In Act 1 of the Christmas drama, we saw God setting the stage for the final climactic event. In this part of the drama, God promised Zacharias and Elizabeth that they will have a son, John, and that he will be the forerunner of the long-promised Messiah. In this story, we see God preparing the setting, getting things ready for the main event. We also see that people were aware of God’s work, even if they didn’t understand the final outcome. This reminds us that when God asks us to do something, he always works ahead of time getting things set up for us to act. Also, it teaches us to be conscientious of what God is doing around us.
This brings us to act two, the story of the annunciation. Here we learn about how God told Joseph and Mary that they, too, would have a son, but their child will be Messiah. Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke record this event, with Matthew telling of God’s announcement to Joseph, and Luke focusing on Mary. Although not in chronological order, we’ll begin by looking at the message delivered to Joseph.
God’s Message for Joseph
Joseph and Mary were engaged, but soon discovered that Mary was pregnant. This came as a bit of a shock to Joseph, for he knew he didn’t father this child. In verse 19, Matthew records that Joseph was “a righteous man.” This doesn’t mean he was perfect, for he was not. It indicates that Joseph spent his life doing the best he could to obey God. I’m sure that just like us, there were times—many times—when Joseph sinned, yet he still strived to serve his Lord. He was a man of good character, a man of honor.
Because of his character, upon discovering his fiancé pregnant, Scripture records that he didn’t want to disgrace Mary. He wasn’t out to protect himself, but to protect the honor, and life, of another. In those days, Joseph would have been technically legal in turning Mary in for adultery and letting her be stoned to death. Disgrace would come upon her and she would die (Lev 20:10). But Joseph didn’t want Mary to be disgraced or to be killed. So, he decided to divorce her rather than dishonor her. But God had other plans.
An angel came to Joseph while he slept and delivered a message from the Lord:
20 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. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt 1:20-21, NASB)
After receiving this message, Joseph didn’t attempt to dismiss it. He didn’t try to find a way around it or reinterpret it to mean what he wanted. He didn’t ignore it or consider it wishful thinking. He woke up and willingly, and most likely joyfully, did as God commanded. He didn’t make this decision lightly, though. He knew the risks, but he didn’t delay his response nor his obedience.
In his day, for Joseph to marry a woman who is pregnant with a child that is not his was to risk bringing disgrace and possibly even death upon himself, Mary, and the baby. Joseph knew that his friends and family probably wouldn’t understand, that he would be ridiculed or even shunned by those around him. His life would be difficult, but disobeying God was unthinkable. He loved his God more than he loved himself, so he “awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife” (Matt 1:24, NASB).
God’s Message for Mary
Joseph wasn’t the only one to receive a message from the Lord. God had earlier spoken to Mary about this child. This part of the annunciation is recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
Mary, a virgin, was greeted by the angel Gabriel with a special message:
28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 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 bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “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; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:28-33, NASB)
Mary was puzzled how she could be pregnant since she had never been intimate with a man. Gabriel told her that the child will be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. God himself will be the father, “and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35, NASB). Put simply, she is told that God will work a miracle, the child will be from God, not mere man.
Upon hearing the news, Mary submitted herself to God’s will. She was also told about her relative, Elizabeth, and her forthcoming child. Mary visited Elizabeth, who then praised God for Mary’s child. While there, Mary sang what is known as the “Magnificat,” or “Mary’s Song.” In this song, we see that Mary was aware of her child’s role as Messiah:
50 “AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. . . . 54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:50, 54-55, NASB)
Mary knew that God would save his people through Jesus, her son. She also seems to recognize who God’s people are: they are “those who fear him.” God’s people are those who put their trust in God. It is not those who are Jewish by blood, but those who are redeemed by the blood of Jesus who are the true Israel (cf. Rom 9:6-8).
Did Mary know that Jesus was born to die? Maybe, maybe not. She seems to indicate that she is aware of this, but it’s not clear. What is clear is that (1) she trusted God absolutely, (2) she willingly went wherever God led her, and (3) salvation comes through her son, Jesus.
The story of the annunciation is about more than just God telling Mary and Joseph that Jesus would be Mary’s son. It is more than just telling two people, “Kids, you’re pregnant.” God’s message prepared Mary and Joseph for what was coming. God got them read for the task he had planned for them. He prepared the people.
How did they respond? Both Joseph and Mary willingly did whatever God asked, despite the very difficult lives they both knew would likely be coming. Like Isaiah, they declared, “Here am I! Send me!” (Isa 6:8).
God always prepares his people for what he has in store. He doesn’t promise that the task will be easy or that the journey will be without difficulties. He is not a “hakuna matata” God; he does not promise a “problem free” life. He does, though, promise to be there with us through it all. God seeks those who are willing to submit to his will and live out the life he has in store.
Although Mary and Joseph faced much turmoil and stress, they also faced much joy and peace. I’ve never seen a mother not beam when they see their newborn child. Even more, the child of Mary would bring salvation! While obeying God may be hard, it also brings joy—both now and forever. Joy in the work we do for God, joy in seeing lives impacted for Christ, and joy in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus!
Has God asked you to do something for him? Like Joseph and Mary, will you obey him willingly and gladly? God is getting things ready, are you willing to go? Whether it be across the street, across town, across the state or nation, or even across the world, will you go where God asks?
God prepares his people. Like a good parent, he doesn’t let his children drive until they are ready. What has he been doing in your life to prepare you? Have you spent time in his Word, learning more about him? Have you spent time with him lately in prayer, both asking and listening? Are you a willing servant of the Lord? Can you state, with Mary, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, NASB)?