Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)
“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.”
— Hebrews 1:1-2a
How grateful we are, Our Father, that in spite of being people of unclean lips and hearts, that You still speak to us. We pause during this special time of year, giving thanks to the One who communicates so powerfully, the One called the Word. In His strong name we pray … amen.
Today's Message: Say Yes to Immanuel
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
As we begin our final instalment of this message series, “When Immanuel Happens”, we find ourselves at a very familiar place, for even the most casual Christmas observer. Mary is being recruited by the angel Gabriel, in what should have been a glorious moment. We are told that every Hebrew maiden’s wish was to be the mother of the messiah … but you could never tell it by Mary’s reaction.
To say this young Hebrew woman is reluctant to receive this message just might be an understatement … but upon some reflection, we might understand why;
- She may be troubled at the words, “The Lord is with you” (v. 28), and perhaps for good reason. Lois Cheney, in her little devotional book God is no Fool helps us reflect on the high price to be paid for this holy presence, as she “unpacks” the meaning of one of the most famous “Immanuel” (“God with us”) passages in the Bible …
“Behold I stand at the door and knock.”
What will it cost to let you in?
“Behold I stand at the door and knock.”
Let me tidy up a bit. I’d be embarrassed to have you see things as they are just now.
As we saw last two weeks in the stories of Moses and Zechariah, abiding God’s presence may not be as simple or joyful as we think.
- Things don’t appear to get any easier as the angel announces (v. 31) that Mary will “be with child”, a piece of information that usually brings such joy to an expecting mother. But as Mary will say shortly, the prospect of giving birth without the benefit of a husband represents a daunting exercise.
- Finally, perhaps the reason for Mary’s reluctance lies in the same place it does for all of us who have become parents and have had a little time to think about it. I well remember as we were preparing for the birth of our first son when this truth struck me. We were moving a crib into our basement apartment on Clark St. in Leamington and, for the first time, I realized that I was doing so in order to allow for another precious life to live with Linda and me. We were being entrusted with this life … but in Mary’s case it wasn’t just any life, but that of the Messiah.
Well, we know how the story goes from here. Mary responds to Gabriel in the affirmative (“May it be to me as you have said …”, v. 38) and yet, we have to wonder why. As we ponder some suggestions as to what melted her reluctance, we do so with a special interest, knowing that “the call” to be part of the redemption drama is not confined to the original players centuries ago. Let’s hear these possibilities for Mary’s “yes”;
- God “found” her – Admittedly, the wording of v. 30 (“you have found favour with God”) seems to suggest that the finding of favour has its source in Mary … but does this ultimate discovery ever happen without heavenly participation? The Greek word used here for “find” often means “to come upon accidentally without seeking”, and this seems to square with our everyday experience of God. Christian writer Mark Burrows wrote “What we can and must admit is that the present interest in spirituality is often an expression not simply of our hungers and needs but of the Spirit’s quest for us.” And one commentator, reflecting on a familiar story found in the gospel of Luke said it this way; “Zacchaeus went to find Jesus and discovered that Jesus was already in search of him.” It is clear that Mary wasn’t looking for the job of giving birth to the Christ … but somehow, between Mary’s spiritual yearnings and the Father’s purpose, a connection was made.
- She was invited to engage in “forever” work – In the description that the angel gives to Mary, recorded for us in verses 31-33, we read some of what this messiah will be about, concluding with these words, “ … and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Like it or not, Mary is not being asked to simply act as a conduit for this special birth. Rather, if she agrees to be involved, her assent will set in motion a monumental expression of redemption and healing … and the impact will be permanent. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be part of this? So much of what we do on a day to day basis seems to be of a transitory nature. To be part of the Father’s redemptive plan through the ministry of the church (and in our own way) is to contribute something lasting, that has an impact on a person’s life … and we can participate whatever our circumstances.
- She would discover a new way to live – The announcement from the angel suggests that Mary would become pregnant without the benefit of a husband. Her cousin Elizabeth received the promise that she would become pregnant after years of barrenness. Gabriel talks about “kingdom’ in the midst of Roman occupation. Mary is beginning to get the picture. When the Father of Lights is involved, the end is not based on the current situation … or, as the angel Gabriel himself put it, “For nothing will be impossible with God (v. 37).” A number of years ago, when the church I was serving was still holding services and meetings in a double portable trailer (purchased from the local Board of Education), I experienced an encounter that illustrates our point. At the conclusion of a meeting I was attending, a leader from an established church in our neighbourhood made a comment that he felt so sorry for us, trying to start a church under such modest circumstances. About ten years later a remarkable event occurred … the church which this man represented experienced a terrible split with the arrival of a new pastor. To our amazement (we were in our own building by then), many people from this influential and established church began making their way to our congregation where we were able to give them “shelter from the storm” they were currently experiencing. It was a wonderful lesson to us in our young church … good things sometimes begin in modest ways, when God is involved.
Mary’s experience did not end with the birth, of course. She and Joseph raised the young Jesus before he would embrace his ministry. She would witness some puzzling things during the next few years that must have made her wonder about the initial promise. Then he was arrested and executed and all seemed to be lost. But things picked up after that … and the existence of our ministry today proves that the promise was a good one.
May all of us find courage to say “yes” when it is our turn … and continue to marvel at the expansion of His kingdom.
As we are drawn together on this Sunday before Christmas we are reminded again, our gracious Father, of the wonderful story of the incarnation, of Your presence in human form. No other act, publication or thought has expressed so clearly Your love for humankind. When we could do nothing for ourselves to address the human problem, You took the initiative. We are forever indebted for this love …
As we hear Mary’s story this morning, we too confess our reluctance, sometimes simply to believe. We have been taught to be measured in our response to so many things, even when we know you have expressed Your love so generously … “for God so loved the world, that He gave!” We praise You for your patience with Mary and with us when we respond in such a halting fashion. Continue to bless us with Your guidance and care.
Finally, our God, we acknowledge that this time of year can be painful at the best of times. We think particularly this year about the cry of absence that will go up at the loved ones who have been taken and the virus that has limited our gatherings. We humbly ask for Your healing hand in the lives of those who are feeling this absence most keenly. We pray in the name of the One who promised to be with us always, even Jesus. Amen.
“We won’t keep secret the glorious deeds and the mighty miracles of the Lord.”
— Psalm 78:4