Sunday, November 27, 2016

Walking the Road to Bethlehem: Mary learns she will bear the Son of God

Audio Message:

Welcome, officially to the Christmas season. As we call it, “advent.”Why do we have this season of advent? What is advent? Advent literally means “the arrival.” And specifically, the arrival of an important individual. So this advent season we’re going to be taking a journey, to recall and refresh in our minds the advent, the coming of the most important person who ever lived: Jesus Christ.

Why do we remind ourselves of the coming of Jesus? I always wondered that as a child. The reason is very simple: The cares of this world, job, college, family, and the various pleasures of life can crowd out the true center of our lives, which is Jesus. So every year we celebrate the Christmas season to ensure that Jesus Christ remains at the center of our hearts and lives.

Today we’re talking about a young girl named Mary. We’ll be in Luke chapter 1 if you want to open your Bibles to there. So Mary was about 14 or 15 years old when she was visited by a messenger of God. Which is about the age of one of our corps cadets. But let’s go back in time for a moment.

Mary had a very dear friend named Elizabeth. Elizabeth was 88 years old, so a grandmother sort of figure in young mary’s life. And Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a priest of his time. Zechariah received a message from God that his wife Elizabeth, 88 years old, will give birth to a son, and he will be called John. Immediately after she finds out, Elizabeth traveled about 80 miles to visit Mary. That’s no short journey for an 88 year old woman who is pregnant. But she made the journey, probably because when any of us end up in a surprising situation we seek out a close friend to help us understand what we’re going through.

Six months later, Mary, 14 or 15 years old, is living in Nazareth, and is waiting to be married to Joseph of Bethlehem. Historians believe Mary was 14 or 15 because that was the Jewish age when women were betrothed to be married. But sometimes it could even occur as young as 12 years old.

Despite being so incredibly young, God chose Mary for an incredible mission. God’s messenger appears to Mary one day, and he says to her “Greetings to you who are highly favored, The Lord is with you.” Would there be any sweeter words to hear from a messenger of God? I don’t think so. We often wonder how we’re doing in our walks with Jesus. Most days I feel like I’m screwing it up completely. And what I wouldn’t give for a few words from God, to tell me that I’m doing OK and he still has me.

Verse 37 of Luke chapter 1, “No word from God will ever fail.” It says that Mary was troubled by the angel’s words to her. And Gabriel replies, “Don’t be afraid, for you have found favor with God.” Gabriel tells her that though she is a virgin, the power of the Lord will come upon her and she will give birth to the son of God.

And young Mary’s response is quite simple, yet infinitely profound. She replies, verse 38: “38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

That is the right answer when God asks us to do something. Mary believed the messenger of God, and said “may it be so.” Essentially she said, amen, yes it will actually happen this way!

In contrast, 6 months earlier when Zechariah Elizabeth’s husband was told about the birth of John the Baptist he replied, Matthew Chapter 1 verse 18: ““How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” In sharp contrast to Zechariah, Mary, all of 15 years old or so, says “I’m the Lord’s servant. May it be done as you’ve said.”

We think of Mary the mother of Jesus as a glowing figure of history. But it’s really important to remember that Mary was just an ordinary, average, everyday girl, probably living a very modest life. She lived in an insignificant town, like say Wausau Wisconsin where I’m from, or Escanaba Michigan. Just a run down, dumpy little village called Nazareth.

Mary was a humble girl from a humble town. She was lowly. And she was faithful. A quiet, everyday believer, young, but with sincere faith in God. And she is told by an angel of God that she will bear the savior of the world. She is told she is pregnant.

Now if this was just a legend, just a myth, we might expect that when Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant he leaps for joy because he’s going to be the father of the messiah. But this isn’t a legendary story, it’s a factual, historical account. And that isn’t what Joseph did. What would you do if you found out the girl you were engaged to was suddenly pregnant? And she says it was “God.” Yeah, uh huh. Sure it is.

Matthew chapter 1 verse 19 says “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[e] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

He finds out Mary is pregnant and he says, well I’m gonna divorce her! But he’s obviously got strong character because he’s going to do it quietly to protect her from public disgrace.

This doesn’t read like a legend or a myth, it reads like real life. It reads like a historical record. Joseph does what any of us might do, he decides to divorce Mary because shes pregnant with someone elses child.

Joseph is probably back at his house, very upset about this situation, and he’s thinking about what to do. He falls asleep and he has a dream in which the angel of the Lord appears to him. And this messenger says, Matthew 1:20-21 ““Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.”And only then is the marriage between Joseph and Mary secured.

Essentially, with God anything is possible. He makes the impossible, possible in our lives. I know this personally. This is the part where faith, trust, and belief become necessary. Because by all outward appearances, it just isn’t possible. How can the 88 year old Elizabeth give birth at her age? How can Mary give birth to Jesus without coming together with a man? How can this angel appear to people and give them messages from God?

Yet we’ve seen God time and again do the same in our own lives. One of the purest moments we can experience as believers in Jesus is when we realize for an instant that what has just happened is impossible yet it has happened and did happen and is possible because God almighty has made a personal action in reality to generate the miraculous.

For some of you in this church it was when you looked into Bonnie’s eyes and saw her beholding the face of God. For some of you it was watching Bob overcome his skin condition. For still others it was watching Stanley miraculously overcome stage four cancer. And again, for me and for all of us, as we heard that Jase’s internal organs were not growing and his life was in danger and the doctors couldn’t explain it, how his organs miraculously started growing again. For Major Ralph and Debbie when 30 years ago God called them from their previous lives to become officers and pastors. And for me, when thrice I was in mental hospitals, detoxes, rehabs, and finally ICU emergency rooms near death, shackled to drug addiction, trying to quit for the 50th time, and finally calling out to Jesus and those unbreakable shackles shattered from around my wrists and I was set on a course to serve God with my whole life.

And I’m certain I’m only scratching the surface as far as just the people in this chapel, but think of all the miraculous events across the planet and across time! So when people tell me a virgin can’t give birth to the son of God, all I can say is I’ve seen miracle after miracle my whole life, not to mention the galaxies, the sun, the moon, and the stars, and the human race, nature, and animals all perfectly tuned and set up to provide for equilibrium and life, so don’t tell me that these are just legends and myths, don’t tell me you can’t believe in Jesus the son of God. Everyday when we open our eyes we’re surrounded by a world of exponentially inspiring miracles. If your heart is too brutalized and darkened to see the truth, well that’s very sorrowful, but for those of us who can see the obvious, the power of God came upon a 14 year old girl named Mary and made her to be pregnant with the son of God. And that’s the truth of life. The impossible, becomes possible. And that is of no difficulty to an omnipotent God.

Believe. Just believe, and stop doubting. Don’t be like Zechariah, the old fool who questions the angel saying “How can this be so?” Instead believe, and reply, “I am the Living God’s servant, and may it be so as His word says.”

God uses the willing heart. So we must seek to be obedient. And we believe that Jesus Christ the son of God was born into human history to set us free from our sins. And it all started with an average girl in an average town with an average fiancée, encountering a not so average God. Be obedient to that message. Choose to believe God’s word. Not only is it historically reliable and based on eye witness accounts, the evidence of it’s power to transform the world is present all across the nations, from China to India to Zimbabwe and Tanzania, France, Pakistan, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and even all the way to the little sea side town of Escanaba Michigan. The evidence is clear, so believe.

In conclusion, during this month of advent, as we journey to the virgin birth and reinvigorate this timeless saga in our minds, I encourage you to crack open your Bibles, explore the Christmas saga. Read the opening accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Set the Christmas history of our Christian faith anew in your mind, as the foundation of your calendar, the foundation of your life, that God so loves the world that he sent his son Jesus Christ, God with us, to be born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, and offer his life as a sacrifice on the cross to free you from the shackles of sin, give you new birth into his family and eternal life in heaven forever. 

Mary said “yes” Now you, say yes!” 

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