“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” Luke 1:32
He was great, he is great, he will be great; past, present and future As the Letter to the Hebrews Chapter 13 Verse 8 puts it, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever”.
He was great.
Jesus was always great. The Virgin Mary is told in Saint Luke Chapter 1 Verse 31, “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus”. Jesus is great from the moment of his conception. Each Sunday, we declare, “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” Jesus comes from greatness beyond our imagination to be with us; the one who was with God from before time began takes on human existence and lives with his people. Saint John puts it in poetic words in the opening verses of his account of the Good News, in Chapter 1 Verse 14, John writes,” the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”.
Coming to us by virgin birth, Jesus is marked out for greatness. Given the name “Jesus”, he is marked out for greatness. In Saint Matthew Chapter 1 Verse 21, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and says Mary “will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” His name comes from the Hebrew name “Yeshua”, a form of “Joshua”, meaning “to rescue” or “to deliver”. Jesus’ mission is expressed in his name, to be a saviour. Jesus’ mission is declared at the start, in Saint Luke Chapter 2 the angel tells the shepherds, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord”.
Mary is told in Saint Luke Chapter 1 Verse 35, “therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God”. He was holy. He was called the Son of God. He was great.
He is great.
The continuing greatness of Jesus is promised to King David in the Second Book of Samuel Chapter 11 Verse 16, the Lord promises David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever”.
The greatness of Jesus is not like that of the rulers of this world, kings and emperors and presidents come and go, remembered while they are around, soon forgotten once they are dead. Who now can name those who ruled at the time of Jesus? Their greatness was passing, a few brief years, and they are gone and who would now say they are great? Would anyone now say that Peter, the great Russian tsar, is now great? Would anyone say that Napoleon Bonaparte is now great? Yet for hundreds of millions of Christians, Jesus, the Galilean carpenter, is as great now as he was twenty centuries ago. “Your throne shall be established for ever”, the Lord promises David and Jesus is the one who is the eternal successor to David.
He is great – and if anyone wants to see his greatness, then go to the churches in Africa and Asia and look at lives that are changed, look at communities that are changed. He is great, but it is up to us whether we recognize that greatness. Isn’t that what we acknowledge each time we sing the Christmas carol, “O, little town of Bethlehem?” The words tell us that recognizing his greatness is our choice,
“No ear may hear his coming
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still,
the dear Christ enters in.”
He is great, but do we see that greatness for ourselves? Saint John tells us, in Chapter 1 Verse 12, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” He is great.
He will be great.
Our hope as Christians is about the past, and about the present, and about the future. Saint Luke Chapter 1 Verses 32-33 look beyond the earthly ministry of Jesus, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The faith we declare in the Nicene Creed, Sunday by Sunday, says, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
How many Christians have that confidence? How many of us are certain when we say. “he will be great”? The whole of the Advent season is about our belief that he will be great. “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” goes the Advent hymn, inspired by Revelation Chapter 1 Verse 7,
“Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen”.
So it is to be – he will be great. This is the hope that makes it all worthwhile, that gives it all meaning, that makes sense of our faith, that makes sense of the church. If we did not believe that Jesus will be great, then what would it all have been about?
He was great, he is great, he will be great – this is the faith of the church, this is our faith.