Luke 1:31-33 NIV
You are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.
The first mention of the name Jesus in Luke’s gospel connects the name and the person that bore it to God, to the history of Israel and to kingship. This name, Jesus, means so many things to so many people in our world. As we approach Christmas we think of a baby. Since our lives these days are so dominated by the media, and particularly by the medium of film, we think of the many portrayals of Jesus in movies over the last 30 years: Jesus of Montreal, the Passion of the Christ, the Life of Brian, to name only a few. We seldom relate the person of Jesus, however, to our royal families, either past or present. Royalty is seen as an outdated concept by many in our contemporary world.
For first century Jews, or even for many contemporary Jews, the throne of David was associated with a past time of glory and splendour, an important time in the establishment of the Jewish identity in the world, a time when Israel was a nation to be reckoned with by the lands that surrounded it. When Mary heard Gabriel’s words she would have wondered at how a supernaturally conceived baby in her womb could possibly be linked with the great king David about whom she had been taught all her life. She was probably aware of the fact that there was an ancestral link between her husband to be, Joseph, and King David. Perhaps she understood the angel Gabriel to be referring to that link somehow. But there was no mistaking that Gabriel said that God would give the throne of David to her child. She must have thought about the contemporary Jewish “king” (Herod) who was just a puppet of the Romans, who everyone knew had the real power. Would Jesus, her son, replace him? What would the Romans make of her son?
Mary was a simple village girl, uneducated, who lived in a backwater of the Empire. Her husband to be, a fine man certainly, was just a carpenter. How could their child possibly climb to the heights of political power that the angel Gabriel seemed to be referring to? How could Jesus ever reign? What kingdom could he ever build? It must have all seemed like a fairy tale to Mary. Perhaps she didn’t even reflect over what it all meant. But she remembered those words: they were indelibly imprinted on her mind for ever. Years later she would relate this experience to others. She probably told Joseph early in their marriage, but it may have been not until much later that she told others of that day when that odd person who turned out to be an angel, a messenger of God, stepped into her life with this outrageous prophecy. One day even our writer, doctor Luke, would hear of this amazing encounter, and choose to include it in his “biography of Jesus.”
When Mary stood by watching her son executed some 33 years later she must have thought back to that day and wondered what it had all been about. A whole lifetime had passed, a lifetime filled with the extraordinary and the supernatural. In her unfathomable grief she barely understood what was happening, but she was starting to realise that the life and death of her son was indeed changing the world she knew, even as she watched him suffer and die. She was beginning to realise that against all odds, and in spite of appearances to the contrary, the prophecy of Gabriel was somehow coming true.
Years later it dawned on her that Jesus, the boy she had borne, the child become man that had occupied her heart and mind every day for so many years, had in fact ascended the promised throne, assumed his kingship, and was indeed reigning over an everlasting kingdom. Though it was not the kind of kingdom she had imagined on that first day so many years before when the Son of God had been introduced to her by the angel Gabriel.