The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23
From the opening pages of the scriptures, from the creation narrative, God the Creator has been revealing who He is. It’s mind-blowing to think that we can actually know God, yet it’s fascinating to ponder that we can never exhaust the bottomless ocean of His character and nature. In every nook and cranny of this world, God is exposing who He is and telling His story. From the unknown depths of the oceans to the peak of Everest, from the sheer magnitude of the universe beyond us to the complexity of the universe within us, from the miracle of birth to the burden of death, amongst fauna and flora, He is telling His story. His fingerprints are everywhere. God’s name echoes off the walls of creation and His story reverberates in the corridors of humanity’s hearts. Like a master artist who signs his name on his work, His creation is saturated with His signature. From the joys of watercolor sunsets to the darkest sorrows; from yesterday’s regrets to every tomorrow, He greets us and signs: I love you.
Why would God go to such extreme lengths to reveal the depths of who He is?
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
It seems God has always desired to be known by His creation, revealing Himself in the most unlikely and unforeseen ways to His people. Through slavery, exile, and defeat; through freedom, return, and victory; through His anointed prophets, angelic messengers, and the generations of silence, God has been preparing to reveal Himself in the most provocative of ways.
Not long after Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple, the scriptures say, “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth” (Luke 1v26). Two thousand years ago, Nazareth was a town sinking into obscurity and so corrupted by godlessness that Nathaniel remarked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1v46).
Why not Rome? It was the most powerful and influential city center and capital city of the superpower in the world at the time, the Roman Empire. Maybe Greece? It was the cultural epicenter of the world. Even Ephesus was an integral and influential port city. But Nazareth? Really? That’s like saying, why not New York City, LA, or Seattle? But Toad Suck Arkansas? Really? Yes, really. Nazareth was the backdrop for the next events that unfurled.
If the conception of God’s plan wasn’t already obscure enough, Gabriel was specifically sent to speak with a young virgin girl named Mary who was betrothed to an honorable man named Joseph. Mary was most likely around the age of fourteen. So rewind the narrative a bit. Four hundred years of silence was finally broken, when an angelic messenger of the Lord visits an old, ordinary, and obscure priest whose wife was barren and childless; he then approaches the tiny town of Nazareth to hang out with a nearly preteen virgin girl named Mary. What an unlikely and obscure way to restore hope amongst God’s people and establish His kingdom.
“And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
Interestingly, the honorable man Joseph, who was engaged to be married to Mary, comes from the bloodline of the most beloved, revered, and respected king of the Jewish people, King David. He, by the way, was the least likely candidate to be the next king. Plucked out of obscurity, David was a scrawny, young, courageous shepherd boy, who faithfully tended his father’s flock (1 Samuel 16). The psalmist writes, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance” (Psalm 78v70-71). God has a pretty good track record of inviting everyday, ordinary people to join Him in His work.
For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
1 Samuel 16v7
Gabriel went to Mary and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” How do you think Mary responded? You guessed it. Just like every other human being has ever responded in the presence of an angel: with complete and total fear. The scriptures say she was greatly troubled and didn’t know how to discern the gravity of the moment. Gabriel responded to the virgin, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1v30-32).
These few verses in the biblical narrative fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies with which the people of God would have not only been familiar, but for which they would have eagerly waited and fervently anticipated. In Genesis 49, Jacob is blessing his twelve sons and simultaneously his blessing served as a prophecy. His descendants would be rulers and one of them would be an ultimate ruler. Jesus was born two thousand years later and Jesus’ ancestry traces back to Jacob’s son. Six hundred years before Gabriel visits Mary, the prophet Jeremiah writes that the messiah will be a descendant of King David (Jeremiah 23v5). A hundred years before Jeremiah, the prophet Isaiah writes that there will be a sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7v14). Immanuel means “God with us.” These are words of promise. God has not forgotten us. God’s people longed to be with God. Ever since the days of Eden, we’ve all longed to be with God. The garden longing lingers heavy upon humanity.
The seemingly insignificant young Virgin Mary, living in obscurity, faithfully living a godly life amongst a godless people, is given one of the most significant roles in the most provocative story ever told. A nobody, living in a town full of nothing, in the middle of nowhere, had found favor with God. Just like the shepherd boy David and the old priest Zechariah before her, Mary was found faithful and God blessed her.
Mary genuinely asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1v34). She knows the words of the prophets from the past; she knows the messiah will be born of a virgin, she just asks how? Her questioning is different from that of Zechariah’s. The priest doubts; Mary ponders. In her inquiry, she contemplates the miracle. The angel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1v35). Every formation of life in the womb is a miracle. It’s a mystery that God has set and “put eternity in man’s hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3v11). Solomon says, “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything” (Ecclesiastes 11v5). The virgin birth was the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit of God was present and presided over the void before creation was conceived, the Spirit of God presides over the void in the womb of Mary as new life is conceived.
Concerned that Mary would be isolated and rejected by her community and family, Gabriel informs Mary that her old and barren cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant. “Wait, what? How can Elizabeth be pregnant? She’s well beyond child-bearing age and she’s been barren her entire life!” Gabriel shares this news with Mary to encourage her and increase her faith. She knows that Elizabeth isn’t the first woman in the scriptures to conceive a child out of barrenness. She knows it must be the work of God. Many scholars believe that barren women who eventually conceived, which is against nature, would be used throughout Israel’s history to prepare Mary (and the world) for this moment. The intricacies of God’s story are stunningly beautiful. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1v37). Gabriel assures Mary that God does not fail. And now, she will not have to navigate this pilgrimage alone.
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1v38).
Facing the certain reality of the how this will change her standing with her soon-to-be husband, with certain rejection of her community and with her reputation on the line, Mary faithfully and humbly says yes.
My son Moses loves adventure stories. About a year ago, we began a nighttime story routine. The stories were always the same. An unlikely hero overcomes some crazy predicament that seems impossible to escape. My son loved it, mainly because he was always the unlikely hero. Deep down, my son has a desire to participate in the impossible. The beauty of Advent is that it gives us the opportunity to show our children how we have been invited into the impossible to participate in the miraculous work of God to redeem and save His people. In this story, Jesus is the unlikely hero, but we in Him get to participate in the impossible.
May our children hear the voice of God inviting them to humbly participate in the impossible.
— In 2012, Freddy planted ekklesia, in the suburbs of St. Louis, with the desire to understand the everyday rhythms of the church. This exploration led to conversations on understanding family more deeply. As a former student pastor, family pastor, and now church planter, Freddy has a desire to rekindle an old conversation in new generations - to tell an old story. This is the story of Jesus, the story that shapes all stories. May this story be told in our homes for generations to come. Freddy, his wife Michele, and two sons Ryder and Scout live in St. Charles, Missouri.
David planted Mid-Cities Church in St. Louis, MO in 2014. He is passionate about seeing God's message of reconciliation bring about tangible transformation in both the hearts of people and the life of his city. As our hearts are connected with the Father's heart the message of the gospel becomes clear and the work of Jesus becomes a reality. David is passionate about connecting those dots for others. David, his wife Tara, his daughter Julia and son Moses live in Maplewood, Missouri.
Visit Story Catechism and check out their books. Use promo code gcdadvent for 15% off. Also, they were generous enough to share a free sample of two of their books with GCD’s readers (download sample: Story and Advent).