Mary, the mother of Jesus, was not ‘immaculate’ as some suppose. Mary received grace, but does not dispense it. She, like every repentant sinner, came to ‘rejoice in God my Saviour’ (Luke 1:47).
However, Mary does provide us with a wonderful picture of how we ought to respond to God when the good news of salvation is brought to us.
Grace shown: she ‘found favour with God’
Mary was an ordinary young woman, who was shown amazing favour by God. Presumably she had grown up in Nazareth, where her family had arranged for her to be married to a young carpenter, Joseph. Her life was utterly ordinary.
Nazareth was a humdrum, backwater place, 60 miles north of Jerusalem, in the region of Galilee. The area was populated by immigrants, and somewhat despised by the ‘purer’ Jews living in Judea. ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ was earnest Nathaniel’s response 30 years later, when told of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’.
Yet, for all that, true Jews lived there, including this young couple, both of whom could trace their lineage back to Israel’s greatest king, David, 1000 years before.
God had promised David an heir to sit on his throne for ever, but this seemed a distant possibility now, with the Romans in control. Yet the hope of the Davidic promise lingered on in the hearts of the faithful, bolstered by the many other promises of a coming Saviour — promises that could be traced back to the dawn of time, when God had said, ‘The seed of the woman will bruise the serpent’s head’ (Genesis 3:15).
It seems that hope was sustained in this God-fearing couple, but little did they imagine how near it was to fulfilment, nor how closely they would be involved. And that’s the point we need to see!
The working of God’s plan is unlike our common human methods. He moves in sovereign and mysterious ways: selecting a time, a place, a person; utterly unremarkable, even unlikely, to the human eye.
So it was that, in the fulness of time, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth in Galilee, and to a humble girl called Mary. His message was one of unexpected grace and favour: ‘Rejoice, highly favoured one. You will conceive and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name “Jesus” [Saviour]. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David’ (Luke 1:28-32).
God is still the same today. He draws near in unexpected times and ways with a word of kindness and mercy. Every time we hear of Jesus Christ, the Saviour, we are being shown grace — undeserved favour.
The message is: ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).
Grace offered: ‘You will conceive … a Son’
The message that Mary received was unique to her. By the power of the Holy Spirit, she would conceive and bear a Son. Through a miracle of grace, the Son of God would enter her womb, and so enter the world.
The particular grace offered to Mary cannot be repeated, but the principle is echoed every time the gospel comes to us.
The God of grace invites us to turn from our sinful selfishness, and receive his gift of pardon and healing in Jesus Christ. The gospel offers us the opportunity to receive the Son of God into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. The promise Jesus makes to every believer is, ‘We will come to him and make our home with him’ (John 14:23).
Every Christmas, we are being reminded that God has drawn near to us with the offer of salvation in his Son, Jesus Christ.
‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved’ (John 3:17). This grace is offered to you now.
Grace received: ‘Let it be to me according to your Word’
Mary willingly received, in faith, the offer made to her. In so doing she became the mother of the Saviour, and hope was born into the world.
Her humble heart was filled with joy and faith-filled expectation, as she declared: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord … for he has regarded the lowly state of his maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed’ (Luke 1:46-48).
Mary stands as an example to us all of how we should respond when God’s grace is offered to us. She believed the Word and it brought joy to her and others. She did not falter with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’; she did not worry what others would think of her — pregnant yet unmarried. She embraced God’s promise and left the rest to God.
May we too shun all fears and feeble excuses, and receive the grace offered to us.
The Christmas message comes again: ‘To you is born this day … a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11). God shows his grace by sending us the Word. He offers us grace, inviting us to repent of sin and believe in Jesus Christ.
The only question that remains is, will you, like Mary, receive this grace?
The author is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Dundee