Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Text: Luke 1:26-27
God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. He had a message for a young woman promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. Her name was Mary.
Mary, mother of Jesus

Mary did you know?

It was the end of the day, relaxing, letting my mind wander as I listened to some Christmas music – veg’ing out you might say. Familiar carols were playing in the background but I wasn’t paying all that much attention to them until I heard the words, “Mary did you know?”  I don’t recall ever hearing this Christmas song before and if I had I certainly hadn’t paid any attention to it.  What made it particularly meaningful was that I had been reflecting on the reading from Luke’s Gospel for today and thinking about Mary’s role in the birth of Jesus. As I listened to the song it seemed that the songwriter was talking to Mary and asking her,

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters? 
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? 
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man? 
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand? 
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? 
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? 
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations? 
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb? 
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am.

For some reason after listening to this song I wanted to find out more about the writer and the story behind it.  And I found that people talked about this song as “God's gift to the world” * that came from a most unlikely source.

The writer is Mark Lowry. He is described like this.  “Mark never stops moving. He seems to have the energy of three fifth graders and the curiosity of a dozen four-year-old-children.  Probably because the Lord knows the world couldn’t handle more than one Mark Lowry at a time, there is no one like him. … He was often a problem in the classroom and had absolutely no athletic ability.  To many adults and kids, Mark appeared to be little more than an energetic klutz – an out of control mini-tornado.”*  Lowry talks about his childhood with a good deal of humour and says this about himself, When I was a kid, my hyperactivity was always getting me into trouble. Most people figured I would grow up to be a criminal.  A little voice inside me convinced me I was a failure, that I would never amount to anything.  I had what's known today as A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder). Back then, they called it B.R.A.T.  And I wasn't your normal brat. I was the type of kid that when people met me, they knew why some animals eat their young”.**

Mark’s parents must have despaired at times when their dreams for their little boy weren’t being realised but instead of focussing on the negatives they emphasized the gift that Mark had – he could sing.

In 1984 (when Mark was 26 years old) his pastor asked him to write a Christmas program for his church and so Mark wrote a series of questions that he would ask Jesus’ mother Mary.  This became the poem, Mary did you know? This poem became a song – a song that has been described as one of “God's gifts to the world” and Mark continues to this day giving testimony to God's love through his humour and music and has won numerous Gospel music awards.

It’s strange how God can use a young person like Mark Lowry, described by an observer of his hyperactivity as “a racoon in human form” or who others thought would end up as a criminal in jail.  Mark even thought of himself as a failure and would never mount to anything and yet look how God chose the least significant and has done mighty things through him. 

This reminds me so much of Mary in today’s Gospel reading.  She wasn’t a “raccoon in human form”, hyperactive, an energetic klutz, a poet or songwriter.  No I'm wrong.  In fact, I can’t say she wasn’t any of these because we don’t know very much about her.  Look at the introduction to Mary we get in Luke’s Gospel.  God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. He had a message for a young woman … her name was Mary”. ‘Her name was Mary’ – is that all Luke can tell us about her.  Here is the woman who was about to take centre stage in the Christmas story and all we are told, “Her name is Mary”. 

Matthew introduces her saying, “His (Jesus’) mother Mary was engaged to Joseph”. We could have been given just a bit more information. What was she like?  How old was she?  Did she have brothers and sisters?  Did she have morning sickness and cravings?  And I wouldn’t mind asking questions like Mark Lowry does, “When you kissed your little baby, did you realise you were kissing the face of God”?
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? 

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?

But I guess that’s the point of knowing so little about Mary.  We know so little about her and even less about Joseph and yet they are given the most important job in all of history – to care and protect the Son of God when he is a vulnerable and helpless baby.  This insignificant couple who barely rate a mention outside of the Christmas story are chosen not because of their brilliance or their wealth or their importance but because God had a plan and he could see into the hearts of these two people and knew that they were the perfect people to carry out the human side of his plan – the raising and nurturing of a child from a baby to boyhood to become a man who was honourable, wise and godly.

Mary and Joseph may have been humble folk from the outer edges of Israel but they shared a secret about their son that later the whole world would know.  Mary was told at the time of his conception by the angel Gabriel, “You will name him Jesus. He 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” (Luke 1:31-32). Later in the temple Simeon told her that sorrow like a sharp sword will break her heart when she watches her son die a terrible death. 

Joseph is also told that Mary’s child has come from God, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He is the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophesy about a virgin who will have a child.  His name will be ‘Immanuel’ which means, “God is with us”.  Joseph knew his Scriptures and would have linked the prophecies about the Messiah to what he had been told about the boy who was to be named ‘Jesus’.  Joseph doesn’t rate a mention in the Bible after Jesus visit to the temple when he was 12 and Mary only a few times more but let’s not underestimate the very important role they had in obediently, willingly, and faithfully doing their part to watch over and guide their first born son in those early years.  They might have been nobodies in the eyes of King Herod and his court and even the people of Nazareth but to use Mark Lowry’s words, “This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am” – Yahweh himself.

Why does God choose people like Mary and Joseph and a bloke like Mark Lowry who it seemed was destined to be a failure to do amazing things for him?  In fact, if you think about so many of the Bible characters you see that God does this again and again.  He chooses the most unlikely people to do important things for him.  A shepherd boy saves the army of Israel by slaying a giant and then becomes the most famous king Israel has even seen. 

Who were the people Jesus calls to be disciples?  Fishermen, tax collectors, a zealot (today we would call him a terrorist), a thief – no one but the ordinary.

Who were the first people to hear about the good news that will bring joy to everyone – that today in David’s town your Saviour has been born, he is Christ the Lord?  They were the least important people of all – shepherds.  People at the bottom of the social ladder – nobodies – if you like.  God’s angels came to these nobodies and they were the first to kneel before God in the flesh and became the first evangelists and missionaries as they told everyone they met what they had seen and heard.

Is it possible that God would do that sort of thing today – call on an ordinary person like you or me to carry out some kind of extraordinary task or even a task that is not so extraordinary but still requires us to get out of our comfort zone and step out and do something?  The willingness and obedience of Mary and Joseph in what they were asked to do was really remarkable.  Is it possible that God could do that today and challenge us to that same kind of obedience and faithfulness?

Throughout history God hasn’t change his ways of calling people to carry out his will and given them special tasks that bring the light of God's love into the lives of the people around us.  Be ready to be surprised just as Mary and Joseph were when God called them to step up to an important challenge.  Pray that your response might be like that of Mary’s, “I’m ready to serve God in whatever way he thinks I’m able to”.

When everyone else only saw Mark Lowry as a brat, God saw a boy and then a young man with a beautiful voice, a unique sense of humour and the gift of poetry.  Sure, he was born different but his energy and his curiosity gave him a different perspective on things and out of that God-given uniqueness came a song written about a very special mother and her son.

God has gifted us all differently.  Each person is a unique and special creation of God, loved by him and redeemed by him.  I wonder how God will surprise each of us with the challenges he will place before us.  I wonder how well we will respond to that challenge.  It will be easy to say “Why me?”  God has heard it all before.  Great men like Moses, Jonah, and Jeremiah were reluctant doers of God's will but when they got passed their hesitancy God did great things through them.  God promised to be with them and they trusted that promise.  That’s all they needed.

We have a Saviour whose name is Immanuel, God with us.  May he be with us, in us, above us, beside us and before as we say with Mary, “Wherever you lead me, Lord, that’s what I want to do and that’s where I want to go”.

Let’s finish and listen to Mark Lowry’s Christmas song, Mary did you know - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_U2G8wsbXBo

*   Stories behind the best loved song of Christmas, Ace Collins 2001
**
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Lowry

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
18th December 2011
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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