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Dec 09, 2012

Mary: Great Expectations

Passage: Luke 1:26-56

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: All I Want for Christmas Is...

Category: Holiday

Keywords: mary, expectations, youth, dreams, faith


Mary, a teenage girl, had a choice to make when the angel Gabriel came to her with the announcement of God's choosing of her. But by saying "yes," she was forever changing how people would view her and the kind of life she would enter into. This message looks at how saying "yes" to the person and presence of God will forever change life in comfortable and uncomfortable ways.


Mary:  Great Expectations

Series:  All I Want For Christmas

Luke 1:26-56

December 9, 2012



Last week I had you talk to each other a little bit about what it is you most of us are looking for in a spouse and how those priorities or qualities might shift over time. 

            I regularly ask couples preparing for marriage, “Tell me, what is it about your spouse-to-be that you find most attractive?  What first caught your attention and made you think, “I want to spend the rest of my life with this person,”?”  Guess what the most frequent responses are?

  • They are so much FUN to be with?
  • They make me laugh a lot.
  • They are so good looking/ cute/handsome/ beautiful/gorgeous/etc. 
  • We really enjoy life when we’re together. 
  • I just like being with him/her.

Now those are ALL wonderful things.  In fact, if you don’t feel that way when you are young about your spouse-to-be, I’d say there is something wrong.


But ask couples who have been married for 15, 25 or 40 years what qualities keep them married to each other and you get very different answers.  Tell us, seasoned married people, what kids of qualities in a spouse keep you married and make being married truly a joy? 

[Ask for responses.]


Here’s one woman’s list of priorities and how they changed through the years from her 20s to her 60s:

What women want in a man at age 25:
1. Handsome
2. Charming
3. Financially successful
4. A caring listener
5. Witty
6. In good shape
7. Dresses with style
8. Appreciates finer things
9. Full of thoughtful surprises
10. An imaginative, romantic lover


What women want in a man at age 45:
1. Not too ugly (bald head is fine)
2. Doesn't drive off until I'm in the car
3. Works steady - splurges on dinner out occasionally
4. Nods head when I'm talking
5. Usually remembers punch lines of jokes
6. Is in good enough shape to rearrange the furniture
7. Wears a shirt that covers his stomach
8. Buys premium beers
9. Remembers to put the toilet seat down
10. Shaves most weekends


What women want in a man at age 65:
1. Doesn't scare small children
2. Remembers where bathroom is
3. Doesn't require much money for upkeep
4. Only snores lightly when asleep
5. Remembers why he's laughing
6. Is in good enough shape to stand up by himself
7. Usually wears some clothes
8. Likes soft foods
9. Remembers where he left his teeth
10. Remembers that it's the weekend


It’s amazing how expectations change with age. 

GET ACQUAINTED:  So turn to someone sitting around you and ask them, “What are your expectations for Christmas this year?” 




Expectations…we all have them…especially about holidays like Christmas.  Life is filled with expectations.  My guess is that you came here this morning with a few even about our time together.

  • We all have expectations about how others here may or may not relate with us today.
  • We have expectations about what God might or might not do here today.
  • You probably have expectations about me as a pastor
  • …and about what you might experience here today in general.

I’ve titled this message about Mary and the Christmas story after one of Charles Dickens greatest literary works entitled Great Expectations.  The storyline of that work opens on Christmas Eve 1812, exactly 200 years from this Christmas. In the story, an orphan boy named Pip, encounters an escaped convict while he is visiting the graves of his parents and siblings in the church graveyard.  That convict later escapes, thanks to a metal file Pip slips him. 

            But the book is really about the expectations and love that develops between Pip and a nearby young girl, Estella, who lives with an extremely eccentric if not mentally ill rich spinster woman.  This woman manipulates both children to fall in love with each other as they grow older, only to sadistically destroy their dream of life together.  Not your Hollywood happy ending!

In fact, the original ending was so sad that Dickens actually rewrote it with an ending that left the conclusion open-ended as to whether these two young adults ever came to love each other again or marry.   


Great Expectations is, thankfully, a phrase that can be written over most young people’s lives.  One of the wonderful things about youth is that they usually have great expectations for the future.  Many have a youthful excitement about what might be possible for them to do or become in life. 

We all, hopefully, are nurturing ongoing dreams about the future.  That’s one of the things that makes life both enjoyable and challenging—the ability to imagine a hoped-for future and the opportunity to work towards that future. 

Youth are often those people filled with the biggest hopes and expectations for the future.  They should be!  There is so much of life ahead of them, so many wonderful possibilities in God’s kingdom, in careers, marriage, friendships and life experiences.  Life looks like a fresh canvas upon which they get to paint an entirely new masterpiece using all the varied colors on the palate of their gifts, abilities and personality. 


Our second character in our Christmas series All I Want for Christmas is a young woman probably younger than most of our college students here today.  She was in her mid to late teens, a typical teenage girl of her day with all the hopes and dreams most young women of her culture had. 


Her name, of course, was Mary.  The few facts we know about her are pretty basic.

  • We know she came from a poor family as did most of the people of Palestine at the time. 
  • We have every reason to believe that her family followed the marriage customs of her day which meant that she would have to walk through 3 distinct stages leading up to marriage.

Marriage was handled quite differently than it is in American culture.  It undoubtedly started, not between Mary and Joseph, but between their parents.  In biblical times, the parents of both the young man and woman would begin NEGOTIATIONS with each other to determine a.) whether the families were compatible and, b.) how much the dowry would be. 

The dowry, or mohar, was that purchase price paid by the father of the young man to the father of the bride. It was thought of as a payment for the loss of a daughter's work and services in her parents' household. The whole point of the mohar was that it was something like an insurance policy for the girl in case of the death of her husband later on. (That may be what was going on with Rachel and Leah in Gen. 31:14ff when they charged their father with using up their mohar.)

The ENGAGEMENT period was the next major step in marriage and the most important legal part of a Jewish marriage.  According to Jewish culture, an engaged couple was considered legally married but without the conjugal intimacy we associate with marriage.  It was a time for both parties to get ready for this new chapter of life. 

Engagements lasted from a few months to a year or more, depending on the age of the bride and groom and the amount of preparations that each needed to make to set up their home. 

The breaking off of an engagement could only be done due to some serious impropriety.  And doing so would have involved a full divorce.  Granted, a divorce was more easily obtained in that day than it is in our modern American legal system (at least for a husband wanting to divorce his wife).  But while the actual divorce may have been relatively simple, the stigma attached with being a woman divorced by your husband was far greater than it is in our American culture. 

The 3rd and final step was, of course, the WEDDING.  By this step, the groom had prepared a place for his new bride and him to live after the wedding, sometimes just a room in his parent’s house but hopefully a house of his own. 

When the wedding day came, the groom would go to the bride’s house, “steal” her away as her father looked the other way, and take her in a procession back to his home for a wedding feast where there was plenty of food, drink, dancing and singing.  This wedding celebration would normally last for 7 days and be the cultural equivalent of our “honeymoon”… if you can call having dozens of your friends hanging around outside your bedroom with you for your first 7 days of marriage a “honeymoon.”  J


There are so many differences between our way of life and theirs.  Unlike American culture today, most young and older adults were married.  That’s hard to grasp coming from our mindset and experience where 100 million of our fellow citizens 18 and older are single.  That’s 44 % of all adults in the country!

It’s equally difficult for us to grasp the stigma and shame that was attached to a woman becoming pregnant outside of marriage in a culture where marriage was the unquestioned norm and out-of-wedlock births were one of the most shameful experiences a woman could go through in a shame-based culture. We don’t get it because we don’t live in a culture that orders people’s behavior by shame.  Ours is ordered  by law and sometimes by family.  That is evidenced by the fact that since out-of-wedlock births are not illegal in America today, here in Spokane and across the country, 1 in 3 births is to an unmarried woman even though that most often leads to the child being raised in poverty.  But is that not better for both the mother and child than killing the child through abortion and leaving women with post-abortive struggles?


But despite the differences in culture today with those of 2,000 years ago, it’s amazing how little the human heart changes.  Women in America today may have far more choices and freedoms than most women in history and most women alive in the world today.  But that doesn’t change the longings of a woman’s heart. 


Just put yourself in Mary’s sandals for a moment.  She’s in her mid-teens.  She’s from a poor family as were the vast majority of her friends.  She is living in a culture where every woman is expected to grow up, marry someone and raise a family.  So she dreams of a life with some good, caring man who will be a good father to her children and a good protector of her in a world in which women are often mistreated. 

She certainly is hoping that her husband will be a man she can respect, someone who will lend stability to her life.  From the first day she learned that her parents had agreed with Joseph’s parents that they would marry, she has been preparing herself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for marriage.  This is THE DREAM of her young life.  Everything she hopes for in life is integrally connected with her anticipation of marriage.

And Mary is a teenager who obviously has a very deep relationship with God. While the young men her age are already taking leadership in the synagogue worship by reading and teaching the scriptures, she sits quietly with all the women in a separate section of the synagogue and listens.  But her heart is bursting with a desire to live for God.  We know from Luke’s account of what the angel Gabriel said to Mary when he announced to her that she would bear the Christ child. Mary’s heart had caught God’s attention. That little phrase in vs. 28, “The Lord is with you,” is repeatedly in Scripture a phrase that indicates God’s favor and joy over someone because of their heart for Him.  King Asa, in 2 Chron. 15:2, heard the prophet tell him, The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you.”  Mary was obviously a seeker of God and a young woman who delighted in being “with” God. 


So here she is, a teenager who has pursued God with all her heart.  She talks with God morning, noon and night. She orders her life according to His word and commands.  She plays and laughs and talks and dreams like other girls her age.  And she imagines what life may look like for her in a few short months or years—rejoicing in her hard-working husband, enjoying the love and security of his home, being the happy mother of children who will bring her honor and earn her respect.  Her expectations are of the highest caliber.  She is the pride of her parents, the dream of her fiancée, and the model young person of her village. 


And then God “blesses” her with an announcement:  “You’re going to be pregnant…very soon…almost immediately.”  Mary knows about “the birds and the bees.”  Her mom had “the talk” with her.  She knows how women become pregnant…and she knows that she isn’t a candidate, at least not yet, for pregnancy.  She has saved herself for Joseph all these years and she will continue to do him good all the days of his life by guarding her purity the rest of her life. 

            I’m sure that having an angel encounter like she did was a pretty neat experience.  I’m sure she willingly submitted to whatever God had for her life including a never-before-experienced-in-all-of-humanity virgin conception and birth.  I’m sure that kind of spiritual experience of talking with Gabriel the angel and of allowing the Holy Spirit to come upon her as he had never come upon any woman in human history was unforgettable.  She would never doubt that this was of God.

            But she would have to live with and around and next to people who would forever doubt her character, her relationship with God, her sexual purity, her word and her life.  WHO, including those who knew and loved her most, believed her story?  I think it is safe to say no one…until God began to touch and reveal and speak to them what would affirm what He had said to Mary. 

  • Would you believe even your most trusted child if they told you they were pregnant yet had never had sex or been artificially inseminated or implanted with a fertilized egg?
  • Would you believe even the most spiritual young woman you know if she told you that, especially if she was engaged to a really good young man?
  • Would you, young people, believe any peer who told you something that impossible no matter how good of a kid they were?

And we all have been raised to believe and accept the virgin birth of Jesus.  I’m quite sure every one of us would think Mary at least a liar of monumental proportions and Joseph the same or, at best, a poor sap for believing her whopper of a fairy tale.

            Can you imagine the relational chaos Mary must have experienced? 

  • What did her story do to her relationship with her parents?  Did they think their daughter had experienced a break with reality?  How else could someone so normal and sane be so out of touch with reality?
  • We can only imagine how Joseph took the news.  Talk about making the one you love and who loves you suffer!  She tells Joseph this whopper of a tale about her being pregnant and then she immediately leaves town to go stay with her Aunt Elizabeth in Judea.  He’s left basically alone to process something no other man has ever had to process.  You can hear the cries and questions of his heart to God:  “God, IF this is true, why would you tell her and not me?  Besides being preposterous this whole thing is way out of order in how you work with husbands and wives.  How can I possible accept her explanation and continue to be considered a sane let alone righteous man?  You know this sort of ‘miracle’ doesn’t happen!”
  • What did this do to her relationships with neighbors and friends?  She could hear the whispers.  She could see the stares.  And she would have to endure all of that, not for a few days, but for months! 


Imagine how she went from feeling loved and safe to feeling utterly exposed and insecure. 

Imagine how it felt to go from being the pride of your parents to seeing the pain your life was inflicting on them?

Imagine how your relationship with God would change?  If this is what God “blesses” his “highly favored” children with, heaven help everyone else!


Her plans and expectations and dreams for life had to look like a total train wreck about this point.  Most of us would be asking, “God, what kind of a cruel trick is this anyway?  Can I take a pass on this announcement?” 


You see, God’s “favor,” His coming to us and invading our lives, may often look like a terrible disasters or a long road of uninvited changes.  But so often our well-intentioned expectations of what God and life should deliver us are not vessels sufficient to contain the presence of God he plans to give us. 


Where Mary envisioned becoming the mother of Joseph’s children, God planned for her to become that and the mother of the God-incarnate, Jesus Christ.  But to experience the latter…to experience being the mother of God-in-human-flesh…she had to first let go of her good and even godly dreams of average motherhood.  When God tapped her to be the virgin mother of Jesus, she had no guarantee Joseph would understand, agree or stick with her through it all.  She had to make her faith-decision first…and then live out the painful, joyful, wonderful and hard working out in real life and real time of God’s plan.    


Where Mary had envisioned a wonderful, quaint courtship time of engagement to Joseph, God planned something that would destroy their quiet plans and comfortable calendar and replace them with His cosmic-sized plan for all the ages.


Where Mary envisioned being respected by her culture, her family and her friends through a respectable marriage, God allowed her to be engulfed in suspicion, scorn, and scoffing of others so that she would be called “blessed” and “highly favored” of God by centuries of Christians. 


Where she may have wished to exchange her background of poverty for some minimal hope of prosperity, God asked her to exchange her small dreams for His unfathomable riches of his grace in the Messiah she would bear.


It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with her hopes and dreams and expectations.  They were good, noble and pure.  But they were incomplete and so inferior to what God wanted to lead her to by giving her His presence in the person of Jesus Christ. 


I think most of us here today probably have very good and noble expectations for our future.  We have dreams that our life will play out with a minimum of difficulty and discomfort and a maximum of blessing and comfort.  And while God certainly will bless and comfort his children, HOW He does that will sometimes shatter the nice, neat little expectations we have so carefully constructed for our lives. But if He is our god, not our expectations, then we will find that his plans for us hold so much more of him and life than we ever dreamed possible. 


Laura Story has written a wonderful song entitled Blessings that captures this reality beautifully.  She wrote it from the experience of walking with her husband in their second year of marriage through his experience with a brain tumor and multiple surgeries.  But it didn’t end there.  While God spared his life, they were both left to walk through some very hard and disabling effects of that illness, effects that have persisted right up to today. 

I’d like you to just sit, listen and let God speak to you about what he might be doing to shatter your good expectations for an ordered life so that He can replace them with…HIMSELF.


**YouTube VideoBlessings by Laura Story:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ