As Mary gathered her thoughts, still considering the kind of greeting this angel-stranger had just delivered, Gabriel continued in delivering his holy message. “Do not be afraid,” he said. “You have found favor with God.” He was almost reiterating the point he had just made. Possibly gauging the shock on her face and discerning the internal conversation that was happening simultaneously in her mind. Not only was she circled round about by a Shekinah-glory-cloud of favor, she had also found charis with God. Here, it’s translated favor. But the other 156 times that Greek word is used in the New Testament? 130 of them are translated as grace. That merciful lovingkindess that psalmists return to and point back to. “That overwhelmingly undeserved thing you did back then,” they whisper. “Can you do it again? For me? According to Your Word. And according to Your lovingkindness. Please God… do it again.”
I don’t know what it would have been like to live in the Old Testament. With the sacrifices and offerings and laws. And the inability to freely and boldy enter His presence. As New Testament believers, grace is readily available to us. We’ve always known it. We live by it. Believe because of it. We breathe in grace and breathe out Yahweh. But Mary? She stumbled upon an overwhelming treasure the second she opened her door to Gabriel. I wonder about those moments leading up to that encounter. The days before. Was Mary entirely unaware of what was about to take place? Or was God speaking in the way His Holy Spirit only can? Was He beginning to rustle something inside of her?
Mary had found exemplary favor with God. As did Samuel. And Job. And David – the long-ago king who had a dream that God said no to before ushering in a different plan. A better one. A plan that was littered with fistfuls of gold dust. He found favor. And now, 28 generations later, Mary did as well. Although she was quite opposite from the king that dreamed of building a house for God and ended up instead with 100,000 talents of gold that would be worth nearly $1 billion today.
We aren’t given much information at all of Mary’s background or the story surrounding her right-then. But we do get a subtle glimpse in Luke 2 when she presents her Son to the LORD, also giving the ceremonially required sacrifice. Her gift? Two turtledoves. They were the appropriate substitute for someone who could not afford the traditionally accepted lamb.
Mary was poor. And yet, this angel-stranger had just finished saying how incredibly blessed she was.
heavenly messengers never flatter
Mary Elizabeth Baxter
And then, Gabriel quoted Isaiah. And began telling Mary something that was entirely unexpected. But altogether sure. Something that would seem impossible. Yet would, indeed, occur. “You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son,” he said.
and you shall call His name JESUS
Gabriel used the name “Jesus” where Isaiah said “Immanuel”. God with us or With us is God. It was the symbolic and prophetic name of the Messiah. But there is something else much more interesting buried in the root of that Hebrew word: the summit of a tree or on the highest top.
My breath caught when I read the words. And I glanced over to the star crookedly clipped to the top of our Christmas tree. Traditionally, an angel is placed at the top of a tree to represent Gabriel. Or a star that is mindful of the heavenly light which led the wise men all the way to Bethlehem and that freshly born Babe. But to have the prophetic name of the Messiah whose birth we are celebrating by even putting up that tree in the first place literally mean the summit of a tree? It was something I had never heard before. And all of a sudden, that cheap little topper we bought at the store is, quite literally, the star of the show. God with us on the highest top of the tree.
Two chapters later, in Isaiah 9, the prophecy continues with more names for the coming Messiah: Wonderful. Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. All names that would describe His nature. Albert Barnes* describes the nuances in the Hebrew for “to be called” and “to be” – that they often mean the same thing and are verbs that are used interchangeably. So the different names that are given? It’s reasonable to conclude that, by nature, Jesus is all those things that Isaiah described. But by name, he would be called Jesus. (It’s a small gift of mercy, really. For Mary at least. Because I can’t imagine being His mother and having to call out an endless string of names every night for dinner.)
The other things He would be called? Great. Truly great. Incontestably great.** And He would be called the Son of the Highest. And the LORD God would give Him the throne of His father David. It’s a reference back to that part of the covenant that God made with David. Back when He said no to a pure motivation and perfectly reasonable dream. “No,” He said. “But when your days are fulfilled, I will set up your seed after you. And I will establish his kingdom.”
As Gabriel referred to that holy Davidic covenant, he explained to Mary that David’s days had long-ago been fulfilled. And now. Finally. A long-awaited prophecy would be too. And the Child that this poor, pure, and betrothed virgin was going to conceive would take the throne that had long-since been vacated. The one that belonged to David’s lineage.
All that time that David gathered, and prepared in abundance for his dream that his son would end up building – preparation of a dream that would be the greatest accomplishment of his life. I wonder if he had any idea of the legacy that awaited him 28-generations later. Of that Summit-of-a-Tree-Immanuel-Wonderful-Counselor-Mighty-God-Everlasting-Father-Prince-of-Peace-Great-Son-of-the-Highest Who would be called Jesus that would come from his lineage. The Babe that would reign over the house of Jacob forever. With a kingdom that would have no end. It would not be overtaken by rival kings. It would not be left to other people. It would not become a stump that his reign once was. It would be one against which nothing could stand. And against which no one could fight. And it would be ruled by one Man. In perpetuity. For every generation single generation to follow. Forever.
I wonder if David had any inkling of those things as he sat in his cedar-scented palace and dreamed his greatest dream.
I suppose it really is true. That anything we dream of. Even to the most extreme of them. He always tops it. That’s why He’s called Summit-of-a-Tree-Immanuel.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
* Barnes, Albert (1997), Notes on the Old and New Testaments (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
** Matthew Henry