Summary: God’s power is at work whenever the gospel is preached. If he could do the things we read about here in Luke 2, there’s nothing he can’t achieve.
You may have heard this story before. A chauffeur had been driving a chemistry professor to dozens of speaking engagements. He’d heard the same speech time and time again. Finally he said to the professor as they were driving to the next engagement, "Professor, I reckon I could give your speech myself, I’ve heard it so many times!" The professor said, "I’ll bet you $50 you can’t." "You’re on," said the chauffeur.
He stopped the car and the two exchanged clothes. They arrived at the banquet. The chauffeur, dressed in a tuxedo, sat at the head of the table and was introduced. He stood up and gave the speech verbatim. There was a standing ovation when he was finished.
Then the MC got up and said, "You know, we’re so fortunate to have such a fine resource with us tonight, and since we have a little extra time, let’s have some questions and answers. Well, the first question was asked and the chauffeur stood there speechless, clearing his throat in nervousness. Finally he had a moment of inspiration. He said, "You know, as I think about it, I reckon that’s such an easy question I bet even my chauffeur could answer it."
The mistake the chauffeur made, of course, was to think that because he’d heard the story so many times before, he knew everything there was to know about it. In fact that’s a mistake lots of people make about the Christmas story. We’ve all heard it so many times before that there’s nothing new here any more.
Yet I wonder whether that’s actually true. I wonder whether each time we here the story it shouldn’t shake us up, again. Why? Well, because it’s actually full of the unexpected. Let’s look at this small section of Luke 2, at these inspired utterances and notice what some of those surprising things are and where they come from.
Surprise 1: Elizabeth’s Prophecy
Having heard that Elizabeth is expecting a child, despite her advanced age, Mary decides to go and visit her. But the moment she enters the room Elizabeth’s baby does a huge jump, and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit she calls out: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
I’m sure this was the last thing Mary expected. She knew that something special was happening to her, but to have it confirmed in this particular way, with an utterance inspired by the Holy Spirit, out of the mouth of her cousin, must have been of great significance to her. And notice the surprising things that come out of Elizabeth’s lips. She describes the child growing in Mary’s womb as "My Lord." This is no ordinary child. This will be the one who is Lord. This child will be the Son of God.
And notice too the reason Mary is blessed. She’s blessed, not because of some innate righteousness on her part but because she believes God’s promise. You’ll remember of course that the angel Gabriel had come to Mary one night and had told her she was going to bear a son and was to call him Jesus. He was to be great and would be known as the Son of the Most High, the Son of God. Mary couldn’t understand how this could happen, when she was a virgin, but nevertheless she said "I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me according to your word." Mary would have known as much about the basics of how babies get here as we do so she knew this couldn’t happen - unless God did a miracle. But still, she was willing to suspend rational thought at that point and trust that God could do whatever he said he could do. And it’s that faith in God, in God’s word that makes her truly blessed.
Surprise 2: God will use even one as unimportant as Mary.
Mary’s response, in turn, is to sing an inspired song. And at the centre of that song is her wonder at the thought that God would use her, as humble as she is, to fulfill his purposes. That is, that God would use one who is of such lowly status as a young peasant girl. She’s from the backwoods, from the bush. Everyone knew that nothing much could come out of Galilee. Do you remember, when Philip told Nathaniel about Jesus, Nathaniel said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Yet here Mary finds herself at the centre of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Here we see at the micro level what God has done through the gospel for all people. James says: "Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?" (James 2:5 NRSV). The wonder of the gospel is that Jesus has come to call all people, rich and poor, weak and powerful, famous and ordinary, to follow him; it’s that the humble are lifted up, the poor made rich, the unrighteous made righteous, the insignificant raised to the status of God’s sons and daughters. Though with one proviso: notice she says: "50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation." Our worldly status isn’t what matters to God. What matters is that we fear him. As we saw a few weeks ago, that means we give him the glory that’s his due; that we understand who he is and who we are in relation to him; and that we be like Mary and believe that what God has promised will actually happen.