December 3, 2017
When the news broke about Harvey Weinstein I remember one statement he made. He said, “I need help.” He is not the only one who needs help. The reality is that every one of us is driven along by passions and desires which enslave our lives. Every one of us is held captive by destructive thoughts and habits. Everyone of us is subject to respond in rage and anger. We need help.
But the problem goes deeper than this. We need help because we are alienated from God. Our natural bent is to turn away from God and be our own god. Instead of living a God-centered life, we live a self-centered life. If God is the giver and sustainer of life, to be separated from him is to ultimately forfeit our life. That’s a problem.
In the Bible we learn of how God has made it possible for us to receive and enter into his life. What is more he sent his son, Jesus to show us what that life looks like and to make it possible for us to receive his life, and have our lives transformed by him. Today on this first Sunday in Advent we are looking at Mary in Lk.1. Mary’s life was transformed by Jesus and like Mary, our lives can be transformed through Jesus Christ, the King.
I. THIS TRANSFORMATION IS DISRUPTIVE BUT COMPELLING. Lk.1:26-33
When Gabriel came to Mary, Mary’s life was already very full. She was engaged to a fine man named Joseph. Joseph wasn’t rich but he was upright and highly respected in the community. Engagements generally lasted for about a year. So I imagine that Mary was busy. She had a wedding to plan. She had hopes and dreams for her life. We also get the sense that Mary was serious in her faith. She sought to live a righteous life. No doubt, in her heart she was asking for God’s blessing on her present and future plans. She was not asking for a visit from the angel Gabriel. But there he was standing in her presence.
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” In the Bible, whenever an angel appears most people are afraid. Mary was also afraid. And maybe Mary was thinking, “What’s going on? What did I do? Why would an angel be coming to me?”
“Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” In other words, God’s favor was upon Mary. Gabriel continues: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” And then Gabriel goes on to tell Mary about who Jesus would be. “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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
I suspect that Gabriel’s words awakened something in Mary’s heart and mind. I imagine that Mary was familiar enough with the Law and the Prophets to recognize that Gabriel was talking about the Messiah, God’s anointed King, who would come to deliver his people and bring salvation.
Suddenly Mary’s life is completely upended. This was amazing and compelling news. “Mary was going to be the mother of the Messiah?” What Jewish woman would not find that news to be profoundly compelling? But what did it mean? What were the implications for Mary? How would this impact her wedding plans and future life with Joseph? What bearing would this have on the rest of her life to become the one to bring the Savior into the world? Mary’s life was about to be disrupted.
This is how it often is with compelling news. “They have accepted our offer on the house! But now we have to pack up and move.” “We’re pregnant, woohoo! But now our lives will never be the same!”
Mary was given some amazing news. She was given the opportunity to be the mother of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Savior of the world. When Jesus was conceived in Mary and dwelling in Mary, her life was disrupted.
The good news of salvation is that Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, who died for our sins, and rose from the grave and ascended to the Father, and who is Lord of heaven and earth, has forgiveness of sin and eternal life in his kingdom to give. There is hope for the Harry Weinstiens of the world. There is good news for all of us who are separated from God because of our willful rejection of God and our self-centered disobedience to his good commands. Jesus is able to bring us into a reconciled relationship with God. He is able to transform our lives to be like him in our character and conduct. Who would not want to be like Jesus? But when Jesus gives his life to a person, he comes to live in that person and that person enters into an ongoing relationship with Jesus by becoming his follower, disciple. That person becomes a follower of Jesus. When Jesus comes into a life to transform that life, that life will be disrupted.
Those who follow Jesus no longer seek to live according to the self-centered thinking of the world. In 1Jn.2:16-17, John writes, “For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Those who follow Jesus seek to honor Jesus in everything they do and say. Those who follow Jesus, turn from sin and self. So the good news about life in Christ is absolutely compelling. But it is disruptive to our current ways of living. You cannot follow Jesus and continue living with yourself at the helm of your life. Either Jesus is your Lord and King or not.
II. THIS TRANSFORMATION IS COMPELLING BUT HUMANLY IMPOSSIBLE. Lk.1:34-37
Of course we don’t know what really went through Mary’s mind. But if I had been Mary my first thought might have been, “Oh, okay. Joseph and I will be married and then we will have a son. That makes sense. Thank you, Lord. How gracious!” If that in any way reflects Mary’s initial thoughts, it seems that those thoughts were quickly set aside as it began to sink in that, “No. This baby will not be conceived with Joseph. Something is different here.”
Mary knew the facts of life. Many young married woman her age were having babies. So Mary is perhaps a bit unnerved when she says, “Wait. How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel goes on to explain that this conception would be miraculous. Through the work of the Holy Spirit Mary would conceive Jesus. This pregnancy was solely the work of God. And this means that Jesus would be called the Son of God.
In other words, Jesus would not be conceived in her through human means. In fact it was humanly impossible. This gift of Jesus Christ to the world was all God’s doing.
If Mary first thought that her pregnancy would come about with Joseph, it parallels the way we normally think. When it comes to life, religion and eternity our natural orientation is to think that everything is up to us. My sense is that all of us are prone to think that if there is such a thing as salvation and eternal life, it will depend upon our ability to somehow be worthy of that salvation and life. Many people think in terms of going to heaven when they die based upon how well they performed during their time on earth. But this is not the way Scripture explains these matters. Jesus did not talk about going to heaven when we die. Jesus spoke about entering into his life and his kingdom now, before we die.
And Jesus made it clear that we cannot bring about this new transformed through our own efforts. Eternal life is offered to us on the basis of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He lived a righteous life on earth showing us what a with-God life looks like. He died on the cross bearing the guilt and penalty of sin. He rose from the dead with eternal life to give and calls all to come and receive this life that comes from God. The life conceived in Mary was from God. The life that Jesus offers to us is from God.
This transforming life comes from God through Jesus. It is a miracle. When Nicodemus came to Jesus in Jn.3 Jesus said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Born again? Nicodemus was confused, just as Mary was confused. Both Mary and Nicodumus asked, “How can this be? Well, in both cases it is solely the work of God. Only God can bring about spiritual rebirth. And he does it through Jesus Christ.
III. THIS TRANSFORMATION IS HUMANLY IMPOSSIBLE BUT AVAILABLE. Lk.1:38
I wonder. Did Mary have a choice in the matter? Could she have said, “No! I don’t want to bear Jesus?” It’s not an easy question. However, I am inclined to think that potentially Mary could have said, “No,” because God does not seem to force anyone to embrace his will. I also believe that God sent Gabriel to Mary because he knew Mary’s heart. Mary had been saying “yes,” to God all along. One does not get the sense that Mary had to think about it for a long time before giving her answer. God’s call to her was compelling and Mary’s heart was willing.
Mary was saying, “Yes” to God. Mary was saying, “I want what God wants. I want to step into the life he is giving to me through Jesus Christ. I am willing for my life to be disrupted in order that I might have Christ.” Think about this. While Mary and Joseph knew that her conception was a miracle, few others would believe that. There would be disgrace and shame heaped upon them from the world.
The life that Jesus Christ came to give transforms our lives in such a way that we no longer think and act like the people of this world. Instead we pursue everything that is consistent with the character and conduct of Jesus. We take up our cross to follow Jesus. This world is passing away. Whatever you are trusting in to secure your life, apart from Jesus Christ, will absolutely fail you.
Jesus offers himself to you. Jesus extends his call to you. Come to me and I will give you rest. Come to me and find life that never ends. Come to me and I will cleanse you of your sins. I gave my life for you. And I will give my life to you. If you will have me.”
Will you have Jesus? Will you turn from your current life and receive his eternal life under his rule as King?
It’s amazing to think that some 2000 years ago a young unknown woman was particularized by God to bear his Son into the world. Mary heard the angel’s compelling message and her life was transformed. But what about you? When you stop and think about it, who are you? Who am I? In the grand scheme of things we are very small people. But God has particularized each one of us, bringing to us the message of transformation through Jesus Christ. Why would you not embrace Jesus Christ by faith?
At the Lord’s Table the picture of taking Christ is very clear. The bread represents his body. The juice represents his blood. When we eat and drink we are physically expressing the spiritual reality that Christ lives in us. We have his life forever. Amen