumptions about who and how and when and where.  I’m sure we would have made the same assumptions.  And that is why nothing seemed to make sense when the moment arrived. 

Imagine her surprise when the angel Gabriel arrived to make an announcement to a young Hebrew girl named Mary who is engaged to be married to a young man named Joseph – but understand – and Luke makes this point – she was a virgin.  This will be no ordinary birth.  In fact, Mary asks that very question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  And Gabriel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

I love that phrase – “For nothing is impossible with God.”

The miraculous conception of John and the virgin conception of Jesus are that reminder that God specializes in the impossible.  He’s the one who makes sure there’s no way human resources can accomplish his will.  He is the one who has no intention of doing things the way we would do them.  His way is not our way, his thoughts are not our thoughts.

It’s that constant theme through scripture that God has never done things like we would do them: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are.” (1 Cor. 1:27-28).

Every detail of Christ’s coming was carefully thought out and planned by the Father.  Not a single wisp of straw in the manger should have been different.  God chose exactly who and when and where and why this should happen as it did to fulfill his purposes.  Paul reflects on the birth – Gal. 4:4 “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

I love Mary’s response to Gabriel – “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”  Complete trust, complete obedience.  She is the embodiment of the foolish and weak and lowly and she is exactly who God intended to bring about his purpose. 

So immediately, Mary makes a hurried trip to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home in the hill country of Judea – Luke tells us they are relatives – Elizabeth is perhaps Mary’s aunt.  She and Zechariah are elderly and had never been able to have a child. We learn earlier in Luke that she is miraculously pregnant. Then, as Mary enters the house and speaks, the baby inside Elizabeth leaps for joy in response to her voice.  And Luke tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the HS, and her welcome lets us know that there is much that is going on beyond what the eye can see:  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Mary is so newly pregnant even EPT wouldn’t register the little blue plus sign.  And here Elizabeth exclaims, “the mother of my Lord!”  This isn’t women’s intuition – this is divine revelation.  And then, Mary’s response is this beautiful song beginning in Luke 1:46: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.  His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.  He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever even as he said to our fathers.”  (Luke 1:46-54)

As you listened to her song, did you hear what she was saying?  She begins by praising God and trusting in his wisdom and goodness to bring about his will, and putting herself completely in his care.  But then she speaks, not just for herself, but for all of God’s people who have gone before her who have waited for this moment and trusted in his steadfast love.  She praises his mercy that extends through the centuries and generations – she praises his power and justice to defeat the proud and lift up the lowly, to fill the hungry and send the rich away empty – and especially that he has never forgotten his promise to his people to love them forever.

I’m not sure I can put myself in the sandals of a teenage girl who has just been given the news that she is going to become miraculously pregnant and give birth to the Son of God.  Everything about this is just surreal!  She’s poor, unmarried and pregnant.  An unmarried woman being pregnant in that day and culture was cause for stoning – at very least she would be ostracized, her parents would disown her, her fiancé will abandon her.  (Indeed, Matthew tells us the story from Joseph’s point of view and his first reaction is disbelief that his betrothed could be pregnant and then his intention to put her away quietly.)

From a human point of view this has disaster written all over it.  But her words are “all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me.”

This isn’t wishful thinking – this is a young woman with deep faith.  Luke tells us she stayed there with Elizabeth for about three months.  What do you suppose they talked about? – what dreams did they have for their children? – what fears did they have for their future?  What was it like to know that your sons were going to change the course of history?

I’m sure they had no idea what was ahead of them, but they eagerly anticipated, not just the birth of their sons, but the coming of the kingdom of God through them.

What do you look forward to?  Is there something you eagerly anticipate?  Holidays like Christmas bring a little bit of that – even more so if it means family are coming home.  Maybe it’s a trip or a vacation that’s coming up and you’re already thinking about the things you will see and the places you will go.  Maybe it’s a wedding, or a birth, or a move, or retirement.  Things that will bring joy and excitement. 

There are some things in our spiritual lives that bring that kind of anticipation.  Paul, especially, was very aware of looking forward to what God was going to do:

Ro 8:23 …We, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

1Co 1:7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

Gal 5:5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.

Phil 1:20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

Phil 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And Peter shared a similar anticipation: 

2Pe 3:10-12  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

The early Christians had a word that they often prayed at the end of their prayers.  It was the Aramaic word maranatha which meant “Our Lord come!”  They looked forward to the day when Jesus would come again and take them to their home in heaven.  It is a prayer that can be ours as well.

Illust - In the north of Italy there is a very beautiful estate, the Villa Asconati.  Its gardens are especially beautiful, cared for by an elderly gardener who pays very careful attention to every detail of the garden, manicuring them with precision and loving care.  The thing about the estate is that its master has not been to the estate in years, and yet the gardener continues to keep the gardens without fail.  A tourist, asking about his devotion exclaimed, “You care for these gardens as though the master will come home tomorrow,” to which the gardener replied, “No, not tomorrow, but today!

I hope we will anticipate the return of our Master with such eager expectation.