We are on the doorstep of Christmas1. The day is almost here. Out of all the Christmas gifts in your life this year, are you more likely to be the giver of the gift, or the recipient of the gift?
You really need both parts to have a gift. In the next few days there will be a lot of gifts given and a lot of gifts received. There are classroom parties in school, work parties with gift exchanges, in addition to all the family get-togethers and dinners and opportunities to open presents and enjoy giving and receiving gifts with ones we love.
But which one is better? Giving a gift or receiving a gift? Jesus himself, you might remember, gave us an answer to that question. It’s recorded for us in the book of Acts: The Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35) So, there you have it, if Jesus himself has weighed in on the question, it’s been answered.
But wait a minute. I’m not trying to disagree with Jesus in any way, but that quote where Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive is in the context of helping the needy. It’s the Apostle Paul talking about how we need to help and give to people less fortunate than us.
The gifts I really want to talk to you about today are a bit different. We’re not focusing today on gifts between people, but gifts between human beings and God himself. And for those gifts, I would argue that it’s better to be the one receiving the gifts. Sure, we give gifts to God. We use time, talents, and offerings to serve him. But God doesn’t really need our gifts. He’s not up in heaven upset that he missed out on an extra ten bucks in offerings that someone decided not to give. No, the gifts we give to God are really only a small response to his gifts to us.
And especially as we look at Christmas, and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we don’t focus on what we’re doing for God; we focus on what he has done for us in his Son. This Christmas — really for all time — the most important gift is the gift that God gives. And all of us get to celebrate that. Because the gift it yours.
How to Receive a Gift
Now, receiving the gift is usually the easy part. You don’t have to pick anything out or pay anything or wrap anything. But I think we’ve all seen how sometimes people don’t receive gifts very well.
You’ve probably seen people have bad reactions when they receive a gift. Usually it’s little kids who might do this. They tear open the wrapping paper, all excited, and then their face just drops. “Oh. I don’t like this…” “I didn’t want this.” “I already have this!” We usually have to teach kids the best way to receive a gift in a way that graciously says thank you for it and doesn’t complain.
But that doesn’t mean that we somehow grow out of these kinds of problems when we get older. Hopefully we don’t react with rudeness, but sometimes we react in ways other than simply receiving with thanks. You’ve probably heard someone say, “You shouldn’t have!” Or, “I told you not to get me anything!” Sometimes, you’ll even see people react almost with anger over getting a gift. They might even go out of their way to return the gift.
Why would someone do this? Well, I think we like getting gifts, but we don’t like feeling like we’re getting charity. There’s some pride in our hearts that tells us we don’t need anyone’s help, thank you very much. They can keep their “gift.”
Friends, let’s not ever react to God’s gifts in that way. Let’s never tell God, “You shouldn’t have!” or to try to make up for all his gifts somehow. Instead, let’s act like Mary does in our text for today. She doesn’t try to give the gifts back. She doesn’t try to complain or make up for them. She simply receives them. That’s what we get to do, too. The gift is yours.
The Gift of Choosing Mary — and Choosing Us
This gets clearer as we looked at how God’s gift-giving unfolded to Mary in our text. In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Lk. 1:26-27)
Here’s Gabriel, one of the only angels with a name in the Bible. He was around in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. (Dan. 8:16) And shortly before our text, he had been telling Zechariah the priest how his wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist. (Lk. 1:19) But now he’s in Nazareth.
Now, when we hear about Nazareth, we probably remember that it became Jesus’ hometown. Same thing with Galilee. We remember the time Jesus spent there and how important it was for his ministry. But when people at the time of our text heard about Nazareth, they would’ve been less than impressed. Nazareth was a little podunk town out in the boonies. It wasn’t fancy, and it didn’t seem too important. One of Jesus’ disciples later wondered how anything good could come out of Nazareth. (Jn. 1:46)
What I’m saying is, the Angel Gabriel wasn’t going somewhere that deserved it. He wasn’t going to some famous resort town for the rich and famous. And he also wasn’t going to someone who deserved it.
All we know about Mary here is that she was a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. She was no celebrity. We have no reason to believe she was different than any number of other young women who were engaged to be married.
And no, Mary wasn’t perfect. She was a human being who was sinful. Later on, during the song she sings with her relative Elizabeth, Mary says, My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Lk. 1:46-47) She needed a Savior. She wasn’t the perfect girl who had never done anything wrong. She didn’t deserve to have Gabriel come to her and announce that she would give birth to the Savior. No, it was a miracle that God chose Mary. She was a sinner who deserved nothing good from God, only death and hell.
And we are in the same boat. Do you realize it’s a miracle any of you are here today? You are here today as people who profess to be Christians. You are believers in Jesus. And that is a miracle. No one here — myself included — has done something that would make God owe you anything. None of you deserve to have God choose you to be his own people. No, you deserve nothing good from God, only death and hell, because of your sins. And I deserve the same.
But what did Jesus himself say? You did not choose me, but I chose you. (Jn. 15:16) He chose you. Not because you deserved it — not because I did. He chose us because he loves us. That’s why you’re here today. The gift is yours. Give thanks for it!
Gabriel’s visit to Mary was a gift, too. You see it in his message to her. Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. That’s the favor with God that we have, too.
The Gift of God Keeping His Promise
And as Gabriel goes on, we see the heart of where God’s favor comes from. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. (Lk. 1:31-33)
It’s hard for us to imagine what was going on in Mary’s head when Gabriel spoke this promise. She would have a son. I’m sure that fact got her attention. She probably expected to have kids in the future with her future husband, Joseph. But right now? With no earthly father?
And then, the rest of the promise is absolutely mind-boggling. This son will be the Son of God. This Son would be the one promised ever since the garden of Eden when God said that an offspring of Eve would crush the serpent’s head. (Gen. 3:15)
He would be a king. He was going to be like his ancestor David and rule on his throne, but as if that wasn’t amazing enough, this son’s throne would last forever. His kingdom will never end.
We’re so used to this story that maybe it doesn’t strike us as incredible anymore. But remember, God never had to issue that promise about sending Jesus. He didn’t have to redeem this world that had fallen into sin. He didn’t have to send a Savior to be king and to who would begin his rule on the throne of a cross where he would suffer and die. He didn’t have to complete his plan to send his Son to save the world.
He could’ve wiped us all out long ago. He could’ve started over. But he didn’t. Why? Because he loves you. This promise, given to Mary, carried out by God throughout the ages and brought to completion on a cross and an empty tomb. It’s all a gift. It was a gift to Mary. And it’s a gift to you. The gift is yours. Take it! Rejoice in it! Believe it!
The Gift of Mary — and Us — Believing that Promise
But also realize that even believing it is a gift. Think of Mary in our text. How could she ever believe the story Gabriel was telling her? She’d have a baby with no earthly father, he’d be the long-promised Savior, a king who would rule for all eternity. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
But what did Mary say? Well, she had one question. “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Lk. 1:34) This was an honest question from Mary. She didn’t need to be a biology major to know that you needed a mother and a father to have a baby. And that wasn’t possible yet.
So Gabriel answered her question. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God. (Lk. 1:35-37)
Please note this isn’t exactly a scientific answer. Gabriel didn’t go into exactly how this would work. What did he say instead? God will take care of it. The Holy Spirit, the Most High God himself will make this happen. And as proof, he mentioned Elizabeth would have her own miraculous baby.
And how did Mary respond? Wait a minute Gabriel, don’t just talk around this question, answer me! How is this going to work!” She didn’t do that. She said this, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk. 1:38)
She didn’t ask for proof. Didn’t doubt. She just said, “Yeah, that thing you just said, that promise I can’t fully understand about the long-promised Savior who is soon to be my son, that’s what’s going to happen.” She just believed. And that, too, is a gift.
It’s our gift, too. We’re not Christians because we’re smart enough to understand all this on our own. We’re not Christians because we did a scientific study of the facts and came to the conclusion that Jesus is the Savior. We are Christians because the Holy Spirit worked faith in our hearts.
We don’t understand how God works faith through water and the Word in baptism. We don’t understand how Jesus comes with his true body and blood with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper to forgive us. We don’t understand how we will stand before God after we have died but with our own bodies but live with him forever. We don’t understand any of it, but we believe it. And that’s a gift.
So this Christmas. Enjoy your gifts. Enjoy giving them and receiving them. But especially, rejoice in God’s gift. It’s a gift you didn’t earn, a gift that you couldn’t imagine, but it’s a gift you believe in. The gift is yours. And we can only respond like Mary. “Lord, that promise you made to me, that promise where you said you’d be with me, you’d forgive me, and you’d give me eternal life forever through your Son? That’s what’s going to happen.”