How many of you here this morning have ever had an unexpected visitor? Most of us probably have at some point and time in our lives. Second question: how do you normally react to an unexpected visit? This often depends upon the circumstance and who the visitor is. I mean, I remember when the bishop of our synod, Michael Rinehart unexpectedly popped in to see me a couple of years ago. I had no idea he was in the area. I had no hint of his arrival. There was just a knock on my door, and there stood my bishop!
Of course, I welcomed him in, and he stayed for a short visit before heading on to accomplish more of his busy schedule. I can say that I enjoyed his visit and that he got a chance to meet my wife and kids. Even though he and I do not see eye to eye on many things, it was still thoughtful and kind of him to drop in and talk about things other than churchy stuff. When he left, I was glad that he stopped by. Despite the fact that he saw my living room with toys scattered all over it and a month’s worth of dust coating several picture frames and what not, I was still glad he took the time to drop by. The circumstances were fine, and the person was welcome.
Of course things could be much different. I mean, I also remember when my wife and I were living in Seguin. We had invited some folks over to the house for a get together. We were sitting on our back patio enjoying our visitation. Then, our two female dogs decided to have an altercation. It wasn’t a pleasant sight, and I had to rush in to break things up before they literally killed each other. As I am trying to separate these dogs, some sales folks were hitting up the neighborhood. I am there with my dogs growling at each other–holding them down while having house guests, and this lady starts trying to sell me stuff while talking to me through the backyard fence. She was completely oblivious to the circumstances and kept trying to go on and on. “I’m not interested,” I managed to get out. She left. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Crazy circumstances. Complete stranger. Not a good unexpected visit.
Many times, it is such circumstances that govern those unexpected visits. They color how we view them and experience them. The circumstances can make those visits very pleasant and fulfilling, and they can also make those visits miserable. With such matters in your head now, I would like you to join me in looking at our gospel text this morning from the first chapter of the book of Luke. This snippet from scripture is often called “The Annunciation.” It is the time when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced that she would bear Jesus.
As we read through this, I’m going to read it just a little differently than what you have in your bulletin this morning. There is a reason for this–especially as I work to point out the circumstances surrounding the angel Gabriel’s appearance.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Grace is upon you, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
You will notice I changed the greeting of Gabriel from “Greetings favored one” to “Grace is upon you, favored one.” This is closer to the original Greek text, and it’s important. It explains why Mary is perplexed by this greeting.
The Greek word for grace carries a very important connotation, especially during this time period. It designated a ruler’s special favor toward someone. Think about that: grace designated a ruler’s special favor toward one of his subjects. So, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, a 12-14 year old girl who is betrothed to a man named Joseph; Mary, who has little or no power or prestige; who doesn’t have any political connections to anyone; who is almost as insignificant as they come in those days. Gabriel comes to her and basically says, “The Ruler’s special favor is upon you. The Lord is with you!”
Can you see why Mary is perplexed? Can you see why she might have difficulty with this greeting and tries her best to understand? There is nothing she has done to deserve such a greeting. She has no connections with the powerful to deserve such a greeting. She is nothing special in the eyes of the world or in the eyes of the community. She’s just a very young woman in an out of the way town. And yet, on this unexpected visit, she is told, “Grace, the favor of the Ruler is upon you! The Lord is with you!”
Gabriel then further explains; follow along and listen for the change, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
“You have found grace with God.” God’s gracious disposition has turned toward’s Mary, and God wants to use her for a grand purpose. God wants to use Mary as part of God’s plan to reconcile the world unto Himself. God will send Mary a son who will be named Jesus–and frankly, Jesus is going to be awesome.
I mean think about this in such terms–pretend you are engaged to be married. You are waiting expectantly for your wedding day, and then a complete stranger comes up to you and says, “God has given me a vision, and in the very near future, you will conceive and bear a child. That child will be the President of the United States. He will be so great, they will change the constitution to allow him to preside and lead for as long as he possibly can. His name will be known throughout history and for generations to come.”
You’d probably think the guy telling this to you was crazy. You’d probably think there is no way this could happen. You would probably doubt to the nth degree the possibilities of this fortune.
Even Mary was perplexed about this. “How in the world can this be?” she said. “I am a virgin–a young girl, from lowly status, who is not rich, who does not have any connections, who will be looked down upon if I become pregnant before I am officially married, who will suffer all sorts of scorn, who will be an embarrassment to my husband. How can this be?”
And Gabriel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”
We oftentimes read this and hear the thing about the Holy Spirit. We also hear that Jesus will be the Son of God, but we usually skip over that statement, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” God’s power will surround you–engulf you. Think about those words for a moment. Think about what it would be like to have God’s power coming over you as you walk through life on a daily basis. Do you think you would fear? Do you think you would panic? Do you think you would worry and stress? Most likely not. You would know you are in very good hands. You would know that no matter what happens, God would be with you.
Is it any wonder Mary finally says, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your purpose.”? Gabriel has come to her and told her that God’s grace is with her. She has undeservedly found favor with God, and He is smiling down upon her. He wants to use her to fulfill His promise to the world, and He will overshadow her and engulf her throughout this whole process. It’s a fantastic promise! Brought about by this unexpected visit. A visit that points to Jesus–the God who came to earth in an unexpected way, and once again, the circumstances were of the utmost importance.
For you see, the Messiah wasn’t completely unexpected. People were waiting for a Messiah who would come and restore the kingdom of Israel. They were waiting for Him to drive off all of their enemies and make them powerful once again. They were waiting for a Messiah who would bring peace and justice to the world through military means. And many believed that their faithfulness would bring this about. If they were just holy enough; if they were just faithful enough; if they just followed God’s commands enough, then they would find favor with God; then God would be pleased enough to come down.
But the circumstances ended up being quite different. God made His visit much more unexpectedly. Not as a king on a throne. Not as a great military leader. But as a baby born in a stable. As a carpenter who had calloused hands. As an itinerant preacher who proclaimed the Kingdom of God; who healed the sick; who fed the hungry; who made the blind to see. As a man wholly and totally devoted to the will of His Father in Heaven; a Father who longed to be reconciled to the world and His children; a reconciliation that could not be brought about through conquering armies and temple sacrifices and doing enough good things. A reconciliation that we could not accomplish on our part by our own works. A reconciliation that could only be brought about by a cross.
And this too was unexpected. This too was a complete and utter departure from everything the world had known or has ever known. Every other religion demands its followers to earn their own salvation. Every other philosophy believes the answer to that which plagues humankind is work harder. Be better. Do more good. Achieve perfection or be as perfect as you can be.
The unexpected news of Christianity is God became flesh and reconciled the world unto Himself while we were imperfect and broken. Jesus loved us and died for us when we were unlovable. We found grace–favor with our Ruler, our Creator, when we deserved it least.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.”
God’s reconciliation project is about to begin. We will celebrate the news of His unexpected visit in a few short days. Let us prepare our hearts to receive the news. Amen.