Have you ever excitedly anticipated something only to find that when it arrived it was nothing like what you had expected? Maybe as a kid you were expecting to get a BB gun for Christmas, but instead you unwrapped pajamas. What a letdown! Well, when we unwrap the story of Jesus’ birth, it isn’t what you might expect, but it certainly isn’t a letdown. Let’s explore the cast of characters and the events surrounding the birth of Jesus in the first two chapters of Luke.
The Time Had Come
For 400 years before Jesus’ birth, God was silent. He spoke no prophetic words, psalms or encouragement to His people. And then one day, He appeared and made a fairly significant announcement. What was the message that would compel God to break His silence?
For centuries, dating all the way back to Genesis 2, the scriptures would point to a Savior who would deliver the world from the bondage of sin and establish God’s kingdom on earth. You can imagine then, when this Messiah finally came in the form of a tiny baby Jesus, born to a young, poor, no-named girl (AKA the famous Virgin Mary) people might doubt. Surely this could not be the savior the prophets spoke of! Baby Jesus was after all born in a barn of all places, placed in a feeding trough, and His birth was celebrated by goat and sheep-herders. These were hardly appropriate accommodations for the King of Kings...or were they?
The Herald – John the Baptist
It all began with an old barren couple, reminiscent of Abraham and Sarah. Zechariah, a priest, and his wife Elizabeth, a descendant of Israel’s first High Priest Aaron, tried unsuccessfully for years to have a baby. Even though Zechariah worked in the temple, the couple may have faced criticism, shame, and guilt because of their barrenness.
And then one day, an angel named Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and told him to get ready for a son. He and Elizabeth would name him John. The boy would bring his parents joy, be great in God’s sight, and prepare the people for the Messiah. (Fun family fact: Elizabeth and Mary were cousins).
Zechariah couldn’t believe the news. How could he and Elizabeth possibly have a baby? Because he questioned Gabriel in disbelief, Zechariah was struck with muteness. He would be silent until John was born and God’s prophecy was fulfilled.
Holy Spirit Conception
Gabriel was, of course, also met with skepticism from Mary when he delivered the second announcement. “How shall this be? Seeing I know not a man?” said Mary. Gabriel explained the Invisible Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, would overshadow her and “that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” She would call His name Jesus. Mary accepted the angel’s words, affirmed her willingness to serve God, and pondered the coming birth of Jesus.
As we read Luke’s account of these incredible events, you can imagine the full range of emotion that Mary was experiencing—and Joseph, her fiancé, as well. In this story of immaculate conception, Mary demonstrates that while she might have been the least-likely candidate for the mother through whom God binds Himself to humanity, He does it so that there can be no mistake that His hand is directing it. He makes the impossible possible — conception within a barren Elizabeth and a Virgin Mary.
God’s miracle birth announcements are only the beginning of an incredible story orchestrated by God and recorded by Luke. Early in this story, in the first two chapters in fact, we gain valuable insight into God’s plan. He would use those in the low places, the poor and invisible, to bring about his new world order.