Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas at the Movies: The Nativity Story

“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.’”
 – Luke 1:30-31

Over the years there have been many Bible-based movies that depict the birth of Christ 2,000 years ago. And I think the 2006 film The Nativity Story is one of the best. For starters, the actors who play Joseph and Mary are believable. The producer and director didn’t place supermodels or famous personalities in the lead roles. There was no attempt to boost box office ticket sales by casting Johnny Depp as Joseph or Carrie Underwood as Mary. And the movie doesn’t display award-winning cinematography or dazzling special effects. It just tells the simple, powerful story of Jesus’ birth.

We read in Luke 1:26-27 that God sent one of his premier messenger angels, Gabriel, to deliver a life-changing message to Mary. Gabriel had announced John the Baptist’s expected birth to John’s father, Zechariah, some six months earlier. And now Gabriel was ready to deliver some good news to Mary. She too would experience a miraculous pregnancy. Though she was a virgin, she would give birth to the Son of God.

Like Matthew, Luke declares that Mary was a virgin. In First Century Jewish culture, the term “virgin” usually referred to an unmarried Jewish girl who was fourteen years of age or younger. So, Mary was likely twelve or thirteen years old when the angel knocked her socks off with his groundbreaking announcement. And she had virtually no social status in Israel. Wealthy Jews held a higher social status than poor Jews, and Mary wasn’t wealthy. Jewish men were higher in the pecking order than Jewish women. And among women, married women held a higher social order than young maidens.

So without a doubt Mary—a poor, unmarried Jewish girl from the lowly town of Nazareth—was virtually at the bottom of the social pecking order. No wonder she was shocked when the angel suddenly appeared and greeted her with the words: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Now, it’s important to take a closer look at the angel’s greeting to Mary in Matthew 1:28, because many Christians and Christian leaders have completely misinterpreted the angel’s words. To put it bluntly, the angel’s greeting—traditionally translated into English as “Hail, full of grace”— in no way indicates that Mary is someone Divine or worthy of worship. In fact, the word translated as “greetings” or “hail” is the Greek word “chairo,” which is a variation of the word “charis”: one of the most important words in the New Testament. Charis means “grace.” And grace is defined as “undeserved favor” or as the acronym “G-R-A-C-E—God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”

Long story short: Gabriel greeted Mary with a word of grace. And when he followed that greeting with the words “you who are highly favored” or “full of grace,” the angel reiterated that Mary had received undeserved favor from God. Clearly the angel’s greeting in no way identifies Mary as a dispenser of God’s grace. She is merely a recipient of God’s grace. Grace was given to Mary by God. In no way had she earned it, and she didn’t have the ability to manufacture it. To claim otherwise is to distort the clear teaching of God’s word while heading down a slippery slope of false teaching.

Mary understood that she was a lowly human being, a sinner undeserving of God’s amazing grace. And she serves as a bright example of a humble servant who believed the word of the Lord and walked in obedience to His commands. Mary should be respected and her faith and obedience should be emulated. But she should never be lifted up on a Divine pedestal. Jesus alone is to be high and lifted up in our minds and hearts.

With that in mind, here are two marvelous lessons that we can learn from Mary. First, when the Lord offers you grace, receive it. Without a doubt, the people of Nazareth would have looked down on Mary once they discovered that she was pregnant before her wedding night. Her miraculous pregnancy did her no favors in the eyes of her neighbors and friends. But despite the social stigma that accompanied her faithful obedience to the Lord’s commands, she gladly received God’s grace anyway. In much the same way, God’s grace and our culture’s scorn await you as you faithfully obey God’s commands. I guarantee you that God has grace in store for you as you study His word, pray and live for Him each day. Yet at the same time, there are plenty of your acquaintances who will consider these priorities to be a complete waste of your time and energy. Will you obey God and pursue His grace anyway?

Second, when the Lord gives you a ministry opportunity, embrace it. Mary was blessed with an amazing ministry opportunity, the privilege of giving birth to Jesus Christ—God in flesh and Savior of the world. And Mary embraced it!  So too should you embrace ministry opportunities when the Lord opens the door for you to serve Him and His Church in meaningful ways. The Lord’s open doors should never be ignored, even on Christmas day. So, as you celebrate Christmas this weekend with church family, will you be looking for God’s open door? And once you see it, will you do what Mary did: Walk through it? I hope so. 

Merry Christmas from all of us at First Christian Church! We hope you’ll join us
for our Christmas Morning Worship Service Sunday at 10 a.m.
For more information, visit

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