Monday, December 19, 2011

Sermon Delivered December 18, 2011: Advent 4

Mary scares me. Now that might seem strange, but let me explain. You see, I am not scared knowing that she is the Mother of Jesus. I am not scared of the fact that she bore the Son of God. I am not scared that there are those who believe that she was born without sin so that her Son would have no sin. I am not scared that there are those who believe she appears throughout the world to devout believers. None of these things scare me in the least.

But there is still something that scares me greatly about her--her attitude.

For you see, when the angel Gabriel showed up on Mary’s doorstep that fateful day so long ago, she didn’t just arrive with tidings of great joy. Those tidings would be reserved for the Shepherds nine months later. Gabriel’s news was both blessing and curse. "How?" you might ask.

Things don’t seem all that bad because Gabriel begins his announcement with these words, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

By all accounts, this is good news! This is the news that nearly every Jewish person alive had been waiting to hear. They wanted the coming of the Messiah. They wanted the coming of the Son of the Most High. They yearned for the savior who would right the wrongs who would be an ancestor of David who would bring peace and prosperity to Israel. Yes, this would be very good news.

Mary, of course is a bit skeptical. She asks, "How can this be since I am a virgin?" It’s a legitimate question. She is only betrothed at this point to Joseph. She is not married. They have not consummated the marriage. There is no way she could be pregnant.

But Gabriel continues, "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 holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God."

Now, all of this sounds well and good. All of this sounds grand and exciting. All of this sounds like all will be peaches and creme from here on out. But...we forget what kind of society this announcement is being made in. We, in our day and age, forget the strict Biblical laws which governed society and marriage and adultery. Would you like a lesson in some of those laws now? Well, regardless, you’re going to get one.

Mary was betrothed which means she was promised in marriage. If she ended up pregnant, she would be seen as having brought shame upon Joseph–either because they did not wait until the marriage was finalized or because she had been unfaithful. Either way would bring shame upon Joseph and upon Mary. They would have been considered to be breaking the laws of God. At the very least, Mary would have been considered an adulterer. Such a stigma did not go away easily in that day and age. She could look forward to a life full of men and women looking down their noses at her because she was a sinner. In addition to this, Joseph could dismiss her, and that would mean she would be relegated to a life of begging or prostitution. No longer under his protection or care, she would have to scrounge and get by as best as she could. Submitting to God’s will by carrying His son could lead to all of these things.

And yet, Mary says, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your will."

Did I tell you Mary scares me?

Mary scares me because she is willing to be obedient to God’s will despite the cost. Mary scares me because she is willing to put God’s will in front of all the devastating things that could happen to her in her life. Mary scares me because she willingly accepts the meanness of society and the scorn of others to carry out God’s mission in the world. Mary scares me because she makes me look deep within my own heart and wrestle with whether or not I can or would submit to God’s will should He come to me in a similar manner.

I mean, I would like to think I am open to God’s call. I would like to think I would go where God needed me to go and do what God needed me to do, but when the rubber hits the road, would I be able to do it? For instance, if God sent an angel to me to say, "Kevin, in a few days, you will be receiving a letter from an inner city church. They are looking for a pastor and have sent this to as many people as they can. The Lord has decided you are to be that pastor. You will be immensely blessed through this ministry. Through your work there, many people will come to know Jesus Christ."

I know what would flash through my head. I know the thoughts that would immediately begin popping in there. "I’m a country boy, I wouldn’t do well in the city. I need open fields, grass, and tall trees not concrete parking lots and skyscrapers. I love it out here. My wife has a part time job that she is thriving within and is just getting established in. My kids are doing great in school and they have good friends there. I love the people I am working with and the community that I am a part of. I’ve got roots started here, and it would be very, very painful to tear them up. Are you sure you want me to do this? I mean, I do want to reach as many people for Jesus as I possibly can. I want to make a difference in the church and make Christ’s name known. But can’t I do that here?" As it stands right now, I don’t know if I can get to that final statement. I don’t know that I could get to that point where I can say, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your will."

Mary scares me.

Does she scare you too? Does her willingness to turn herself over to God and His will cause you to look deep within yourself to see if you too would do what she did? Does she cause you to tremble at the thought of God asking you to do something that would bring great things through you but at a high cost? Has a messenger from God, or has God himself through that still small voice called you to do something? Have you dismissed it because it would mean sacrificing things you love and enjoy? Have you dismissed it because you believed it would cost you too much? Does it terrify you that at any moment God could do such a thing to you?

Yeah, it scares me too. But things turned out pretty well for Mary, didn’t they? She followed God’s will, and she continues to be highly favored to this day. If God should call on us, should we expect any less? No. For such is His promise. Perhaps it would be one of the most difficult things we could ever say. Perhaps it might scare us to death. But let us pray that if we are ever called to do so, that we have the strength to say with confidence, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your will." Amen.

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