This year, our Italian church asked me to speak at their Christmas service. I find it a little interesting given that I have never considered myself to be much of a preacher. In fact, I have only delivered two sermons in my life, certainly preferring a smaller group teaching situation. But in any case, I’m now seriously starting to work on what I will say.
As I’ve been re-reading the Christmas story, I have been struck by the context of Jesus entering the world. Most specifically, I have been thinking about the juxtoposition of Elizabeth and Mary, the mothers of John the Baptist and Jesus.
On the one hand, you see Elizabeth. She is an older woman, married to Zechariah who is a priest, and they have not been able to have children. We don’t exactly know what the problem is, but the scripture does say that Elizabeth has been barren and hasn’t carried a child. So, the likelihood that she would be able to have children now is incredibly low.
On the other hand, you have Mary. She is a virgin, so for her, not only is it not likely, it is not possible for her to have a child. Biology just doesn’t allow it.
And so now we see God using both of these women. He sends the angel Gabriel initially to speak to Zechariach, and subsequently to Mary, who announces that they will both have sons and that they will both be great.
So, I’m thinking that this is the focus of what I want to speak about on Christmas. God is doing something amazing and something new, and I think that it is possible that Elizabeth and Mary are possibly even symbolic of what God is doing. Elizabeth is an older woman, married to a priest of Israel, and from her will come one who will announce the coming of the Messiah, the King of both Israel and the whole world. This seems symbolic to me of Israel’s role: to point toward the King, both the One who already is and the One who is about to come. But like Elizabeth, this is the older order of things. Very soon, it won’t just be about pointing toward the King. Instead, God will soon be with us as Emmanuel, God with us here on earth.
I think that Mary, in her young age and virginity, not only represents a miracle in the virgin birth, but represents something new that God is doing in sending His son, Jesus. God seems to be demonstrating that He is moving on from the old things, the old covenant that had been broken many times over, the old priestly order and its sacrifices, and moving on to new things. Moving on to God being directly amongst His people. Not just one physical people group, but to a people who will follow and obey, and most of all love Him.