The days have grown shorter. The air has turned a bit colder. The brilliant colors of fall have faded to the barrenness of winter. The year is nearly over. It’s somehow fitting that we encounter Christmas as one year fades and another one begins. In the bleakness of winter, we are reminded of God’s promises and rekindle hope for the pages yet to be written. This year’s Advent series will focus on the events of the Christmas story through five different lenses, five different words. Those words are declaration, incarnation, adoration, jubilation, and affirmation.
The Christmas story unfolds in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In their retelling, we encounter three distinct times where God sent an angelic messenger to foretell or declare Christ’s birth.
Luke records, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”” (Luke 1:26–33, NASB95)
I’ve come to the conclusion that Mary was a processor. She didn’t react emotionally but pondered and considered Gabriel’s words. She asked questions to understand the mechanics of Gabriel’s announcement. And in the end simply replied, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”(Luke 1:38a, NASB95)
So put yourself in Mary’s sandals. How would you have reacted to an angel suddenly showing up in your home? Or being told that you’re going to become pregnant while still being an unmarried virgin, something the neighbors will look on with shame, scorn, and disbelief. Or that the child, isn’t just any child but the Son of God and eternal King. I doubt any of us would calmly respond as Mary did.
I wonder how Mary broke the news to Joseph. I can’t imagine that it would have been easy. I can, however, imagine all of the thoughts that flooded Joseph’s mind. Consider the anger, doubt, and fear that would have assaulted his thoughts. But Joseph was an honorable man and sought a solution that would save Mary’s life and preserve her dignity in some small way. Matthew records, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”” (Matthew 1:18–21, NASB95) The angel’s declaration to Joseph confirmed what Mary told him.
In our era of medical wizardry, Joseph could have taken Mary to the doctor and had a sonogram to confirm at least part of the angel’s declaration. Instead, they had to wait. I wonder if it wasn’t until the birth that Joseph fully and without the shadow of a doubt believed his own dream. I mean, how often have we dreamt the solution to a problem only to wake up and put our idea under the microscope of daylight and see how silly it is. I don’t know why God chose to send a visible, audible angel to Mary and used a dream to send a message to Joseph. The point, however, is that God’s messages were delivered, understood, and acted on.
To the Shepherds
Angelic declarations were not limited to Mary and Joseph. On the night of Jesus’ birth, in the dark quiet of the Judean hills where David had long ago watched his father’s flock, angels declared the birth of Christ to shepherds. Luke recorded, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10–12, NASB95) The action followed declaration, “When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15, NASB95)
Why did God choose to send the birth announcement to a small group of shepherds instead of to the priests at the Temple or old King Herod? Could it simply be to underline Jesus’ mission as the Lamb of God? Could it be to remind us all that God’s eye is on everyone from the powerful, the celebrity, and the rich to the weak, the insignificant, the homeless, and the poor?
God’s declarations through the angels still ring out today. Jesus is the king of an everlasting kingdom as Gabriel declared to Mary. Jesus is the savior, born into the world to save His people from their sins as was declared to Joseph and the shepherds. The question is, what will we do with it? Will we only celebrate Christmas by reviving the story in pageant and song and tradition? Or will we tune our ears to hear God’s declaration for our own lives today as this Christmas season unfolds?