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
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).
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
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
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
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
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.
- 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!
hope we will anticipate the return of our Master with such eager expectation.