We have entered the season called Advent.  The season of Advent is a time of Christian preparation to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son.

          We decorate the sanctuary of the church building as a way of marking the season.  In a place of prominence, we position the Advent Wreath consisting of four candles surrounding a center candle.  Did you know that the four candles surround the wreath are known by different church traditions?  In some traditions, the candles represent hope, peace, joy, and love. In other traditions, the candles represent the Messiah or Prophesy of Christ’s coming followed by the Bethlehem Candle for Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, the third represents the Shepherds, and the fourth represents the Angel’s Candle.  In the United Kingdom, the four candles represent the hope of all God's people (week one), the Old Testament prophets (week two), John the Baptist (week three) and Mary the mother of Jesus (week four).  In the Orthodox Churches the wreath consists of six different colored candles: a green candle, symbolizing faith, a blue candle, symbolizing hope, a gold candle, symbolizing love, a white candle, symbolizing peace, a purple candle, symbolizing repentance, and a red candle, symbolizing communion.

          That is probably more about Advent Candles than you wanted to know.  But coming to know what we do not know is an essential part of Advent.  This year I would like us to explore what became known through the birth of Jesus.  We began our worship service today with the song, “Mary, Did You Know?”   We lit a candle and reflected upon Mary.  As the candle brought light into the sanctuary, so too does Mary’s experience of coming to know God bring light into our lives.  So today, I would like us to explore what God revealed about himself through Mary.  Next week, we will ask, “Joseph, Did You Know?” and explore what God revealed about himself through Joseph.  In the following weeks, we will look ask the same question through the eyes of the Shepherds and then the Wise Men.     Let’s begin with “Mary, Did You Know?”

          Who was Mary?  Did you know that the first information Christians had in writing about Mary came from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians?  We tend to think that the New Testament books are arranged in the order the books were written.  But that is not the case.  The letters Paul wrote to his churches are the earliest Christian writings even though they appear later in the New Testament.  And so, Paul’s letter to the Galatians provides the earliest written “Christmas Story.”  Here it is: “1 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father.”   7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:1-7).


The earliest Christian writings of the “Christmas Story’ do not mention Mary by name.  She is simply known as a woman.  Nevertheless, the few words that Paul mention reveal some important information about this woman and about God.  First, we learn this woman was “born under the law.” To be under the law was a way of saying she was Jewish and followed the law God gave to Moses for the nation of Israel to follow.  Second, this woman was chosen by God.  Paul said, “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son,” to be born of a woman. God took the action and sent Jesus to this woman.  The birth of God’s own Son had never happened before and will never be repeated.  This woman, unnamed by Paul, must have been extraordinary because God chose her for this “once in all time” purpose.

          Paul left open the question, “Did Mary know the fullness of God’s plan?”  Paul made clear that this woman would have the Son of God mature within her own body, God within her.  For the woman, it must have been an amazing experience.  This woman would be the first human with the essence of God growing stronger and larger within her.  And while this woman would be the first and only person to experience God this way, I wonder if this woman, whom we know as Mary, knew she would not be the last human to experience the essence of God growing stronger and larger within them.

          Look at what Paul said as to the purpose of that baby, God’s Son, that developed within this woman. Paul wrote, “God sent his Son, born of a woman (Mary), born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:4b-6).  Paul was saying just as God sent Jesus to be born of this woman, Mary, God also sent his Spirit to all who would believe in God’s Son and that they too would have God’s Spirit living within them.  The human experience of having God growing stronger and larger within them would be repeated in the life of everyone who claimed God’s Son as their Lord and Savior. This means when we claim Christ as Lord and Savior of our life, God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. So, we might ask, “Mary, did you know that you ushered into the world a new experience for all the people in that each of us can continue to share your experience of new life through God’s Spirit growing within us?”  That is an important question of history.  But it is more important of personal salvation that we ask of ourselves, “Do I know that I too can experience God living within me by accepting the gift of Jesus?”

          Paul’s letter to the Galatians is the earliest “Christmas Story” account with Mary.  Scholars believe that account was written by Paul sometime between around the year 50 A.D.  The second version of the Christmas Story authored by the Christian church came near 30 years later in the Gospel of Matthew.  In Chapter 1 of Matthew’s Gospel, written between 80 and 90 A.D., we would read, “16 And Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.  17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.  18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they (Joseph and Mary) came together, she (Mary) was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:16-18).

          Matthew, in the second “Christmas Story” has added much. First, we learn the woman Paul referred to did have a name.  Her name was Mary, which is the English translation of the Hebrew name Myriam. Second, we learn that God did not choose just any woman to bear his Son. God chose a woman who was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph.  Paul said, “when the set time had fully come,” God acted and now we learn God acted not just through the life of a woman named Mary but also a man named Joseph. 

Matthew said Joseph and Mary were engaged but not married. Meaning Mary lived in her father’s home and Joseph lived elsewhere.  Matthew made clear there was no sexual activity between them and yet Mary was found to be pregnant.  Joseph would have understood the child was not his own.  In every moral, emotional, and legal way, Joseph had every right to end his relationship with Mary and cancel all his plans for their life together.

But Matthew added an important piece of information for his readers to understand something unprecedented had happened.  Yes, the child within Mary was not created with Joseph.  Instead, the child within Mary was created through the Holy Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit of God had given life to the Son of God in the womb of Mary.  How can this be?  Well, we know that the Holy Spirit of God was present in the creation of the world.  In the first words of the Bible we would read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).  The Spirit of God was poised in the beginning to start creating life. After the creation of the heavens and earth, we would read in the second chapter of Genesis, “7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).  Again, the Spirit of God, here described as the very breath of God, gave life.  Now, in the Gospel of Matthew, we read that the same Spirit of God gave life within Mary in the form of a developing baby, the Son of God.  The Holy Spirit is the giver of life.  The Spirit gave life in creation.  The Spirit gave life to Mary in the Christmas Story.  And Spirit will give life to us now.  The Spirit is life.

Matthew’s “Christmas Story” of the Holy Spirit giving life to Mary, through her pregnancy with God’s own Son, revealed that God allows us to make plans but may when it suits his purposes reveal a better way to us.  Mary had plans, I am sure, for a life with Joseph.  A life of living together as husband and wife and raising children.  It was a quiet little plan.  But God had something else in mind for Mary.  God chose Mary to be part of his plan to change the world. Mary had to make a critical decision.  She could either keep her own quiet little plan and reject God’s plan for her life, or she could accept God’s plan and reject her own plan.  Mary had to test her plan and purposes against God’s will. Matthew made it clear, Mary consented to God’s plan even though she knew doing so would end her plans, may end her plans with Joseph, and may even bring the disappointment and condemnation of her family upon her.

God’s plans are not always the easiest plans for us.  In fact, the easiest plans for our lives are often found by just following the ways of the world.  Often, decisions to follow God’s plan will place us in conflict with our own plans and place us in conflict with the desires of those who are closest to us. Matthew would later record for us in Jesus’ own words how following God’s plan can even bring discord and not peace.  Jesus said: 34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’  37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

Mary lost the life she had planned and risked all her relationships to follow God’s plan.  But in doing that for God, Mary found her true life and she will be remembered for all generations for having followed the will of God.

          So, we might ask historically, “Mary, did you know that in consenting to God’s plan you risked everything people hold dear in this world and gained not just a son, but a Savior and Lord giving you eternal life?”  The answer would be interesting.  But the better question for us today to ask of ourselves is, “Do I know that in consenting to God’s plan we place at risk our little plans and what the world hold dear, but we gain a Savior and Lord and become a child of God?  Am I willing to obey as Mary did?”

          The Christmas Story from its earliest and simplest composition is all about God plan to change the world.  But rather than bring his plan about alone and on his own, God chose to incorporate into his plan people of simple faith.  God chose to work through Mary and thus fulfill a prophesy made hundreds of years earlier, “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). 

I wonder, “Mary, did you know, did you ‘grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ?’ (Ephesians 3:18b).   Mary, did you know, your Son would die for your sins, for our sins? Mary, did you know that though your Son died, he would rise into a new and resurrected life? Mary, did you know that in your Son taking your sins and our sins we are all cleansed of unrighteousness and can be presented to God as holy and acceptable?”  Mary, did you know?

Do we know these things, these truths?  I hope we do now.  Next week we will ask the question, “Joseph, did you know?” and learn more about God and his love for us.

The Christmas Story changes everything if we willingly accept the gift of Jesus presented to us.  But did we know we must open the gift for it to be ours?  Let’s pray that we do know.