Monday, December 19, 2011

Why December 25th?

Since the gospels do not offer many clues that would point to late December as the time of Jesus birth, many have asked how December 25th was chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ?

Critics of Christmas often point to pagan celebrations centered on the winter solstice as the source of December 25th as a Christian holiday, but there are no writings from secular or early Christian sources that would suggest this origin, it is merely speculation from those with little regard for the history of Christmas. This myth is so prevalent, some Christians even avoid the Christmas celebration for fear of participating in pagan rituals, but this need not be so.

The true source of the December 25 date grew from Jewish Rabbinical tradition as recorded in the Talmud as early as the 2nd century A.D. Malachi 4 predicts that Messiah's appearance would be announced by Elijah the prophet. So the annual Seder feast marking the Passover includes opening the door to check for the appearance of God's prophet to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.

Since the crucifixion of Jesus was at the time of Passover, some early church fathers thought it plausible that the Annunciation of Jesus coming by God's messenger Gabriel could serve the same purpose. So they calculated date of the Passover the year that Jesus died and came up with March 25 for the date his death. So they reasoned that the annunciation of Gabriel and the conception of Mary would be on the same date, during the time of Passover. To this day the Roman church celebrates a feast of the Annunciation on March 25. Counting forward 9 months from March 25th, they arrived at December 25th as a date to celebrate the birth of Messiah. Understand that the early church following Jewish tradition was fond of feasts and special times of worship and used those rituals to teach the theology of the church before the age of widespread literacy and ownership of bibles. So around the 3rd and 4th century you find the first celebrations of Christmas recorded as a special mass that taught the nativity of Christ.

Now although this idea of a Passover annunciation is speculative it has a certain logic and symmetry that is appealing to some people, but they are not hard conclusions that you can reach based upon scripture, and should never be expressed with certainty. But what if the Talmud is right and the annunciation really was connected to the Prophecy of Malachi and did occur at Passover? Well in a way I think there is some truth to that idea.

Malachi 4:
4 "Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgments. 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 6 And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse."

Now for us who know the New Testament we would connect that passage to Revelation where many believe one of the two witnesses of the Apocalypse will be a resurrected Elijah announcing the 2nd coming of Jesus and judgment day, but is there also a connection to the first coming, the incarnation of the Christ?

Malachi 4:6 should sound familiar because a part of it was quoted by the Angel Gabriel, not when he spoke to Mary but rather when he spoke to Zacharias regarding John in Luke 1: 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

The Angel was announcing the one who would have the spirit and power of Elijah the prophet, to prepare the way for the Lord, and this prophet was John the Baptist. But in announcing John, the angel was also announcing the coming of the Lord, and this announcement very well could have been in the Hebrew Month of Nisan during Passover and that would likely be late March, meaning that the child born 9 months after the Passover annunciation was John not Jesus, and Jesus was born 6 months later in the summer time around May or June. Summer is a time where shepherds would have been living out in the fields grazing sheep in the pastures around Bethlehem. So Malachi 4:4 ties the annunciation of Messiah to Passover (remembering the Exodus) and Malachi 4:6 ties it to the conception of John the Baptist and the spirit of Elijah the prophet.

The History of the Nativity – Part 3

Luke 2

21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

[After 8 days Jesus was circumcised according to the Law and named according to the revelation of the angel. Now we know Mary and Joseph will need to be back in Jerusalem 40 days after the birth of Jesus to offer the sacrifice of her purification, but we don't know if they went back to Nazareth, or stayed in Bethlehem for the 40 days. Given that Bethlehem is only 6 miles away and Nazareth is 90 miles, I suspect they might have stayed around Bethlehem to avoid they extra travel, but it's hard to know for sure.]

22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

[You can see from the instructions in Leviticus 12 that Mary and Joseph were still poor, when they offered the provisional sacrifice of those who could not afford a lamb. ]

Leviticus 12

6 'When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 7 Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female.
8 'And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.'"

[This is the first piece of evidence that the Wise men arrived at least 40 days after Jesus was born. So if you have a Nativity Scene at home with the wise men looking down on the manger, take them out, put them off to the side, they'll catch up later.]

Matthew 2

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."

[Two great questions arise from this passage. How were the wise man, and why would they think a new star, plant or whatever shining in the night sky would mean a new king of the Jews had been born?

Well the Wise men or magi as some translations use will be astrologers, fortune tellers, and interpreters of dreams. Well have well-known examples of this from the stories of Daniel and the Babylonian captivity, where he was trained in the ways of the Chaldeans, to understand omens and signs, but Daniel was different from all the others because he would only seek the Lord for answers.

But as to the star, the answer comes from another Old Testament wise man by the name of Balaam. Balaam was gentile fortune teller and seer, of some reputation among the gentile kings, who had come to fear the God of Israel based on the things he had learned of God protecting Israel during their 40 years in the wilderness.

Near the end of Moses' life, Israel was camped beside the river Jordon before they had crossed into Canaan. Balak king of Moab was in a panic because Israel had already defeated two other local armies and Balak fears for his own kingdom, so he seeks out Balaam to curse Israel. Now Balaam is a prophet-for-hire but he fears Israel so he has this whole back and forth of wanting to take the job, but God warned him not to do it. But Balak keeps upping the price and Balaam decides to listen and hope that maybe God would relent and let him curse Israel so he could take Balak's money. Well after the whole episode with an angel and a talking donkey, Balaam ends up blessing Israel 3 times. But the 3rd time the Holy Spirit comes upon Balaam this gentile fortune teller and he gives this multi-part blessing which includes some prophecy.

Numbers 24:17 "I see Him, but not now;
      I behold Him, but not near; 
      A Star shall come out of Jacob; 
      A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, 
      And batter the brow of Moab, 
      And destroy all the sons of tumult.
(or sons of Seth)

[So since the time of Balaam the gentile magi have known of this prophecy. From Jordon, to Babylon to Persia any of these wise men watching the western horizon would see a new appearance in the sky over Israel and know something was up. Consulting the ancient writings they would find this passage and associate the new star with a conquering king.]

Matthew 2

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

5 So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

6 ' But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;

For out of you shall come a Ruler

Who will shepherd My people Israel.'"(Micah 5:2)

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also."

9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.

[So the wise men get the Bethlehem clue, but they don't it need because when they leave Herod, the star reappears and leads them to the Christ child. They don't necessarily even go to Bethlehem because they are just following the star. But remember verse 7 because it shows Herod was already plotting what he would do to protect his kingdom from this new king.

So what is the Christmas star? The short answer is, I don't know. People have done whole books and DVD's on the subject saying they know for sure what the wise men saw in the sky; but all of these explanations have way too much speculation for my comfort. My guess is there could be two or three different things in play. Chinese astronomers recorded a nova in the constellation Capricorn in March-April of 5 BC. A nova has the behavior of appearing suddenly and burning brightly (sometimes flickering on and off) for one or two years, before vanishing. But it would be hard for a nova to move in such a way that it could lead you from Jerusalem to either Bethlehem or Nazareth. It could also be that an angel gave the luminous glow that appeared as a star in the distance, and the angel could also move as needed. Others say it is the Shekinah glory of God, like shepherds saw with the angels outside of Bethlehem. My best guess is they first saw the nova mentioned before, but when the left Herod they were guided by the glory of God, much like God used to guide Israel to the promised land; but no one can say for sure.]

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

[So where did we get the idea that the wise men were 3 kings, and what about those gifts? Well if you remember Daniel, a wise man was always acting in the authority and in the interest of the king they served. So the gifts were not likely to be the personal wealth owned by the wise men, but the tribute of eastern kings delivered by the magi; and of course people assumed 3 kings because of the 3 different gifts.]

Isaiah 60

3 The Gentiles shall come to your light,

And kings to the brightness of your rising.

4 " Lift up your eyes all around, and see:

They all gather together, they come to you;

Your sons shall come from afar,

And your daughters shall be nursed at your side.

5 Then you shall see and become radiant,

And your heart shall swell with joy;

Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,

The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you.

6 The multitude of camels shall cover your land,

The dromedaries of Midian and Ephah;

All those from Sheba shall come;

They shall bring gold and incense,

And they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.

[Just as the prophecy says, the gentiles came to the light, and brought the wealth of kings as gifts of gold and incense. But as they fulfilled prophecy in the first two gifts, they made another prediction in the 3rd. When Jesus was crucified and Joseph took his body, Nicodemus brought 100 pounds of myrrh mixed with aloes and bound his body in strips of cloth (like the swaddling clothes of his nativity) anointed him with this balm of myrrh. Our Redeemer was literally born to die, to fulfill the law and make a permanent atonement for the sins of man.]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

History of the Nativity – Part 2

Luke 1

57 Now Elizabeth's full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.

59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, "No; he shall be called John."
61 But they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name." 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, "His name is John." So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, "What kind of child will this be?" And the hand of the Lord was with him.

[It was not necessary to settle upon a boy's name until the 8th day when he was to be circumcised to be dedicated to the Lord. As soon as he obeyed the Angel in naming his son John, Zacharias regained his speech. John was born to be a prophet preparing the way for the Lord.

It's telling us here the he lived out in the wild dressed like Elijah in camels hair sackcloth (2 Kings 1:8) living off the land eating locust, one of the few clean insects according to the law (Lev. 11:22), and wild honey. But people responded to his preaching for he was filled with the Spirit.

Now I want to turn your attention back to Mary. Here is a young pregnant unwed teen aged girl, who went to visit relatives for 3 months. If this happened today someone would advise her to seek an abortion, so she could return home and no one there would ever know she was pregnant. But Mary had a different answer she said "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." So she returns to Nazareth 3 months pregnant probably showing and could endure 6 months of shame and gossip as people make up their own tales of how this young woman became pregnant. Remember the angel Gabriel had called her blessed and highly favored; and some people with a man-centered theology won't understand how God's favor and blessing could cause public shame and disgrace for Mary. But her blessing would be in seeing and participating in God's plan for the salvation of Israel and the Gentiles.]

Mathew 1


18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."

22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," (Isaiah 7:14) which is translated, "God with us." 24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.


[I brought you back to Matthew 1, to focus on Joseph and his response when Mary returns from a 3 month visit and either then or soon after Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant. Joseph may not have all the details, but he knows that he is not the father. This is a blue collar guy a carpenter by trade, not a lot of money now nor the hope of wealth or power anytime in the future. For a guy like this his hope and dream is to Marry a good woman, raise and provide for his family, and just be loved and respected in his own home and community.


For Joseph finding his fiancée pregnant would rock his world and shatter his dreams. By right and by law he could direct all his anger and embarrassment at Mary and have her publicly condemned as an adulteress. But instead he is just and merciful and decides to privately break the marriage contract, and release Mary, so he himself could mourn this loss and hopefully start over with another woman who would be faithful to him.


But God intervenes for Mary and for Jesus; when an angel of the Lord probably Gabriel again, appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him Mary is not an adulteress but rather is the mother of the Messiah, the child of the Holy Spirit, who will save his people from their sins. So Joseph keeps the marriage, takes Mary as his wife though not yet consummating the marriage, and in doing so takes all the shame and embarrassment from Mary and her family and transfers it to himself. Letting people think that it was his fault that Mary was pregnant before their public celebration of marriage; but he accepts this in obedience to the vision and the angel's instructions. What an amazing faithful man of God.]

Luke 2

The Census

 1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

[This is a Bible passages that drives skeptics crazy. The Bible does not say what year Jesus was born and the clues we are given make a confusing time line. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus ruled Rome from 27 BC to 14 AD and is considered the first emperor of Rome, records show Quirinius was governor of Syria from 6-9 A.D., but Herod the Great King of Judea died in 4 B.C., and most scholars put the birth of Jesus from 5-4 B.C. So how do we make this fit when Herod who talks to the Wise men in Matthew 2, was dead before Quirinius was Governor? I see two possibilities. 1) The word "first" in verse 2 is the Greek word "protos" which also means "before". So verse 2 could mean the census has held "before Quirinius was Governor of Syria. 2) The secular records do not record who was governor of Syria 4-1 B.C., so it's possible that Quirinius either served two terms as governor, or was directed by Caesar to supervise the census in place of, or to assist some other governor possibly Varus who was governor until 4 B.C. Either is possible, I think the second is more likely. In fact a fragment of a headstone called the Lapis Tiburtinus, found in 1764 near Tivoli Italy describes an unknown person who was legate of Syria twice. The title "legate" refers to a military officer who is also a member of the Roman Senate and Quirinius was such a person. It is also important to note that the word "governing" in verse 2 is an adverb in the Greek text not a noun like the title "governor".


The second objection to the passage is the idea that everyone went to their own city, the hometown of their family to be registered. But in Rome the local authorities would execute Roman orders in a way fitting with local customs. For Israel the census was always done by tribe and family the Jews kept careful genealogies both for the priesthood and for the sake of land ownership rights, dating back to the land grants in the time of Joshua. There is even a census recorded in Egypt about this time that ordered all migrant workers back to their home towns to register. So you will still find some people objecting to this passage, but their objections are all undone by careful scholarship.]


4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.


[Here we see Joseph going to Bethlehem because he was a descendent of David. Given the hit that his reputation has taken as the result of Mary's pregnancy, Joseph is probably glad to get out of town for a while. A lot has been made of the "no room" theme but Bethlehem at this time was a small town of maybe a few hundred people. So imagine all your relatives show up at once, where will you put everyone in your house? Nazareth to Bethlehem is 90 miles; imagine ladies traveling 90 miles probably on a donkey while 9 months pregnant, then taking that last shelter available, an animal crib, maybe an open sided shed or even a partial cave; just in time to give birth.]

Glory in the Highest

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 " Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

[Very familiar passage here, no controversy, but 3 things to remember that will help us understand the rest of the story. 1) the shepherds living out in the fields was a practice observed from fall to spring and not something they would be likely to do in the winter. If you look at the winter months in Israel the average nightly low would be 40 degrees with 5 inches of rain for the month, not the time to be camping out. 2) Remember the visible glory of the Lord shining as that will help us later. 3) The swaddling clothes were strips of cloth and they would wrap or bind up the infant to comfort them and make them feel secure. But the clothing and the bed (a manger) were declared as a sign to the shepherds by the Angel of the Lord.]


15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him,
they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

[How do we respond when we find Jesus in our lives? The first response in verse 17 is witness, they told everyone what they had experienced. Second they worshiped, glorifying and praising God! Should our response to Jesus be any less than the shepherds?]

Next lesson we will look at the Wise men, the Christmas star, and I will show you why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th (hint: it's probably not what you think!).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The History of the Nativity – Part 1

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
(Malachi 4:5, 6)

[Herod the Great ruled in Judea from 37 to 4 BC. He was a client King which means he served the Roman Empire, and could be replaced by Caesar. Now some people will try and tell you they know the exact date of all this. The Bible gives us many clues but never asserts a certain date. My best estimate is that this is around the first month of the Jewish calendar "Nisan" in the year 5 BC. Nisan starts with the new moon following the vernal equinox, in the spring of each year. (Resolve with verse 26 "the sixth month")

Zacharias is a priest, and the priesthood was divided into 24 divisions with each serving in 1 week rotations. Zacharias has the honor of lighting the incense in the temple very close to the veil that separates the most Holy place holding the arc from the rest of the temple, when he is approached by an angel of God.

Zacharias and Elizabeth remind me very much of Abraham and Sarah as they are aged, and childless but very faithful to God. The Angel foretells the conception and birth of John the Baptist and even quotes from Malachi 4.]

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years." 19 And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time."

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 "Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people."

[Now you would think that having an angel appear to you in the temple of God which you are lighting incense would be sign enough for Zacharias; but he was not used to speaking with angels, so when he asked a few too many questions he was given a sign that this was from God, he was struck dumb, unable to speak, until after the birth of John.

Gabriel identifies himself by name and fulfilling his primary role as the chief of the angelic messengers. Under normal circumstances a priest would just light the incense then come out and offer a public prayer for the people, but this time Zacharias takes far too long then emerges unable to pray. When the course of his service was complete he goes home to his wife and they make a baby. Now I'm guessing he wrote all this down to explain it to his wife, because he will be mute for 9 months and the scripture does not say Gabriel spoke to Elizabeth. Nevertheless after Elizabeth conceives she stays out of the public sight for 5 months, rather than try to explain how someone her age is pregnant. To Elizabeth, God is using this child to take away her shame, as she does not yet see the plan God has for John.

So if Elizabeth conceived in Nisan in the spring of the year that would be March for us, and John would be born in November or December.]

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"

29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."

34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"

35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible."

38 Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

[About 6 months later Gabriel visited Mary in the month of Elul which would have been August in 6 BC; announcing her conception and the coming birth of the Lord. Mary would be a teen aged girl, engaged but not yet married. I told you last year some alleged that Mary was not a virgin that the word used only meant a young maid, but that is not correct. The Greek word "parthenos" not only means she was a virgin, but that she was of age, eligible to be married. Further in verse 34 she clearly asserts her virginity, as a challenge to having a child. But Gabriel tell her that her child will be from the Holy Spirit rather than from the seed of a man.

Mary's willingness to be used in this way is remarkable because it would be shameful for her to be pregnant before her marriage. This is an act of faith much like we studied in Romans 5, where she is asked to endure trouble, and persevere for God's glory allowing this trial of faith to build character. Since Gabriel also tells Mary about the pregnancy of Elizabeth, she decides to visit her cousin Elizabeth.]

39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord."

[Even in the womb John was filled with the Holy Spirit, and knew when he was in the presence of the unborn Christ. Elizabeth was also filled with the Holy Spirit and seems to understand what God is doing, both by the Holy Spirit and also from the written explanation of her husband. This is a wonderful confirmation for Mary as she sees the plan of God taking shape, and the work of the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth. Pay attention to verse 45 "Blessed is she who believed", they word for believe here again means that Mary was trusting the word of the Lord as delivered by the angel Gabriel. Faith was at work even in the conception of Jesus.]

46 And Mary said:

" My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,

And holy is His name.

50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him

From generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with His arm;

He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

And exalted the lowly.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things,

And the rich He has sent away empty.

54 He has helped His servant Israel,

In remembrance of His mercy,

55 As He spoke to our fathers,

To Abraham and to his seed forever."


56 And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

[Mary praised God, and remained with Elizabeth until it was time for her to deliver.]