It’s that time of year again, the time of caroling, fellowship with friends and family, and the giving of gifts to signify God’s gracious gift to his people two thousand years ago. That gift was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a feeding trough in a small out of the way town. Yet, that child was no ordinary child, but was, for the first time ever, the fullness of God completely incarnated in flesh.
This announcement of Christmas grace was first made by the angel Gabriel who said, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28, KJV). There are two words in this declaration that are of particular import, however. The first word is that which is translated by the KJV as “Hail,” or in the NIV” as “Greetings,” and is χαιρε, chaire, which was in fact a common greeting. In that respect, therefore, the NIV is better than the KJV, but it is much more full than merely “greetings.”
First, chaire is in the form of an imperative; it is a Law for Mary, something she is being commanded to do, and its’ primary idea is “to be in a state of happiness and well-being” (BDAG). Therefore, more accurately, she is commanded to “Rejoice!” or “Be Glad!” The center of human history is that God became Man, that God took on flesh. The answer to 1 Kings 8:27, “But will God really dwell on the earth?” is an emphatic Yes! The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory (John 1:14). The Christmas season is a time for God’s people to rejoice, for God came down to us. Yet, we must remember that this is law, not gospel; rejoicing and being happy is one of many fruits that will eventually manifest in the believer but it is not something that the natural person is capable of obeying. The naturally-minded person is concerned with meeting his day to day needs first, food, shelter, and a mate, before he or she even thinks about being happy. The maturing Christian, however, is called to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all such things will be provided by the Lord (Matt. 6:33).
The second word of import in this verse is translated by both the KJV and the NIV as “highly favored.” This is the word κεχαριτωμένη, kecharitomene, which is a perfect passive participle. First, it is a passive verb; and second, it is in the perfect tense which indicates past action with present results. Mary was already favored by God before this announcement, having received God’s grace before she was even born and forever would be in that grace. Furthermore, the passive nature of the verb indicates that she was not favored by anything inherent in her nor because of anything she did. She was not favored because God foresaw faith in her; such would be a reason for boasting, that she was favored because God saw something in her that he did not see in other women. The apostle Paul is clear that God’s grace is a gift, “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9), and in that chapter, Paul presents a contrast between what the believer once was – “dead in trespasses and sins” – with what the believer is now – “But God has quickened you.” Those two words “but God” display Paul’s meaning by the term “dead.” We were incapable in ourselves of producing saving faith. Paul’s entire premise is that when God foresaw each person, he saw nothing in anyone, no faith, no love, nothing, as reason for anyone to believe and be saved.
Salvation is the complete monergistic work of God alone – monos, one, and ergos, work – from the giving of faith to the glorification of the body. The early church father Ignatius, writing in the early second century in about the year 110, said, “They that are carnal cannot do those things which are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual the things which are carnal; even as faith cannot do the works of unbelief, nor unbelief the works of faith. But even those things which ye do according to the flesh are spiritual; for ye do all things in Jesus Christ.”1 Clement of Alexandria, writing in the late second century, about 190, also related the nature of faith, saying, “Accordingly, faith may not, any more, with reason, be disparaged in an offhand way, as simple and vulgar, appertaining to anybody. For, if it were a mere human habit, as the Greeks supposed, it would have been extinguished. But if it grow, and there be no place where it is not; then I affirm, that faith, whether founded in love, or in fear, as its disparagers assert, is something divine;”2 Irenaeus also in about 180 related, “God thus determining all things beforehand for the bringing of man to perfection, for his edification, and for the revelation of His dispositions, that goodness may both be made apparent, and righteousness perfected, and that the Church may be fashioned after the image of His Son, and that man may finally be brought to maturity at some future time, becoming ripe through such privileges to see and comprehend God.”3 That is, no human is able to see or even comprehend God, and therefore, he has predetermined to call out a particular people for his name (Isaiah 44:5; Acts 15:14).
It seems to me, and this part is merely my opinion, that those who make such a fuss about God’s predestining election of some, while in his infinite wisdom passing over others, do not truly understand the extent of human depravity. Paul in Romans, quoting Psalm 14, says “there is none that seeks God” and they have become altogether “worthless,” and in Genesis 8 we read that even after the flood, “every inclination of man’s heart was evil continually.” The judgment of a worldwide flood still had not resolved man’s moral problem from before the flood. Paul also says in Romans 9:22-23 that apart from Christ humans are not merely in a bad predicament but are actually objects of God’s wrath. Sinners do not seek God or choose to follow him; they hate him. Even if they feign a respect for him and his churches, it’s only a facade.
The fact that God gave anyone to his Son before the creation of the world is incredible mercy and grace which the human race does not deserve (John 10:26-29; Eph. 1:4). It is incredible mercy and grace which the angels that fell did not even receive but are “kept in chains reserved for judgment” (Jude 6), and as such, the angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12). Our election magnifies the worship of angels and it magnifies our worship when we realize that we are what we are quite literally because of the grace of God and not by anything we may have thought we did.
So, our command, the Law for the Christian this holiday season is to Rejoice, to Be Glad! And the good news is that we can rejoice because we, like Mary of old, are highly favored, not by anything good in us, not by foreseen faith, but solely because God showed us favor before he made us or even before he created the universe!
Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door,
and we are blest forever more.
Christ was born for this!
Christ was born for this!
- Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 52–53.
- Clement of Alexandria, “The Stromata, or Miscellanies,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 354.
- Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, 520–521.