December 1, 2022 (The fifth day of the first week of Advent 2022)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1.26-32)
The God who dwells within us makes us His people!
Let us be perfectly clear on this: the evidence provided in the stories of creation leave nothing to the imagination…GOD creates life. This is why when we hear the declarative naming of IMMANUEL, we know that God alone is with us, within us and and all around us. Let there be no doubt in professing “We are God’s people.”
It isn’t that God can’t save us without Jesus but that He won’t save us without Jesus. Among the voluminous options available to an all-knowing, ever-present and all-powerful God, Jesus was the best option. In truth, He was the only option that had any chance of success. Why? Because God included us in the equation of our own salvation. God didn’t save us to make us His people. God saved us because we are His people. The problem existed and continues to exist that far too many people do not understand this nor accept it. The sad consequence of that fact is that far too many people refuse to accept it and are willing to accept the alternative as viable and profitable.
Advent is our great opportunity to show the world who God truly is and what is His will for all people.
When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary as directed by God, she is greeted with the summation of “Immanuel.” We do not know much at all of Mary’s history apart from her relationship with Elizabeth and that she was a very young woman. What relationship they shared exactly is not known although biblical witness assigns the word “cousin” to Jesus and John. In greek, the word “cousin” refers more to kin than an actual status of cousin. More interesting is the lineage of Mary and Elizabeth. Mary was of the house of Judah with a bloodline of royalty descended from David, shepherd and king of Israel. Elizabeth was of the house of Levi with a bloodline of priest and prophet descending from those first called to serve the Lord in the Temple in Aaron, Moses’ brother. What makes this interesting is not how these lineages might foster a contradiction for them being related but how it brings unity to the whole message presented by God to the world through John and Jesus.
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, in the Temple during his appointed term as priest, the angel confirms that 1) the Lord will answer the prayer uttered by his wife and him for a child even in their exceeding years [a mirroring reference to Abraham and Sarah] and 2) that the “Lord will be with their son in favor and great service.” It is another way of declaring “Immanuel, God with us/God within us.” This is a similar greeting offered to Mary when the angel of the Lord named Gabriel greets Mary to share her role in the saving grace of God for His people. He declares, “Mary, you are favored and the Lord is with you.” Imagine that. Two women distantly related, who had not seen each other for some period of time, representing two distinct tribes of Israel with distinct functions and identities, from opposite ends of the age continuum, who were childless, find favor with Immanuel, God with them and God within them. How that message must speak to us all! How we can so easily hear that if we live by faith nothing shall separate us from the love and transforming power of God who is all-powerful, ever-present and all-loving in spirit and in truth! We can come from opposite ends of the world differing in all kinds of ways but united by one simple reality- faith in God. Faith in God alone makes us members of the family of God. And for Luke, whose primary audience was Gentile in background and not Jewish, this message of inclusion by faith alone is a most welcomed one. It is our message, too.
Abraham, known as the Father of [by] faith in Israel, pre-existed the covenant of the Law given to Moses by 250 years. Abraham was called out of the Ur of the Chaldees because his faith in the One True God was rewarded with a call to be prosperous as a father of all nations. It is significant that when Jesus as the Christ transitions His disciples to the rank of apostles before His ascension to Heaven, He directs them to carry the good news into all the world and make disciples of “all nations.” Spiritually speaking, it would be their faith that would bear fruit as spiritual fathers on earth of that which was begun in Heaven. It was not by their blood but the blood of the Lamb of God which would seal the covenant, righteous promise, which God was establishing between Himself and His people. So, the favor of God was never intended to be limited to the “bloodline” of Judaism but extended to all who would believe that Yahweh Elohim was, is and will always be the One True God. This was the reality of the covenant of Abraham which John the Baptizer, son of Zechariah and Elisabeth as descendants of Aaron and the Levites, represented.
Now it would be in Jesus the Christ, the son of Mary and of God by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit making spirit and flesh one through faith, hope and love, that would provide the fulfillment of that covenant first made with Abraham who walked by faith and not by sight. The beauty of this birth narrative as told by Luke is the establishment then of what Paul called “a royal priesthood of all believers.” Jesus Christ was the unifier and culmination of the blending of the two most vital bloodlines in all of Judaism. Jesus Christ is the “prophet, priest, shepherd, king” of all Israel, the new Israel, the true family of God. And what authenticates that “true family of God” is the understanding and celebration of Immanuel. How powerful His story is when you consider all whom Jesus called together to be His disciples, His friends and ultimately His family as joint heirs in the kingdom of God. Men and women were called to follow Him and make their relationship to Him known by “Immanuel” love. He said, “By this the world shall know you are My disciples: that you love one another [as family together].” And not just from the houses of David and Aaron but from all tribes, nations and walks of life. What would they have in common? The commonality is the profession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God of True Israel- Yahweh Elohim, who is thus assigned the Name [and title] that is above all others to be Savior and Lord. It is in Jesus and through Jesus Christ, Immanuel, that God makes us a family of faith, hope and love: the great gift of Christmas.
Father of all, we praise You for what You have done to redeem us, reconcile us and make known to us that we are still Your people- the work of Your hands and the sheep of Your pasture on earth as it is in Heaven. May this message be clear through us as we live, work and play throughout this day in Jesus’ name. AMEN.