In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!”But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “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 called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38
Most of us have suffered from that sinking feeling.
You’re in the car, making good time, perhaps even enjoying the drive and you see that dreaded sign at the side of the road – ‘Men at Work’. All of a sudden you are surrounded by cars, your average speed has dropped to 3 mph and you watch the minutes pass by on your clock while the scenery remains the same.
Close to where I live there are major road works taking place, which will take two years to complete (if they finish on time). This means that I have seen this sign, and suffered from it, repeatedly in the past few months.
However, in the announcement passage found in Luke 1 we see a very different sign. Instead of reading ‘Men at Work’, we read ‘God at Work’.
God is seen to be at work through an announcement.
The angel Gabriel is sent to a town called Nazareth to make this announcement (v 26). Nazareth was a small rural village/town at least 45 miles north of the capital of Israel, Jerusalem. Luke’s detailed description of where Nazareth was to be found suggests that his original readers were unaware of its location.
Not only is Gabriel sent to a little known town, but also an unknown person.
This announcement is made in Nazareth to a virgin called Mary (v 27). Not only is Mary a little known person and living in a little known town, but she is also a woman. Women were held in low regard in first century Palestine. Really they were treated little better than children, who were neither seen nor heard. In addition she was a virgin betrothed to be married. Betrothals were common from the age of 12 in first century Palestine, and the fact that Mary was a virgin alludes to her youth. So, it is very probable that this announcement, delivered in a small rural town, was to a teenage girl. Even though the person receiving this announcement and her location were insignificant this only serves to magnify God all the more.
This insignificance is highlighted by the preceding verses in Luke 1 – the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth. That announcement, also delivered by Gabriel, was given to a male who was a Priest (v 5), in the middle of public worship (v 10), in the Temple (v 9) which is located in the capital city, Jerusalem.
Yet, in that announcement, this relatively important man asked for a sign (v 18) and because of his apparent disbelief he was disciplined (v 20). This is contrasted with the quiet obedience of the little known girl, Mary, from the little known town, Nazareth (v 34, 38). Her question is given an answer (v 35) which suggests this was not a question rising from unbelief.
All of this displays ‘God at Work’.
Still, God’s work is also made explicit by the announcement. Gabriel states unequivocally that this will be a work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead (v 35). He also offers an example of God’s mighty working power by way of Zechariah and Elizabeth (v 36). This then comes to a head in verse 37 with the statement ‘For nothing will be impossible with God’ (ESV).
What is God’s work, what do we see him announcing in this passage that is identified as his work? The birth of Jesus (v 31).
While Luke does not dwell on the name Jesus, it is important to remind ourselves again that this name means ‘The LORD is salvation’.
Rather, Luke dwells on the ministry that Jesus will fulfil (vv 32-33). This son to be born, by the power of God, through the working of the Holy Spirit is to be great, the son of the Most High, he is to sit on the throne of David, he will reign over his people forever, there will be no end to his Kingdom.
This is the announcement: the child that little known Mary from little known Nazareth is going to bear will be the unending king of his people because he is the son of the Most High.
This is ‘God at Work’.
As the advent season begins, this truth portrayed in the announcement by Gabriel – God is at work – must not be forgotten.
In the town of Bethlehem lying in a manger there was a baby, but before we get there God proclaims that through the weak things of this world he will put to shame the strong things (1 Cor. 1:27). God announces he is at work (Lk. 1:26-38).
This work is not yet finished though. Yes, Christ was only born once; he will not come again in that manner. But in the centuries that follow, again and again, Christ has been formed in people’s hearts (Gal. 4:19). This has been God at work through the Holy Spirit, and he continues to be at work.
More than that, God then uses those in whom Christ has been formed in his work. We, just like Mary, are insignificant and weak and yet God uses us in his work.
So, as you head out to get your Christmas shopping this year, if you see that dreaded sign on the roadside, ‘Men at Work’, be reminded that over 2000 years ago God announced that he is at work through his Son Jesus and that he continues to be at work through the Holy Spirit.