Quarter: Jesus and the Just Reign of God
Unit 1: God Sends Jesus
The Angel Foretells Jesus’ Birth
Sunday school lesson for the week of Dec. 1
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Luke 1:26-40
Background Scripture: Luke 1:5-45
As we begin this quarter’s studies in Luke and James, please let the focus of the 13 weeks sink in and permeate every lesson. The title could have been “Jesus and the Kingdom of God.” After all, the Kingdom of God is where God reigns! As we pray each Sunday: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The will of God, the kingdom of God and the reign of God all delineate the why, the how, and the who of what Jesus taught about living as faithful disciples.
Also, before beginning today’s lesson, there are several characteristics of the Gospel of Luke we need to remember. Luke was a Gentile physician who became Paul’s companion on the Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36 - Acts 20:38). You will notice the change from third person to first in the famous “we” passages of Luke which indicates Luke was present! Also remember that Luke wrote both the Gospel and the book of Acts as a two-volume introduction of Jesus and the Christian Church to a Roman official named Theophilus. (It is interesting to note that the name in Greek means “friend of God.”) The continuity of Luke-Acts is often missed because the Gospel of John is placed between them. When added together, Luke wrote more than one-fourth of the New Testament. (Fred Craddock counts 142 of 523 pages!)
Luke’s writing is the best in the New Testament, but that quality of writing in no way detracts from his effort to present a history of God’s purpose for all humankind. Exhibit 1: Luke’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Adam—not to Abraham!
I think it worth quoting at length another Craddock observation: “To speak of Luke’s history as theological is also to be reminded that God, not Christ or the Holy Spirit, is the central subject … many Christians have so focused on Christ or the Holy Spirit that they forget it is God who sent Jesus and who sends His Holy Spirit.” (Craddock, The Gospels, page 97)
Now we are ready to listen to the angel Gabriel make his announcements. In earlier days this was called “The Annunciation.” There are really two announcements. The first is to Zechariah (read the background scripture) and the primary one is to Mary. The story of the conception and birth of John the Baptist is critical to the rest of the passage of study for today. The reason for including 1:5—25 is to remind us how our wonderful God works within His creation to accomplish His purposes.
By the time Gabriel appears to Mary we are ready for the world-shattering news he brings to the teenager Mary. What he announces will change her world (and ours!) forever. With incredulity she asks, “How can this be?” With Gabriel’s answer, the doctrine of the Virgin Birth has its origin. For more than 2,000 years the Church has not made a belief in the Virgin Birth a requirement for membership, but what is essential is a belief in the Incarnation! As Paul wrote, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” Or as John says in the Gospel’s prologue, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.”
The work that Mary’s child is to do will require more than a human can accomplish, regardless of how noble, good and loving he or she might be. The reason we have two candles on our altar/communion table is to represent the dual nature of Jesus Christ—the human and the divine. In the mystery of the Incarnation the Church has said the baby born of Mary is both fully human and fully divine. With this understanding, the Virgin Birth even seems to be logical! How else can you comprehend the mystery of God’s way of reconciling a sinful world?
With the unexpected intrusion of unimaginable news, Mary’s acceptance of her role has rightly earned her the unique place among all the women of history. Catholic and Protestant alike defer to her, for through her body came our Lord and Savior. Her agreement to participate in God’s plan was critical. Like her son in the Garden, she said, “Let it be!” What would have happened if she had said “NO!” Remember, God never forces his will upon us.
Moreover, Mary’s “yes” to the news offers all of us a demonstration of faith in the face of unexpected circumstances. Nothing could have been more disturbing than a pregnancy, difficult to explain at best, and certainly to send the gossip like wild-fire through Nazareth. She understood all of that! What she demonstrated was her nature to trust God completely, even when she could not understand.
Our human nature is to want to be in control of all the contingencies of life. We want to plan it all out and know the outcome. As we all know, planning is important. As our grandchild Taylor once said, “We need a plan and ‘tic to it.”
Children, careers, finances—indeed life—deserve a good plan and the perseverance to “tic to it!”
Mary and Joseph had a plan! But Gabriel interrupted that plan with a major change. What do we do with life’s unexpected interruptions? When I was 6 years old, my mom and dad had to deal with such an unexpected interruption: Pearl Harbor. Within a year, dad was drafted into the Army. He had to sell his drug store and home and leave his wife and child behind. That required a major journey on my mother’s part from Miami, Fla. to Nashville, Ga. The anxiety and stress of a family displaced, the worry about a soldier in harm’s way, and an uncertain future took its toll on my mother. Ultimately, all turned out well, but my grandmother’s faith, support and love, proved to be the difference.
John Indermark writes: “Faith is not having all the information ahead of time so we can stay in control. Faith is trusting in God’s power and grace, so that even and especially when we realize things have moved beyond our ability to control or manipulate or understand, we may be at peace and in a position to do what we can and trust God for the rest.” (Page 139 International Lesson Annual 2013-2014)
So it must be when we disciples of Jesus face life’s unexpected turns. Mary was at the beginning of a long journey she could not possibly have understood. A first pregnancy is always new and filled with unfamiliar moments. The journey would take her far away from home to Bethlehem and Egypt for years. Finally, the journey would take her to the foot of a cross as she watched her son die. Yet it all began with “Let it be in accordance with your word.”