November 27, 2016
Recently I had lunch with a friend who works for the Chicago Cubs. My young friend is a sport enthusiast and his new job with the Cubs is like a dream. He is excited and willing to do whatever it takes to perform his best. And yes, he got to attend every game of the World Series and may be receiving a ring with the rest of the team. When you have joy in something no sacrifice is too great compared to the value of having that person or thing.
On this first Sunday in Advent I want to speak about the joy of knowing Christ from the perspective of Mary. In the current market place of ideas, Jesus Christ has been largely pushed out of the conversation. Jesus is not considered to be a source of joy and meaning. But Jesus Christ is the source of joy and meaning for all of life and I can say that no sacrifice is too great compared to the joy of knowing Christ.
I. WE SEE AN AMAZING PRIVILEGE. Lk.1:26-33
It is not every day that a person sees an angel. When angels appear in the Bible the most common response is one of fear. Among the various anecdotes of the Desert Fathers in the fourth century is this one. The devil appeared to a very humble monk as an angel of light and in order to pull the monk down into arrogance he said: "I am Gabriel and I came to salute you, for you have many virtues and are worthy." "Look, you must have made a mistake," the humble monk answered, without losing his composure. "I am still living in sin, and for this reason I am not worthy to see angels."
When Gabriel appeared to Mary, there was no mistake, and Mary had no doubts that this was an angel from the Lord. The angel said that Mary was favored by God. Now when Mary heard that she was troubled. Perhaps like the monk she did not feel at all worthy of such favor.
The angel told Mary to not be afraid, and then went on to tell Mary that she would conceive and bear a son. The baby was to be named Jesus. And then the angel went on to explain that the child would be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God would give him the throne of his father David. What is more there would be no end to his kingdom.
Now we don’t know how much Scripture Mary knew. When we look at her song of praise in v.46-55, which we refer to as The Magnificat, it is amazing to see the Old Testament parallels and similarities to Hannah’s song in 1Sam.2. So it would seem that Mary was very familiar with Scripture.
One of the most important passages in the Old Testament is 2Sam.7. In this passage God makes a covenant with David. In that covenant God promises that David’s throne would be established forever. Of course, when Babylon conquered Judah, David’s throne essentially came to an end. But Isaiah the prophet predicted that a shoot would come from the stump of Jesse. In other words, a son would be born who would once again sit on David’s throne. It would not surprise me if Mary was aware of these passages of Scripture. In other words, as Mary listened to the angel, Gabriel, I think it would have dawned upon her that she was being given the privilege of bringing the much longed for Messiah into the world. This was an amazing opportunity, a great privilege. And God has given us an amazing privilege.
Many years have passed since the birth of Jesus. From the New Testament we have come to understand that Jesus is God in the flesh, who died for our sins, and rose from the grave so that our sins could be forgiven and that we might receive, even now, his eternal kind of life in the Kingdom of God. After rising from the grave, Jesus told his disciples that he has been given all authority in heaven and earth. Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth. And in Jn.14:23 we read, “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” What an amazing privilege to have Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, living in us through the Holy Spirit.
There is no other world religion that offers what Jesus offers. You may have seen Dateline last week which discussed in detail the sexual harassment allegations of Fox News founder, Roger Ailes. Or what about former Republican congressman, Aaron Schock using campaign and other government funds to subsidize his lavish lifestyle? And then we are all well aware of police officers accused of shooting African American men, and those who are shooting police officers. Of course, the pervasive reality of abusive behaviors that take place in many homes is well documented. People struggle with addictions and other moral issues. I mean we are broken people. I am broken and you are broken.
But not only are we broken; we are also accountable to God, our Creator. Scripture teaches that there will be a day of reckoning when we will give an account ourselves before God. So when we read that Jesus can heal our brokenness and forgive our sin and give us his eternal kind of life now, does that not sound amazing? It is every bit as amazing as what the angel said to Mary.
II. WE HEAR A TROUBLING QUESTION. Lk.1:34-37
Clearly Mary understood the angel to be saying that she would conceive before the consummation of her marriage to Joseph. And this created a problem. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Indeed how would this happen?
According to Luke, the angel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and she would conceive in her womb. In other words there would be no human father. God is the Father of Jesus. Jesus would be known as the Son of God. Well clearly the fact that Mary asked the question to begin with indicates that she was not ignorant about how babies come into the world. She knew what was what. Perhaps you or I would have responded, “Are you kidding me, who’s going to believe that?” And surely Mary must have wondered how she was going to explain this to Joseph. And yet, Mary did not respond with unbelief.
I also see that the angel did not stop in the explanation. The angel told Mary about how her relative, Elizabeth, who had been barren and who was well beyond childbearing age, had also conceived a son with her husband Zechariah. Well, this was news to Mary, and it provided Mary with good reason to think that the angel was indeed speaking the truth. “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Look at v.39-45. All of this would have been a tremendous encouragement to Mary. God gave Mary information and experiences to strengthen her faith.
Now we all have troubling questions. And questions are interesting. Our questions and the way we ask them often reveal things about us. I have found that many questions do not have the kinds of answers I desire. The answers that are given only seem to raise more questions. If I had been Mary I would have been thinking, “What do you mean the Holy Spirit will come upon me? What is that all about?”
Some questions get answered as we live life. When I was in high school and college I doubted my own existence and wondered how I could prove that what I see actually exists. Over time I came to the realization that I cannot absolutely prove that I or other things exist, but that life seemed to work better when I accepted my existence and the existence of others and things as reality. My questions about existence resolved themselves in living life. I remember asking my dad how I would know if I was really in love. You all know what he said. He said, “You’ll just know.” What kind of an answer is that!
Some of our questions are God-sized. In other words, were God to give a sufficient answer we would not be able to understand or bear it. When a little child asks about how babies are born, we don’t tell them the whole answer because they could not fully comprehend or bear it. Some questions are answered by compelling events. When Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to Thomas, his questions and doubts were resolved. And this leads me to say that some of our questions can be resolved by paying attention to the compelling events that others have experienced. Jesus has ascended to the Father. We don’t see him, but we have the historical records of those who experienced the compelling events of his birth, life, death, and resurrection.
When you stop and think about it, God rarely gives sufficient explanations about himself and what he is doing. God exists. He created all things and he chooses to reveal himself and act in history. The Bible does not try to prove God’s existence, but it does suggest compelling reasons for belief in God.
When Job experienced great suffering and his friends were saying that he must be guilty of some great sin, Job asserted his innocence and demanded that God give him a hearing so that he could have his questions answered. When God showed up, God was the one asking the questions. Job had nothing to say accept to worship God.
And this gets to the heart of our questions about spiritual things. If we ask our questions from a heart of unbelief we will probably not be satisfied with the answers we receive. If we ask our questions from a heart of openness and trust, we may not be satisfied with the answer, but we will be willing to live with the answers we have along with the ambiguity that comes with faith. We will be patient, thinking that in time we will understand better.
In the Gospels and the Epistles we learn about the amazing privilege available to us. We can enter into life with God through faith in Jesus if we will have him. Do you have questions? Ask them. Ask God to open your heart and mind to him and come to the Scriptures with a willing heart of belief. You might be amazed at the answers you find.
III. WE SEE A SURRENDERED LIFE. Lk.1:38
This is a pretty astounding statement. I suppose Mary could have said, “No. I will not bear the Son of God. You need to find someone else.” But she didn’t. I mean we can see that Mary was committed to the work of God concerning Jesus in her life. Whatever questions and concerns she might have had about the details and about her fiancée, Joseph, she wasn’t worrying about it. Nothing is impossible with God. How is it that Mary gave herself to God so unreservedly?
This question gets at the heart of many questions when it comes to life with God through Christ. You see in Scripture we are presented with the reality of God and Jesus Christ who is Lord of all. God doesn’t ask us to pass our judgment on the validity of his existence and the reality of Jesus. God doesn’t ask our opinions about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In the Scripture these spiritual truths are presented and we are called to respond. Mary was called to enter into an amazing privilege of bearing Christ the Savior and Lord to the world.
And what is offered to us through Christ is also nothing short of amazing. This world is broken and each of us is broken. We are not naturally inclined to enter into life with God because our natural inclination is to be our own god. We want to define our own moral standards of right and wrong apart from God. But life apart from God always leads to death because God is the giver of life.
And so when Jesus came to this earth, he lived a God-filled life that attracted many to him. His teachings were so good that thousands turned out to hear him. He performed miracles that healed and helped people. He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” He invited people to become his follower, putting their trust and confidence for all of life in him. He invited people to enter into the eternal kingdom of God, coming under God’s good rule in which we receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal living in the kingdom of God.
When Mary was presented with the privilege of bearing Christ to the world, it was a privilege of such moment that she gave herself completely to the work of God in her life. It is that kind of surrender that is involved in entering into life with God through faith in Christ. You can’t buy your way in. You can’t talk your way in. You can’t earn your way in. You can only receive it by surrendering yourself in faith to Jesus Christ.
So here we are at the end of the message and Jesus Christ is making himself and his life available to you. Will you receive Him? Will you open your heart and mind to Christ? Will you surrender yourself fully to Jesus? Amen