Advent (the four weeks prior to Christmas) reminds us of several amazing announcements within the Christmas story. A census is announced for taxation purposes and it propels Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where prophecy is fulfilled when Christ is born (Mic. 5:2; Lk. 2:1-5). Angels announce to shepherds the birth of a Savior (Lk. 2:8-15) and a star announces to Magi that a king has been born which sends them on an international journey to find him (Mt. 2:1-2). But the first announcement is perhaps the most amazing of all. Imagine Gabriel’s thoughts as he approaches a young woman in her early teens living in the small village of Nazareth to proclaim she is to be the mother of God’s Chosen One (Lk. 1:26-38)! Gabriel had carried messages to Daniel (Dan. 8:16-27, 9:21-27) one of God’s greatest prophets, and now he is sent to a simple and humble peasant girl, one who appears to be at the completely opposite end of the esteemed spectrum of humanity (Lk. 1:26-27). Yet Mary’s devotion and faith are equal to that of Daniel’s which is evidenced in her response to this heavenly messenger (Lk. 1:38).
It was no small thing for Mary to accept what God had willed for her. As a betrothed woman she was legally bound to Joseph and to be found “with child” by someone else carried dire consequences. The least of these would be public shame; the worst death by stoning. And yet, once the obvious question has been answered (vs. 34), Mary humbly submits to God’s will. It all seems so neat and tidy which has made us become so accustomed to hearing this aspect of the Christmas story that we’ve completely forgotten the impact of this announcement. Or is it that we just do not recognize the significance of the announcement because we have minimized who brought the message? Have we become so familiar with the promise given to David that we pass over the fact that between David’s time and Mary’s almost 1,000 years has gone by? Whatever may have caused our disregard, it is time to listen again, to hear the words anew, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name, Jesus” (Lk. 1:31; Matthew’s version ties Jesus’ name to prophecy and purpose: Mt. 1:18-25.).
The name of Jesus is significant both in the Christmas story and throughout the Book of Acts. Most first-born sons would have been named after their father. Jesus should have been Joseph Jr., but instead His name is a different name based on the same root word. It is the translation of that name that propels the Gospel message in Acts- Yahweh Saves. From Acts 1:1 to 28:31, the kerygma (the proclamation) is all about Jesus and the fulfillment of that name. Each miraculous event, every speech, sermon, appeal or monologue is centered around Him and the finished work of the cross (Acts 2:22-24; 3:13-16; 5:30 etc.). Every road or mode of travel and the places those roads lead to moves the message forward and throughout the Roman Empire (Acts 1:12; 8:5; 9:19; 13:1,4; 14:8; 16:1, 11, 12; 17:1; 18:1, 23; 19:1; 20:13-15: 21:1-4; 27:1; 28:1, 16). The people who lift their voices to tell of this Good News (whether they are known or unknown) are willing to risk their lives to get the message out because they believe the meaning of that name has come to pass in Jesus (Acts 15:24-26). In fact, within the 38 chapters of Acts, Jesus’ appears 70 times just to drive that point home. When it is mentioned in other forms or phrases, such as “Christ”, “Jesus Christ”, or “Our Savior, Jesus Christ”, the number becomes too numerous to count! Peter, John, Stephen, Paul and countless others do everything, “in the Name of Jesus” (Acts 2:38; 3:6; 4:10, 18; 5:40; 8:12; 9:5-27 and more of course!), underscoring that not only is the entire Book of Acts focused on it, but all of Scripture for that matter (Is. 9:6; Acts 4:12; Phil. 2:9-11). My father was truly touched that his first great-grandson was named after him. As Christ-ians we are named after the Savior whose birth we celebrate now. But how often do we repeat it or proclaim it as it was in Acts? It is just as important for the message to go out today as it was back then in a culture that was not much different than ours. Therefore, like our faithful predecessors of the first century, we too must be about the business of spreading the Good News with every word we speak, with every deed we do and in every place that we find ourselves. This is not a message to be kept to oneself! (Acts 5:42). So, speak up!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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