6-Week Series: Against All Odds


Summary: Luke 1


There is a tradition that Jonathan Edwards, third president of Princeton and one of America’s greatest thinkers, had a daughter with an uncontrollable temper. But, as is often the case, this weakness was not known to the outside world.

A worthy young man fell in love with her and sought her hand in marriage. “You can’t have her,” was the abrupt answer of Jonathan Edwards.

“But I love her,” the young man replied.

“You can’t have her,” said Edwards.

“But she loves me,” continued the young man.

Again Edwards said, “You can’t have her.”

“Why?” asked the young man.

“Because she is not worthy of you.” “But,” he asked, “she is a Christian, is she not?”

“Yes, she is a Christian, but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live.” (from Illustrations of Bible Truths # 936)

Christmas is often associated with words such as joy, peace, worship, praise and goodwill, but the first good news of Christmas is that of grace.

What is Christmas grace? Why is grace a strength and not a weakness? How does grace make life worth living? How do we embrace grace?

Cast All Cares to the Lord

26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:26-29)

Fresh out of business school, the young man answered a want ad for an accountant. Now he was being interviewed by a very nervous man who ran a small business that he had started himself. "I need someone with an accounting degree," the man said. "But mainly, I'm looking for someone to do my worrying for me."

"Excuse me?" the accountant said.

"I worry about a lot of things," the man said. "But I don't want to have to worry about money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back."

"I see," the accountant said. "And how much does the job pay?"

"I'll start you at eighty thousand."

"Eighty thousand dollars!" the accountant exclaimed. "How can such a small business afford a sum like that?"

"That," the owner said, "is your first worry."

Christmas is the best of times despite the worst of times. Soon to be rocked by scandal, reviled by society and rife with questions, Mary understandably was “greatly troubled” (v 29) or “dia-tarasso” in Greek - shocked, stunned and shaken. The angel’s presence, ironically, did not ease her mind or help things out; instead, it stressed her out. Six months ago (Luke 1:24-26) an angel’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth’s family, specifically to the husband Zechariah, was the talk of the town, a tall tale at best, a terror even to skeptics. Zechariah was silent and unable to speak (Luke 1:20), remaining speechless since until who knew when.

Christmas is, in fact, the occasion of three “troubles” or “tarasso” in Greek. The first “trouble” describes how Zechariah was “startled/troubled” and was gripped with fear by an angel’s appearance (Luke 1:12). The last “trouble” sent shock waves, stirred a city, spawned much discontent and stimulated for change, recounting how King Herod, along with all Jerusalem, was “disturbed” by the magi’s news (Matt 2:3).

Sandwiched between two “troubles” is the mother of them all. Half a year after Zechariah’s trouble, Mary was “greatly troubled” (v 29) by an angel’s appearance and announcement. This Greek word (dia-tarasso) makes its first and only occurrence in the Bible, meaning “total, thorough, throughout” (dia-) and verse 12’s “troubled” (tarasso). Zechariah and Herod were troubled (tarasso) (Matt 2:3), but Mary was greatly troubled” (dia-tarasso). No one could imagine the tension, her turmoil and test. NASB translates it as “very perplexed.” Although Mary did not hear about her pregnancy yet, no biblical character had the same experience, no one could understand her feelings or share her emotions, and no one was in like quandary. You can say she was stretched to the limit. No wonder, her “wonder” (v 29) or “dia-logizomai” has the same preposition “dia” attached to it.

One can imagine the “great trouble” and the full impact of the angel’s sudden appearance, ironically the same angel, especially if upright and blameless relative Zechariah had experienced the same and ended up mute (Luke 1:12). It was an uninvited déjà vu moment and an unwanted “oh-oh” and “oh-no” experience.

But readers can see Mary was tough and tender, trusting and triumphant. Although she was confused to the limit, she was visited and comforted by the best. It was such extraordinary news that God sent one of his top angels to send the message with a message to rejoice. There are only two top named angels in the Bible –Michael and Gabriel. Michael brings bad news to God’s foes (Rev 12:7), and Gabriel brings good news to God’s friends (Luke 1:19, 26). The New Testament begins with Gabriel and ends with Michael. The news Gabriel brought was one: The Lord is with you (v 28). The Christmas message in Matthew is “God with US” (Matt 1:23), but the message of Luke is “the Lord is with YOU.” (Luke 1:28).

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