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Sermon for Sunday 24 December 2017

FIRST READING 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

1Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, 2the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” 3And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” 4But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, 5“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. 7In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ 8Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 16“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”


PSALM Psalm 89:1-5, 19-29

1Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness. 2For I am persuaded that your love is established forever; you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens. 3“I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant: 4‘I will establish your line forever, and preserve your throne for all generations.’” 5The heavens bear witness to your wonders, O Lord, and to your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones; 19You spoke once in a vision and said to your faithful people: “I have set the crown upon a warrior and have exalted one chosen out of the people. 20I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him. 21My hand will hold him fast and my arm will make him strong. 22No enemy shall deceive him, nor any wicked man bring him down. 23I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. 24My faithfulness and love shall be with him, and he shall be victorious through my name. 25I shall make his dominion extend from the Great Sea to the River. 26He will say to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.’ 27I will make him my firstborn and higher than the kings of the earth. 28I will keep my love for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. 29I will establish his line forever and his throne as the days of heaven.”


SECOND READING Romans 16:25-27

25Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but has now been dsclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — 27to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.


GOSPEL Luke 1:26-38

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32He 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, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God. 36And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.




As we take another look at the gospel reading for this morning, I want to play a song that has gained in popularity over the past few years. Christian singer, song writer and comedian Mark Lowry first penned the words to this song back in 1984, while writing a Christmas play for Jerry Falwell. For the next 7 years he tweaked and re-tweaked the words and then in 1991, along with Buddy Greene, Mark put the words to music. The final result, from all his hard work, is the Christmas song titled, Mary did you Know. The version you’re about to listen to is from the acapella group Pentatonics.
As you heard, throughout the song, several questions are posed to Mary including; “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And probably the most profound and meaningful question for me as a parent: When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God?” When you stop and consider the statements made, it’s easy to begin to imagine just how overwhelming it must have been for Mary to come to terms with being the mother of the promised Immanuel. I say this because we have the privilege of contemplating the immaculate birth of Jesus from this point in history; but how hard must it have been for Mary?
How could Mary have known what was going to be happening to her when the angel Gabriel came and said to her, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” What, after all, does it mean to be highly favored – or even favored – by God? Evidently it doesn’t mean that life is going to be easy. The angel continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” When told that she would bear a son, Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” It was a very good question.
Mary, scripture tells us, wasn’t married, she was a virgin, a young betrothed woman still living in the family home and now she’s going to have a baby; an immaculate conception by the power of the Holy Spirit. By any stretch of the imagination, how could this be something that Mary would be pleased about? Luke records for us that Mary was “greatly troubled at the saying” (1:29a.) Tradition tells us that Mary and Joseph lived in a very strict community that was regulated by stringent religious laws and customs. Mary therefore, by law, could have been killed.
She could have been stoned for becoming pregnant while not married. And stop and imagine Joseph’s unrest. They say that misery loves company, so is she supposed to be happy about Joseph’s hurt? Mary initially must have thought that God sure has an interesting way of showing His favor. But Mary also must have known the prophecy of how the Messiah was to come: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:14.) But even knowing the prophecy concerning the Messiah and having been visited by God’s angel, it had to have created a huge amount of anxiety.
Years ago, a psychologist Thomas Holmes developed a scale for measuring stress. He assigned numerical values to events that cause tension, such as the loss of a job, moving to a new community, and entering into a new relationship. Dr. Holmes even included Christmas on his stress list. According to him, even a so-called “normal Christmas” is worth a hefty 14 stress points. Sometime later, a writer by the name of Bridget Kuhns took Dr. Holmes’ stress scale and applied it to Mary.
Bridget calculated that any pregnancy earns 40 points. For an unwanted pregnancy, add another 20 points. A change in living conditions – Mary stayed three months with Elizabeth – 25 points. Upcoming marriage to Joseph – 50 points. A change in financial status – 38 points. Surely there must have been some words between them when Mary learned that Joseph had failed to make reservations at the Inn in Bethlehem. 35 points for an argument with a spouse. And then the birth – 39 points. 16 points for a change in sleeping habits. 15 points for a change in eating patterns. Not to mention all the uninvited guests – the shepherds and angels and wise men from the east.
Dr. Holmes says that people get physically ill when they reach 200 points on the stress scale. Bridget Kuhns calculated that Mary’s ordeal earned her a whopping 424 stress points. And that doesn’t include the flight to Egypt, or more importantly, the experience of watching her beloved Son die as a common criminal on a cross. Is that what it means to be favored by God? Evidently being favored by God doesn’t always protect us from high levels of stress.
It’s easy for us to say, “The Lord sure is blessing me” when things are going our way. But have you ever wondered if the opposite is true when we’re going through the most difficult of times – when we feel that we can barely hold on? In the good times we know that God is near, but do we always realize that in the more difficult times, that God is actually closest to us? The angel Gabriel, in saying that Mary was blessed by God, wasn’t saying that God would make her life easy. What Gabriel was saying is that she would be used by God in a world changing way. And in the long run, isn’t that what being blessed is all about? But what about you and me?
Can any of us say, right now, that we’re blessed because we’re being used by God for His special purpose? In response to Gabriel telling her that she was favored by God and that she would bear a son, Mary asked a sensible question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” To this the angel responded, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Is it any more difficult to believe that a virgin could give birth, than it is to believe that Zechariah and Elizabeth could bear children in their old age? Mary in her shame could have made up a lie about the visit of an angel. But there was no way that Elizabeth, who was far beyond childbearing years, could make up a story about being pregnant. Both of these events were miracles; Jesus’ birth and the birth of John. Nothing is impossible with God.
We need to remember that the next time we read difficult stories in the Bible such as the flood story, Jonah and the Whale or God creating the heavens and earth in Genesis. We also need to keep this fact in mind, anytime we find ourselves in difficult times or in a hard place. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is impossible with God. We, here in the South have a way of softening as situation or the short comings of a person by saying, “bless their heart.” We might want to be more careful when we call someone blessed. And third, we need to be thankful that this young woman said yes to God. In being obedient, Mary was used by God in a history changing way.
Mary was free, of course, to say no to God, just like we’re free to say no to the Lord. God never forces Himself on anyone. But when Gabriel gave Mary the news that she would bear God’s Son, she replied, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” Mary became the mother of our Savior because she was willing to be obedient. Obedience may be out of fashion in our “I did it my way” world. But obedience is still an important part of the Christian life. And consider this, some blessings will never be realized until and unless we’re willing to be obedient to God.
Mary, did you know? How could Mary have known where her encounter with the angel would lead her? How could she possibly comprehend that she was to conceive and carry the perfect Righteousness of God? How could she have ever been able to comprehend that the first time she kissed her Baby, that she had the privilege of kissing the face of God? What a privilege; what a blessing, what responsibility; what stress? How can we know where our encounter with the living Christ during this Christmas season will lead us? The only way we’ll every know is to be open and obedient to God’s call.
With Mary in mind, I think it’s prudent for us to be careful and consider cautiously who we call blessed. Being blessed by God may mean that we’ll be used by Him in a history changing way, but it also doesn’t shield us from stress and difficult times. Second, we also need to be careful anytime we think something is impossible. In those times, it’s paramount that we remember the angel’s words, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Lu. 1:37.) And finally, we need to stop and give God thanks that a young, teenage girl was willing to be obedient and say yes, “let it be to me according to your word” (Lu.1:38b.) Remember, saying yes to God is the key to living a life that is truly blessed. And when we’re obedient and say yes, God may just change history through us.

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