Gabriel appeared not only to Zechariah and to Mary but also to the prophet Daniel more than 500 years earlier (Daniel 8:15-17). Each time Gabriel appeared he brought important messages from God.
Nazareth, Joseph’s and Mary’s hometown, was along way from Jerusalem the center of Jewish life and worship. Located on a major trade route. Nazareth was frequently visited by Gentile merchants and Roman soldiers. It was known for its independent and aloof attitudes. Jesus was born in Bethlehem but grew up in Nazareth. Nevertheless, the people of Nazareth would reject him as the Messiah (4:22-30)
Mary was young, poor, female-all characteristics that to the people of her day, would make her seem unusable by God for any major task. But God chose Mary for one of the most important acts of obedience he has ever demanded of anyone. You may feel that your ability, experience, or education makes you an unlikely candidate for God’s service. Don’t limit God’s choices, he can use you, if you trust him.
God’s favor does not automatically bring instant success or fame. His blessing on Mary, the honor of being the mother of the Messiah, would lead to much pain: her peers would ridicule her; her fiancée would come close to leaving her; her son would be rejected and murdered. But through her son would come the world’s only hope, and this is why Mary has been praised by countless generations as the young girl who “found favor with God”. Her submission was part of God’s plan to bring about our salvation. If sorrow weighs you down and dims your hope, think of Mary and wait patiently for God to finish working out his plan.
Jesus a Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, was a common name meaning “the Lord saves”. Just as Joshua had led Israel into the promised land (see Joshua 1:1, 2), so Jesus would lead his people into eternal life. The symbolism of his name was not lost on the people of his day, who took names seriously and saw them as a source of power, In Jesus’ name people were healed, demons were banished, and sins were forgiven.
Centuries earlier, God had promised David that David’s kingdom would last forever (2 Samuel 7:16). This promise was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, a direct descendant of David, whose reign will continue throughout eternity.
The birth of Jesus to a virgin is a miracle that many people find hard to believe. These three facts can aid our faith (1) Luke was a medical doctor, and knew perfectly well how babies are made. It would have been just as hard for him to believe in a virgin birth, as it is for us, and yet he reports it as fact, (2) Luke was a painstaking researcher who based his Gospel on eyewitness accounts. Tradition holds that he talked with Mary about the events he recorded in the first two chapters. This is Mary’s story, not a fictional invention. (3) Christians and Jews, who worship God as the creator of the universe, should believe that God has the power to create a child in a virgin’s womb.
Jesus was born without the sin that entered the world through Adam. He was born holy, just as Adam was created sinless. In contrast to Adam, who disobeyed God. Jesus obeyed God and was thus able to face sin’s consequences in our place and make us acceptable to God (Romans 5:14-19).
A young unmarried girl who became pregnant risked disaster. Unless the father of the child agreed to marry her, she would probably remained married for life. If her own father rejected her she could be forced into begging or prostitution in order to earn her living. And Mary with her story about being made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, risked being considered crazy as well. Still Mary said, despite the possible risks, “May it be to me as you have said.” When Mary said that, she didn’t know about the tremendous opportunity she would have. She only knew that God was asking her to serve him, and she willingly obeyed. Don’t wait to see the bottom line before offering your life to God. Offer yourself willingly even when the outcome seems disastrous.
God’s announcement of a child to be born was met with various responses throughout Scripture, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, laughed (Genesis 18:9-15). Zechariah doubted (Luke 1:18). By contrast, Mary submitted. She believed the angel’s words and agreed to bear the child, ever under humanly impossible circumstances. God is able to do the impossible. Our response to his demands should not be laughter or doubt, but willing acceptance.
“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendent of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27)
This moment in history is upon us. You can almost feel the world holding its breath in expectation of what may happen next; just at that time in Nazareth. God’s work is coming to pass. In Nazareth He sent His message with the angel Gabriel to a virgin pledged to be married to Joseph, a descendant of David. Gabriel’s message is that she will bear a child, born not of her union with Joseph, but by the Holy Spirit. It will be a miraculous birth that will testify to God’s promise. The child will be God dwelling among us, called the Son of God, and reign on the throne of David. His kingdom will never end. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could miss the importance of this miraculous event. Could God be any clearer?
Sitting in the darkness, the world is realizing that something is missing in their life. We humans, don’t have all the answers. We need the Light.
As We Wait: Tonight, as you are in man made light, rejoice that God has provided Light to your heart through our King.
Baby Jesus, come into the hearts of those who do not yet know that You are the King and Savior-Lord they await.
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. – Luke 1:31
Mary believed God’s promise, but that doesn’t mean that she never felt confused or scared.
“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High… and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:32-33
Even in the dark times, Mary had a hope anchored in that first angelic promis, “Of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
Jesus, You give such hope and power and purpose to Your people! The tiny fists of Bethlehem have become the strong arms of our salvation.
For with God nothing shall be impossible. – Luke 1:37
Drop some flowers off to a resident of a nursing home and visit with her.
Dear God, help me to remember that little things can make a big difference.
And Mary said… be it unto me according to thy word…. – Luke 1:38
You carry Jesus within you. You should try to sense His presence there whenever you seek him in your heart.
O God, Mary sets me an example of obedience. When my understanding fails me, let me repeat her yes to You.
How does Gabriel’s word to Mary compare with his word to Zechariah (1:13-17)?
How does Mary (vv. 34-38) respond differently than Zechariah (vv. 12-18)?
What truths about Jesus are emphasized here? What expectations must have been raised in Mary? What risks is she asked to take?
How does Elizabeth’s pregnancy encourage Mary’s?
What would it mean to doubt and fear God? When were you recently fearful but believing? How did God meet you?
In what area of your life do you need to believe that “nothing is impossible with God”? What keeps you from believing this?
Mary’s initial reaction to the angel’s appearance was
Why did God choose Mary to give birth to his Son?
What do you think was the hardest for Mary to comprehend?
How do you think Mary felt about giving birth to the Messiah?
Why did the angel tell Mary about Elizabeth’s condition?
After this encounter with the angel, how did Mary envision herself?
If an angel were to reveal God’s plan for my life today, I would
One way I can bring the Savior into the world right now is to
My biggest concern about bringing Christ to my world is
If indeed “the Lord is with me,” then I am encouraged that:
I have the easiest and the hardest time believing that
At the time when the New Testament was written the entire civilized world, with the exception of the little-known kingdoms of the Far East was under the domination of Rome.
Through the medium of this culture the gospel of Christ was disseminated in the earliest of its missionary endeavors. With its Greek Bible from which to preach and with the Greek language as its universal medium of communication, it soon reached the outposts of civilization.
The seventy years of the Babylonian captivity witnessed the rise of synagogue worship among the Jews. Groups of the faithful banded themselves together in the name of Jehovah and formed congregations in which the law was taught and revered. Teacher were appointed who took the place of the temple priesthood as religious leaders of the people. The study of the law became a substitute for animal sacrifices, and ethical observances took the place of ritual.
The Old Testament was translated to meet the demand for the Scriptures by a Greek-speaking Jewish population. By the time of Christ it was widely circulated throughout the Dispersion in the Mediterranean world and became the Bible of the early Christian church.
Throughout this long period the priesthood served as the central control in Judaism. Associated with the high priest was a council of elders comprised of the wisest and most experienced men of the nation. The government war really in the hands of a religious aristocracy, of which the Sanhedrin, as this body was later called.
Among the members of the Sanhedrin which was the high council of Judaism, were well-to-do men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Probably they were landowners who rented out their farms and profited from a share of the crops.
As I indicated in the introduction this course is meant for a broad cross-section of Christians-those now in ministry of whatever kind and at whatever level, those who might be contemplating ministerial service; those responsible for identifying and recruiting good candidates for ministry; those responsible for educating, training, and spiritually forming future ministers; those now engaged in some form of ministerial preparation, and those responsible for evaluating the pastoral performance of people already in ministry. Clearly all these people can, should, and do minister. What is offered in this lesson is a set of criteria by which persons in each of these categories can make informed and responsible judgments and decisions concerning their role in the Church’s ministerial life.
No one can become a great preacher if he lacks the natural capacity to project his/her voice with clarity and force. And no one can become an effective counselor if she lacks the basic human virtues of patience and sensitivity.
“The call is from Christ, but He expects His Church to search the hearts and minds of men to determine if the vocation is true.”
You have to know what ministry is and what particular ministries are for before you can determine which kinds of candidates might be best suited for ministry in general and for a particular ministry. You have to have some sense of a ministries job description before you can begin matching candidates with ministries. Those principles apply to people already in ministry just as surely as they apply for ministry. They are guidelines not only for the processes of recruiting and formation but also for the process of ongoing evaluation.
Basic Human Wholeness.
No matter which ministry is at issue every candidate and every minister must exhibit basic human wholeness. In other words, each must be a healthy person in mind and in body. Again the pertinent principle is “grace builds on nature.”
You cannot give what you don’t have. You can’t become a religious educator if you can’t even provide a stranger with uncomplicated directions from one city block to the next. Religious education is a teaching ministry. They require teaching skills, which include the ability to explain things in a clear, orderly, and interesting manner.
Nor can You become a preacher or enter a ministry that requires public speaking if you freeze in the presence of a crowd or if you have an uncontrollable stutter. Nor can people with deep-seated emotional problems expect the Church to welcome them with open arms into ministries that require psychic serenity and self-confidence. Mentally unhealthy people almost inevitably project their own problems onto others.
The Theological Virtues
Is it really too much to expect that those who present themselves for the service of the Church should be people of virtue? A virtue is literally a “power” (from the Latin word, virtus). It is a power to realize some moral good and to do it joyfully and with perseverance in spite of obstacles.
The theological virtues are those that have been infused by God: faith, hope, and charity.
Faith involves conviction, trust, and commitment. The object of faith is God. Indeed God is the only object of faith. To be a person of faith, therefore, is to be someone who is convinced (and lives by the conviction) that there is more to life than meets the eye, that there is spiritual dimension beyond the material world, and that all reality comes from the creative hand of God and is sustained and guided by God’s providential power and care.
It goes without saying that every one of the Church’s ministers must be people of faith. They must believe in a living God who is present and active in our lives, in history, and in the world at large.
How can one tell the difference between a person of authentic faith and a person of inauthentic faith, or credulity? If those who recruit, educate, and evaluate ministers are themselves healthy people, they will know the difference. People of authentic faith are able to recognize authentic faith in others.
Of course there are other objective criteria-the candidate’s expressed understanding of the major elements of the faith (God, Christ, salvation, the nature and mission of the Church, etc.), as well as the candidate’s public living out of that faith. A candidate who claims to believe in Jesus Christ would show some sighs of being a forgiving, compassionate, and a generous person.
To test, however, is more important than the existence or absence of a sense of humor. People who claim to have a deep faith but who look as if they’d break in two if they laughed are people who don’t see reality in its proper perspective.
Hope enables us to take responsibility for the future, both our personal future and that of the world in which we live. Hope, therefore, is always oriented toward the Kingdom of God, and so it is a virtue with an especially prophetic edge to it.
Like all virtues hope stands in the middle between presumption and despair. Presumption sins against hope by excess; we presume that God will save us, against hope by excess; we presume that God will save us, regardless of what we do or what effort we make. Despair sins against hope by defect; we despair of ever achieving salvation, no matter what we do, or even what God does. Hope is as much a cardinal virtue as faith and charity. The absence of hope is as serious a deficiency in a minister or in a candidate for ministry as the absence of faith or love. Too often we seem to forget that.
Why else do we allow ourselves to confuse pessimism with a truly spiritual attitude? There are many people in today’s Church who speak and act as if the world is going to hell on the fast track. Sometimes they say the same thing about the Church itself. Pessimism is no virtue. Looking upon the world and its human history as nothing more than “a vale of tears” denies the dignity and redemptive possibilities of God’s own creation (see Rom. 8:18-25).
The Church’s ministers must be hopeful people, which is not to say that they must be naively optimistic. Optimism. Hope is grounded in faith-in a faith that sees creation and history as guided and protected always by the creative and healing hand of God and in a faith in the promises of God that in the end the Kingdom will be given in all its fullness.
Charity enables us to participate in the life of God who is love (1 John 4:8, 16). Charity is lived faith and lived hope. It is love of God and love of neighbor, that is, the total dedication and devotion to the welfare of the others, regardless of the sacrifices required and regardless of the personal cost. Such love is rooted in the Cross and empowered by the Resurrection.
Love is possible, however, only for personally mature people, namely, those who can accept themselves and others for who and what they are. Jesus reminded us that we cannot really love our neighbor unless we first can love ourselves. Those who reject themselves tend to reject others as well.
The opposite of love is not hate; it’s apathy, which is a suspension of commitment, a lack of concern. Love is the soul of all other Christian virtues. Without it, St. Paul insisted, we are nothing more than “are sounding gong or a clashing cymbal” (see 1 Cor. 13:1-13). It should also go with out saying, therefore, that every minister of the Church, regardless of the ministry he or she exercises or aspires to exercise, must be a loving person, ready at all times to sacrifice his or her individual interests to the needs of others.
People who aren’t mature aren’t capable of real love. They relate to people on the basis of their own needs, not the needs of the other. For them every human relationship is potentially exploitative and manipulative. Because charity is so central and indispensable to Christian life, it is central and indispensable to Christian ministry. “So faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.
The Moral (Cardinal) Virtues
The moral or cardinal, virtues are those that have to be acquired through cooperation with God’s grace and that in turn are the linchpins of other lesser virtues. The moral virtues are prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude.
Prudence is the ability to discern, to make moral choices. It answers the question, What is the best way for me, in this situation, to do the right thing? It involves conducting an inquiry, taking counsel from others; judging, and then making a decision.
Without prudence a person is like a shift drifting aimlessly at sea. Prudent people profit from their experience, have an instinct for asking the right people the right questions have the foresight to anticipate difficulties and to see the consequences of their moral decisions, and, finally, can sift through all that they have learned and then make a decision consistent with the situation and circumstances before them.
Good judgment is not a luxury in ministry, it is an absolute necessity.
Justice is concerned with rights and with the duties that correspond to those rights. A right is a power to down at ever is necessary for achieving the end or purpose for which we are destined as human beings.
Temperance enables us to achieve some balance in the exercise of what the textbooks call our appetites: our desires for food, drinks, tobacco, and other creature comforts. Temperance humanized but not repress those human pleasures. Church members who eat too much, drink too much or are consumed with lust should not be encouraged to pursue what they believe to be a ministerial vocation, at least not until they have tried to bring their unruly appetites under some measure of control.
Fortitude enables us to overcome an instinctive fear in order to pursue the good. Fortitude has an active and a passive side – taking bold action for the sake of the Kingdom of God and enduring pain, suffering, and even death for the sake of the kingdom.
People absolutely committed to never rocking the boat are without fortitude. People who do not have the courage of their convictions, who will not speak up or speak out in “prudence” for what is wrong and unjust, lack the cardinal virtue of fortitude.
In conclusion it must be said that all of these virtues, theological and moral alike, are closely interrelated. You cannot have one without the others. Thus those who are prudent can never use their prudence as an excuse not to act with courage (fortitude). Those with fortitude cannot act without charity. Indeed Christians and Christian ministers in particular are always called to a life of mercy. Mercy, unlike justice, gives to others more than they deserve or have a right to.
Ministers and ministerial candidates must be Christians who practice both the corporal works of mercy-feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, ransoming the captive and burying the dead – and the spiritual works of mercy – instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing the sinner, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offences, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the living.
A positive sense of the Church
Ministers and candidates for ministry at whatever level cannot be fundamentally in doubt about the necessity and purpose of the Church. It has no other purpose than to serve the Children of God and to advance the mission they have received from Christ. Ministers and ministerial candidates must also have a practical understanding of and commitment to the gospel consistent with the faith in the church.
This is not to say that ministers and ministerial candidates cannot be critical of the Church. The Church is a community, with human structures.
Beyond the preceding criteria ministry in most instances requires the ability to facilitate communication and to be open to and profit from feedback. Every minister and ministerial candidate must exhibit at least a basic aptitude for communication. The ability to communicate is especially necessary in such, ministerial tasks as preaching, teaching, counseling, group leadership, and pastoring.
The Church does have to be on constant guard against the influx of loner types, people uncomfortable with themselves, uncomfortable with others, unable to communicate.
Holiness is wholeness. The word salvation, after all means “health,” in Latin (salus). To be cut off from one’s neighbors is to be cut off from God, for love of neighbor and love of God are two sides of the same coin of virtue. Only healthy people can communicate with others. The Church needs healthy ministers.
Competence and Vision
The minister must know Jesus Christ as the New Testament and Christian history and doctrine present him. He is fully human and fully divine. The Church has a right to exclude from any ministry a candidate whose theological views are clearly peculiar or extreme.
The more theological historical, and biblical education a future minister can be exposed to, the better. Too many people in ministry or aspiring to ministry are theologically naive, and historically ignorant.
Those who sometimes pride themselves on never watching television or never following news events actually convict themselves of a lack of readiness for important ministries in the Church. To be indifferent to the social, economic, political, and cultural context of the people they are called to serve is, in effect, to deny the principle whereby “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
To be indifferent to the people, the places, the events and the things in which the Word has become flesh is tantamount to being indifferent to God’s Children. The minister and ministerial candidate, therefore, must be ever prepared to read the “signs of the times” and then to interpret them “in the light of the gospel.”
Since every ministry of whatever kind and at whatever level is for the sake of the Church’s life and mission, the Church’s regard for the quality of ministry and for the qualifications of ministers will be as high or as low as its regard for the nature and mission of the Church itself. To settle for less in ministry-any ministry is to settle for less in the quality of the Church’s life and in the fulfillment of the Church’s mission. Christians are disciples, after all, of the One who call each to perfection (Matt 5: 48).
Christians are convinced in faith that what they do as ministers is rooted in what Jesus Christ did and continues to do as God’s Suffering Servant, who came not to be served but to serve (Matt. 10:45). To be a minister, therefore, is to be a minister not for oneself or by one self but for the Church and with the Church. The Church’s ministries are collaborative in every sense of the word. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4).
Can you think of other important criteria for ministries that you would like to see added to this lesson. Would you subtract one or more of the criteria offered here?
What criteria for ministry seems to be operative in your church? Are they consistent with the theology and history of ministry?
To what extent does personality play a part in the difficulties you have experienced in parish ministry? Why?
Of the three theological virtues, which do you think is in the shortest supply among today’s ministers? Explain?
Why does the quality and effectiveness of our individual ministries? Give examples?
How does the Church most obviously fail to live up to its own standards in the way it deals with its ministers? How do the Church’s ministers most often fail to fulfill their ministerial responsibilities? Can anything be done about either problem?
Do you think temperance is a problem for many in ministry today? Explain. What about fortitude?
Do you think that someone who never criticizes the institutional Church, at least in public or where two or three are gathered together, can really be an effective minister? Conversely, can criticism even get to the point where it harms one’s ministry?
What books of theology, biblical studies, or church history have you read in the past six months? From where do you derive most of your information about developments in theology, in Sacred Scripture, and in the life of the Church? Does such information really make any difference in your ministry and in the ministry and in the ministry of others?
Do you detect any correlation between a minister’s lack of interest in current events and the ministers all around effectiveness as a minister?
BIO:Charles Haddon Spurgeon 1834-1892 English Baptist pastor and writer.
His ancestors were Huguenots. He was converted to Christ at the age of
16 and immediately began preaching. He preached in the streets and in
the fields before he was 21. In his first church, he began with 100
members. It grew until he was preaching to 10,000 people in the Surrey
Music Hall. His church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, seated 6,000
people. He withdrew from every move- ment among English Baptists which
tended to criticize the Au- thorized Version 1611 in any way. Before
his death, he published more than 2,000 ser- mons and 49 volumes of
commentaries, sayings, anecdotes, il- lustrations, and devotions.