by Susan Hegmann

Luke 1:5-23
     It all begins with a Jewish priest, Zechariah, who lived when Herod was king of Judea. Zechariah was a member of the priestly order of Abijah. His wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in Godís eyes, careful to obey all of the Lordís commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and now they were both very old.
One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary and burn incense in the Lordís presence. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying. 
     Zechariah was in the sanctuary when an angle of the Lord appeared, standing to the right of the incense alter. Zechariah was overwhelmed with fear. But the angel said, "Donít be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! And you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice with you at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or hard liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will persuade many Israelites to turn to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, the prophet of old. He will precede the coming of the Lord, preparing the people for his arrival. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will change disobedient minds to accept godly wisdom."
     Zechariah said to the angel, "How can I know this will happen? Iím an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years."
Then the angel said, "I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! And now, since you didnít believe what I said, you wonít be able to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly come true at the proper time."
     Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out, wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldnít speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures that he must have seen a vision in the Temple sanctuary.
He stayed at the Temple until his term of service was over, and then he returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. "How kind the Lord is!" she exclaimed. "He has taken away my disgrace of having no children!"
     Think about this for a minute, regarding Zechariah and Elizabeth, in those times a husband could divorce his wife if she was barren. Zechariah remained faithful to Elizabeth and they both, "were righteous in Godís eyes, careful to obeyÖ". God had BIG plans for them and their obedience was the key to Godís plan. Imagine how many times Elizabeth must have prayed for a child when she was of childbearing age. Once she pasted that age I would guess that she and her husband resigned themselves to the fact that it was not going to happen. Godís timing is perfect though and he needed them both, "at the proper time".
     Think about Zechariahís speechlessness, what would the temple crowds have said if he had told them about Elizabethís upcoming pregnancy? Godís messenger told Zechariah and Zechariah couldnít believe it, what would Elizabethís reaction have been if Zechariah had told her? Think about it, his speechlessness was a good thing.
     It is important to mention that up until this time, God did not speak to his people. From the last verse of the Old Testament until this story, there was a period of about 400 years, referred to as the "Dark Ages". During that period some remained faithful to the Covenant set forth by Abraham. Some held fast to the promise of a Messiah and they passed down all of the customs and traditions. They studied Godís word and were faithful and obedient.
     Some of you may be wondering what all of this has to do with Mary. Read on in Luke and you will see how God ties it all together. Elizabeth and Mary were cousins and obviously good friends. Elizabeth was a strong woman of faith and may have had something to do with Maryís faith and training.

Luke 1:26-38
     In the sixth month of Elizabethís pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, "Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!"
     Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. "Donít be frightened, Mary," the angel told her, "for God has decided to bless you!" You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!"
     Mary asked the angel, "But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin."
The angel replied, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. Whatís more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but sheís already in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."
     Mary responded, "I am the Lordís servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true." And then the angel left.
     Put yourself in Maryís shoes for a minute, wow, imagine. I donít know, but Iím guessing that Mary was probably still a teenager, nineteen, maybe twenty. She sayís, "I am the Lordís servant, and I am willingÖ". Is that obedience or what? Is that AWESOME! Maryís ability to be obedient to the Lord was no accident. Mary had been trained, have you ever thought about that, about Maryís parents, about Maryís mother? Mary knew the Messiah was coming. Mary knew the scripture and was raised up in an environment that taught about the traditions and customs of their faith. Maryís parents knew about the Vision and they passed it on to their daughter.
     Shift gears for a minute and assuming you are a parent, or even if you are not but know young people, what traditions are you teaching? Who is Santa Claus? Is he the Savior that gives us the gift of eternal life? What has our generation done to Christmas? What are we instilling in the minds of the next generation? Ask yourself this, are you looking forward to the upcoming Christmas holiday season or have we been sidetracked by the cost of it all, the pressure of it all and it comes down to wishing it was over before it even begins? 
     Do you think Mary knew what was going to happen to her son? Do you think she knew he would perform the miracles that he performed or that he would die a horrible death? She didnít know. She didnít know. What do you think Godís plan is for your child? Do you know? What kind of training are you providing? Does your child have a vision of his or her future, of their purpose? How old do they need to be before we, as parents, start training them, teaching them and encouraging them to understand that they have a purpose? How old do you think Mary was when her parents started her training?
     I am writing this to encourage you (and myself) to press in to the true meaning of the celebration. Press in to what it must have been like to be Mary. Mary had a grip. She knew how awesome this all was. She didnít wine about it, cry about it, she just said, "I am the Lordís servant, and I am willingÖ" I know all I would have been thinking about, "How am I going to tell Joseph. Why me? Pick someone else, this is going to screw up my life, my upcoming marriage." Wouldnít you agree with me, Mary had a grip.
     Think about Godís reason for the Angel to bring up the news of Elizabethís pregnancy? God is so good. He knew that Mary would need encouragement and he provided that for her. What better way than to put together two faithful women who both were a part of His plan who both were experiencing miracles. 

Luke 1:39-45
     A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Maryís greeting, Elizabethís child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
     Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, "You are blessed by God above all other women, and you child is blessed. What an honor this is, that the mother of my Lord should visit me! When you came in and greeted me, my baby jumped for joy the instant I heard your voice! You are blessed, because you believed that the Lord would do what he said."
     This is where it gets exciting, Mary had not even told Elizabeth she was pregnant, Elizabeth knew already. What a confirmation for Mary, what an encouragement for her. Elizabeth says, "You are blessedÖ"
     Me, I would have probably said, "What are you going to tell Joseph?" Go to Luke 1:46-55 and read about Maryís response to Elizabeth. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her home. This tells me that she was three month pregnant when she finally told Joseph. Letís go to Josephís story.

Matthew 1:18-25
     Now this is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, being a just man, decided to break the engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace her publicly.
     As he considered this, he fell asleep, and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream "Joseph, son of David," the angel said, "do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All of this happened to fulfill the Lordís message through his prophet: "Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
And he will be called Immanuel
(meaning, God is with us)." (Isa 7:14)
     When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
     Did you know that Joseph had the option of having Mary stoned? That would have been acceptable punishment for her in that time. He could have publicly humiliated her; he could have done a lot of things other that what he did. Again, here is that theme of obedience and faithfulness. Joseph, what a great and Godly man, he raised Jesus as his own son. He didnít have to, he had choices. Thank God for Joseph and for Mary.
     So letís look at Mary:
  • Mary heard from God 
  • Mary was spiritually mature 
  • Mary was obedient 
  • Mary was spiritually disciplined 
  • Mary was a risk taker 
  • Mary was not afraid of the consequences 
  • Mary kept and observed the traditions of her faith 
  • Mary was obedient to the commitment she made to Gabriel and to the responsibility she had to her family and to God 
  • Mary had a vision for the next generation 
  • Mary was a servant
     I donít know about you, but I want to be more like Mary. I even want to be like Maryís mother. I want to raise up a child that has respect and reverence for the things of God. I want to raise up a mighty woman of faith. When push comes to shove, who do you lean on? I not only lean on God, I depend on him.
     This holiday season Iím going to do a few things different. We have never been big on Santa Claus in my house so it wouldnít be hard to go ahead and kick him out; heís not going to have a place of any significance in my home any more. I have a few other ideas but I am going to start with this story, the story of Mary. Mary had a grip!