Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

Text: Luke 1:46-49
The angel came to her and said, "Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!" Mary was deeply troubled by the angel's message, and she wondered what his words meant. The angel said to her, "Don't be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God.

A Christmas card from Mary

During the Advent season we traditionally sing the Song of Mary and join with her in praising God for the special thing that he has done in sending his Son, Jesus, to be our Saviour. Mary played a special part in the Christmas story. In her Christmas mail this year she tells us what happened.

Dear worshippers at St Lukeís,
Since Joseph did the Christmas mail last year and in his letter told you what happened the first Christmas from a manís point of view, let me take the time to tell you about the fantastic events that took place back at the time when the Romans had taken over our country and there had been various attempts to free the country from Romeís power through military uprisings.

In my early teens I lived with my parents and helped my mum at home. My brothers went off to school at the synagogue, but being a girl, my teacher was my mum who taught me how to cook, sew, make candles, and all the things that go to make a happy home. She also taught me about God.

Back then, girls were promised in marriage at quite an early age and were engaged in their early teens, usually to older men. I was engaged to Joseph, the local carpenter. I was young but I was happy. Joseph was the kindest man in the whole of Nazareth, not to mention also the most handsome. We were looking forward to our wedding day.

One day, out of the blue, this "person" appeared in the kitchen. He glowed. He was so bright I could hardly look at him. I can tell you I was afraid. I had never seen an angel before. He had the gentlest voice and introduced himself as Gabriel. He said "Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!" He went on to say that he had a very important message for me from God. Now I had heard about angels when the Word of God was read at the synagogue, but never in a million years did I ever think that one would call on me.

Then Gabriel told me what the message was that he was sent to give to me. I nearly passed out. "Don't be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus." My cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were going to have a baby, even though they were well passed having a family. But they were married. Here was I - single - with the intention of entering marriage with Joseph as a virgin. How could such a pregnancy be a sign of the Lord's love to me?

But the angel went on, "Jesus will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end!"

I donít know whether that last part really sank in at the time because I was still baffled about the "you will become pregnant & give birth to a son" part of the angelís message. I might have been young but my mum had taught me well about how babies came into the world. Unless there was something she had missed telling me, there is only one way a virgin becomes pregnant - then she isnít a virgin any longer! And our society was not very kind to unmarried mothers!

The angel reminded me that God can do anything, even make babies start to grow in a womanís womb. I sensed that the Lord was planning something special and he was going to do it through me, so I said, "I am the Lord's servant; may it happen to me as you have said." I didn't really understand the how and why, but I was ready and available for the Lord's will.

I was quite excited for a while about having a baby but then reality hit me Ė how was I going to tell Joseph that I was pregnant. As I cleaned the house I tried to work out what words I would say. But no matter what words I used, they all sounded wrong.

I tried to pick the right moment. So one evening as we sat watching the sun sink and enjoying the cool evening breeze, I told him about the angel, how I was afraid, and that now I was pregnant and in about 9 months time I would have a baby boy. I just couldnít hide the excitement in my voice.

Poor Joseph suddenly went silent. I could see that he was struggling to take in everything that I had said.

Joseph was such a sweet man and here I was dropping this bombshell on him. I know he loved me dearly. I know it all sounded a bit far-fetched, but it was the truth. It seemed a cop out to say that I wasnít responsible for getting pregnant. Thatís what all unmarried mothers in my time said. And to say that God was responsible - that was just too much Joseph. I donít blame him for what happened next.

Joseph was a man with a good reputation. People were going to assume that the baby was his, that we had sex outside of marriage. People would talk, his family would be upset and ashamed, his business would be ruined. It didnít surprise me that he was considering breaking off our engagement. I could feel the hurt in his voice. He wasnít the least bit nasty.

But the very next day he came to my house all excited. He was a different man. When he had calmed down and was able to speak more than one word at a time, he told me what had happened. He told me how he had tried to go back to his workshop and do a few jobs, but he couldnít put his mind to it. That night he tossed and turned, and when he finally fell into a deep sleep, he had this strange dream. There was a bright light and an angel appeared. He said, "Joseph, the baby that Mary will have is from the Holy Spirit. Go ahead and marry her. Then after her baby is born, name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:20,21 CEV).  He didnít understand what all this meant but he did believe my angel story. It was true Ė the baby growing within me was a special creation of God. This boy is the Son of God, whose name will be Jesus, because he will save people from sin. Joseph might not have been his real father, but I can tell you Joseph was as excited as any father could be.

And I was excited too. All that Joseph said confirmed that what I had seen and heard was really from God. And I was even more excited when Joseph asked me to marry him as soon as possible. We were so happy.

What happened next made life very difficult. The Roman emperor ordered that a census be taken and that everyone had to return to their place of birth to be counted. This meant a trip of about 140 klms from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We didnít have cars and trains then; we travelled by foot. Remember, by this time I was heavily pregnant. I thought we would never get there. But at the same time I knew that God would not let anything happen to the precious child I was carrying.

When we finally got to Bethlehem it was so crowded. We even called on some of Josephís relatives but they didnít have any room. Finally we found shelter in a stable and no sooner had Joseph put out some fresh straw, than I went into labour. Joseph might be a carpenter but he did a marvellous job delivering a beautiful baby boy. Joseph found a manger which made a very nice crib.

Not too long after the baby had settled down in a manger, I saw Joseph leading in a group of untidy looking fellows. If Joseph hadnít been there I would have been afraid. They had a great story about angels who had told them that the Saviour had been born. They knelt beside the manger and quietly looked in. As they left they thanked us and said that this would be a night they would never forget.

Thereís a lot more that I could tell you. When King Herod had heard about the birth of a king, in a jealous rage ordered all the baby boys of Bethlehem to be killed. Again, an angel warned Joseph of the danger and we left during the night for Egypt.

Iím glad that God chose me to be the mother of Jesus and Joseph to be his earthly father. Joseph taught him skills in his carpentry shop. I considered it a privilege from God to be able to comfort him and to bandage his knees when he fell over. I will always have the picture in mind of this little boy sitting on his fatherís lap and listening intently to the stories of the Bible and asking the most complicated questions. Who would have thought that God would use two ordinary people like Joseph and me to raise a boy who would bring salvation to the world.

I know that the suffering and pain that was inflicted on Jesus later in his life stung me deeply, especially when I stood at the foot of the cross. No parent likes to see their child die. But I know that the boy that God placed in our lives was sent by God for a very special purpose. Just as his name indicated Ė Jesus Ė he was sent to be our Saviour, to save us from sin and gives us the hope of life forever. Some have asked me if I would have known all that happened on the first Good Friday, would I have been so willing to bear God's Son and raise him.

Thatís a hypothetical question but I like to believe that I would have still said, "I am the Lord's servant, may it happen to me as you have said."

Iím glad God gave me the faith to trust his plans for my life. I could have easily rejected the whole idea of becoming pregnant and all the complications that followed. We donít know everything that lies in the future for us, whether next year, or in the years ahead. There will be times of sickness and health, success and failure. We may not understand why things turn out the way they do. Things happen that test our faith and loyalty to God. We stare death in the face, either that of a loved one or even our own. Lots of things will cause our heads to spin but we can trust God
to love us,
watch over us,
forgive us,
comfort us and
in the end take us to heaven.
We can be sure of this because God has become one of us. As the angel told Joseph, he is Immanuel which means God is with us.

As you celebrate Jesusí birthday this year remember why God went to so much trouble to come to earth as our baby son. He loves you. Having seen the Christ-child be like the shepherds, and share the joy of knowing Jesus as your Saviour.

God's blessings as you celebrate this Christmas.

Mary.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th December
, 2002
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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