Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Text: Luke 1:26-29
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. 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.

Something about Mary

Christmas is a fun time of year. So many wonderful things happen at Christmas time – cards and gifts, family gatherings, parties and break-ups, visiting grandparents, parents and brothers and sisters, and the carols that are heard only at this time of the year. It certainly is a happy and fun time of the year.

But there is also a serious side to Christmas,
the side that makes it all meaningful,
the side that was promised thousands of years ago to Adam and Eve, to David the King, and to the prophets.

God had promised centuries before the birth of Jesus that evil would be defeated. He promised that there would be a time of lasting peace, hope, joy and love. God promised that a king would be born... an everlasting king, who would rule his people with justice and truth, a king like David, but greater; a king who would look after the poor and give justice to the widow and orphan.

God's plan to establish a kingdom that would last forever is recorded throughout the Old Testament scriptures goes back to the Garden of Eden when sin first entered the world. It was a grand plan, a gracious plan, a plan to rescue all of humanity from sin and death. It was a plan that was centuries in the making. It was a plan like no other plan that has ever existed in this world.

So why on earth did God choose Mary to be a key player in this grand plan? Not married – an especially big problem back in those days. We don’t know anything about her family, her pedigree. Chances are she was very young, some say even as young as 15 or 16. It’s interesting that in spite of her age, God didn’t consult her parents first. He went straight to Mary. She lived in some out of the way corner of the Roman Empire, a corner that was constantly rebelling against Roman rule and experienced its fair share of bloodshed over the years.

We know Mary was engaged to Joseph, a local carpenter, a humble man but he had one thing going for him – he was a descendant of King David – that is very important. She was a cousin to Elizabeth who was married to a priest but that’s about all we know about Mary. God certainly didn’t choose her because of her standing in society.

In hindsight we see that, young as she was, she had a maturity about her. She listened intently to what the angel Gabriel said to her, and while she questioned it, she bowed to superior wisdom. She didn’t panic. She believed that with human beings lots of things don’t make sense, but with God, anything and everything is possible! We learn a bit more about Mary later in the Gospel but at this point there is no reason that seems to stand out why she was chosen to carry in her God's Son, the promised Saviour.

Maybe if you had a grand plan to save all humanity you might have other ideas how the Saviour would enter the world. Maybe we would plan a much grander entrance like the one we read about when Jesus will come again – trumpets blasting, shouts of welcome, coming through the clouds, unmistakably the king of the universe. I don’t know why God chose to do it the way he did. Sure, it fulfilled some of the Old Testament prophecies but I’m sure it didn’t have to be this girl, this way, in these circumstances. But it’s the way God did it!

When God became involved in Mary’s life, no doubt things became more complicated for her.
When God became involved in Mary’s life - an unmarried girl, what is more a betrothed unmarried girl, was about to become an unmarried mother.
When God came in Mary’s life she was exposed to innuendo, gossip, rumour-mongering, especially when she claimed that she was still a virgin. That kind of claim perhaps led some to think she had been out in the sun too long.
When God came into her life her relationship with Joseph was strained and you can bet that her friendship with other girls her age was also under pressure.
When God came into Mary’s life a child began to grow within her and all the possibilities that a pregnancy can bring – the possibility of not making it full term, the possibility of something going wrong, the possibility of either Mary or her baby dying at birth. (Something that was far more common those days than today).
When God became involved in Mary’s life - morning sickness, the uncomfortable feeling of an expanding belly and the pain of childbirth became a reality. Becoming a mother probably would have been part of Mary’s life eventually but not just at this very moment.

There is the other side of God becoming involved in Mary’s life.
We don’t hear about this in the Bible but we can assume from the role that other mother’s play in the lives of their children that God had brought her a great deal of pleasure.
When God became involved in Mary’s life there came the joy, exhilaration and wonder that is associated with childbirth.
When God became involved in Mary’s life, she breast-fed, she nourished, she put to bed at night and sang lullabies, she attended his bruises and sores, both physical and emotional, of the son of the Most High God. When she and Joseph named him ‘Jesus’ – rescuer, deliverer, saviour – did she have any idea what pain would pierce her heart as she watched her son die on a cross and what joy he would bring to millions of people down through the ages?

When the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was "greatly blessed – highly favoured" Luke gives us an insight into Mary’s reaction. He tells us she was "deeply troubled" or "perplexed", "puzzled", "bewildered" by the sudden appearance of the angel and his opening words. What Gabriel was about to tell her was even more "perplexing". Mary’s visitor was not very skilled at breaking news gently. Instead, he comes straight to the point. The young teenager was about to become pregnant, and that she would give birth to a son. Her son is the promised king, the Messiah. He is God’s own Son. Now that kind of announcement would blow anyone’s socks off. How is this sort of thing possible when you are a virgin? It’s no wonder Mary was "deeply troubled".

And I don’t know if Mary thought about this at the time but Gabriel is telling her that the God of the universe will reduce himself to a growing foetus inside Mary’s womb.
God is choosing to become a child, to have brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents.
God is choosing to be subject to human rulers and authorities and to live in uncertain times politically and economically.
God is choosing to become a child, to grow up in Nazareth, and live the same humble, ordinary, down to earth kind of life as his parents.
God is choosing to place the Messiah into the hands of this teenager to feed and care for his every need.
That’s so hard to grasp!
What would God do such a thing?

I don’t know why God chose Mary? Was it a random pick? A stab in the dark? Is there something we’re missing?

But we know that God does this sort of thing – picks the most unlikely people to carry out important tasks. He gets involved with the ordinary. He has the most powerful, influential, wealthiest, most famous and most gifted to choose from and who does he choose – a nobody?

Think back to Jesus’ descendant, David. Remember all the handsome brothers lined up to be chosen as the next king but God had instructed Samuel not to choose any of them but rather a little lad who was out minding the sheep.

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

Think about the first people to be told of Jesus’ birth – not the high and mighty but the ordinary plain folk who looked after sheep near Bethlehem.

Does God still do that sort of thing today? Would God consider you a vehicle for Jesus to come into the world? Is it possible that God would come to you, like he did to Joseph and Mary, and ask you to do something that would be considered out there, kind of crazy? We could offer a whole lot of reasons why this is a silly idea – too old, too young, too busy – why me?

Good question, why me? But do you know, in some ways nothing’s changed. God actually does give you a privilege. He does actually choose you. Not because of your position in society, not because you’re the best choice he can think of, not because you impress him in any way in particular. He chooses you to be a vehicle for Jesus to come into the world, into your world, into your life and all its relationships, your work, your family, your friends, your activities, your thinking and your speaking and your doing.

By the way, God has heard all the excuses before.
He heard it from Moses and Jonah and Jeremiah who with one voice said, "I can’t do that! ‘I’m a nobody’. ‘I don’t like your plan!’ ‘I’m too young!’ He hears the protest but that doesn’t stop him from choosing you. And if you think you’re just ordinary, then, maybe, that’s exactly why he chooses you because God can do the extraordinary through the ordinary.

Think about it - through you Jesus comes into people’s lives in this modern 21st century. God doesn’t expect you to make a big splash, be an instant success, an overnight wonder. Jesus wasn’t. He was a baby – helpless and reliant on others. He grew up as a nobody in Nazareth – the son of a humble carpenter. We know very little of his life in Nazareth. But as Jesus grew, as he began to speak and teach and to preach and show God to people, as reached out his hand and accepted and healed and forgave, bit by bit he began to make a difference.

Neither you nor I are Jesus but we have been chosen to be the means of bringing God to other people. We may not have all the answers and all the skills right now but for some unknown reason God has come to you and chosen you to bear Jesus into this world. Mary couldn’t fathom her part but the angel reassured her: there is nothing God cannot do! And that’s still true. There’s nothing God can’t do, and sometimes he chooses the most surprising way of all – he chooses to use you.

He chooses you for the same reason he chose Mary, the disciples and everyone else. He wants the whole world to know of his great love for all people. He wants us to be bearers of good news, comfort, hope and joy to anyone who needs to hear about God's love for them in their circumstances and his willingness to forgive any and every sin. He wants us to experience for ourselves (and this was Mary’s experience as well) that in every situation he is truly our Immanuel – God is with us as we bear the Good News that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
21st December 2008

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