It is interesting to observe that ‘in the fullness of time’ (when God had planned) Jesus humbled himself and came to earth as a baby; conceived in a miraculous way and born in unusual circumstances far from his parents’ home. When the time came for God to send the angel Gabriel to advise of the way Jesus would arrive in this world, Mary was the one who received the message. Even though it was a terrifying thing to see the angel and the news was so astounding, Mary was able to question Gabriel about the circumstance of her having a baby and after hearing the explanation she accepted the word from God and affirmed that she was the Lord’s servant.
The Jewish scholars and pious priests had been reading about the coming Messiah for such a long time and had formed their own ideas about how this would be accomplished and what Messiah would do once he arrived. God chose to reveal his plan to a humble unmarried woman and some time later, Joseph had confirmation of what was to happen through the Lord appearing to him in a dream. We can assume that Mary told Joseph what God had revealed to her but Joseph still made his own plans to divorce her quietly so she would not come into public disgrace. Human reasoning could expect that the coming of Messiah would be revealed to the Jewish leaders and particularly to the man who was to be Mary’s husband and would have to name the child in the expected tradition. In all this, God chose to whom he would reveal his plan and went against religious and cultural expectations to see that his plan was carried out.
Earlier, the angel Gabriel had appeared to the priest, Zechariah as he performed his duties in the temple. Gabriel brought news of a son to be born to Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth even though they were older in years. This child was to go before the Lord to prepare hearts for the coming of Jesus. Zechariah questioned the message as it seemed unlikely that he and his wife could have a child. Gabriel called his questioning ‘unbelief’ and because of this Zechariah was unable to speak until the child was born. Elizabeth accepted the news and credited her pregnancy to the Lord’s doing and no doubt by then, Zechariah realised that what he had heard from the angel was indeed happening. When their son was born Zechariah’s voice was restored as he made the pronouncement that the child’s name would be John as had been told him by the angel.
Mary’s question was ‘how will this happen?’ – Zechariah’s question was ‘is it going to happen’. Mary’s question showed belief that what God had said would come true – Zechariah had a consequence for his unbelief.
Another group of people were informed by an angel of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and they believed without question and went straight away to see the event which had been told them. Maybe it was easy for these shepherds to believe when other angels appeared and began praising God. Once again, no-one could have predicted that God would tell a group of humble shepherds about the birth of the Messiah and as far as we know, they were the first people to see Jesus in human form, apart from Mary and Joseph. Not only did they visit Jesus not long after his birth, they went out from there and told everyone about their experience before returning to mind their sheep, all the while giving praise to God for all they had heard and seen.
Several weeks later when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for the purification rites required by the law, there were two more humble people who were there to speak about the Messiah’s appearance. Simeon is described as a righteous and devout person who had the Holy Spirit on him and he was directed by the Spirit to go to the temple on the day Jesus arrived. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and spoke words of confirmation of God’s plan for Jesus while he was on the earth. Anna was also there and she is described as a prophet who worshiped day and night in the temple. A widow for eighty four years, she also recognised who Jesus was and giving thanks to God spoke to all who were anticipating the redemption of Israel.
In all these accounts God chose how and when he would reveal his plans and to which people he would give the knowledge of his arrival into the world through Jesus. It took many people by surprise and revealed the hearts of those who heard the message. In the end of each story, the people praised God for his intervention in their lives and the fulfilment of all that was told them about the coming of Messiah.
At this time in history, we have the privilege of knowing how the coming of Jesus happened and can read all the accounts which make up the complete story. These people were remarkable in that they believed even though they didn’t have our benefit of hindsight. These stories also show us again that God so often does things in ways which are unexpected and chooses humble people whom he knows will believe and obey his plans. We may not have an angelic visitation telling us what God is going to do but we have the bible and the indwelling Holy Spirit who shows us God’s ways and gives us insights just as was experienced by Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, un-named Shepherds, Simeon and Anna. God has his ways of getting his purposes accomplished – may we be ready to be a part of that wonderful plan.