Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Luke 1:26-38; Date: 25 Dec 09

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Reckless Love

 

I read from the Bible – Luke 1:26-33: “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’”

NN would you please come forward. Mary was about the same age as NN. Now would any one of us be so reckless and unwise as to put this young teenager in charge of our future, saying (for instance): “NN, today is your lucky day. You are highly favoured. We will all entrust you with our homes and cars, the future of local government and the success of our nation. We will put you in charge. You are the key to victory over global warming and climate change, peace on earth and God’s everlasting kingdomHow would you feel about this, NN? Overwhelmed? Do you think that this congregation would actually trust you with the future of the world – let alone their money and possessions? Would we? No. Yet, this is precisely what God did when he entrusted the teenager Mary with his son Jesus. God said: “Mary, you are the oneAnd – then – he made this inexperienced teenager – a first-time mother without family support – not even married – poor as you can be – God made her responsible for a most precious baby – Jesus Christ – who would save the world. She would be in charge.

If we had been angels at the time (just imagine) – watching the whole scenario – we would have “freaked out”: “Mary, no. You are dropping him. Don’t hold Jesus this way. Can’t you hear that he’s crying? No, he’s not hungry. It’s his tummy. Don’t let him catch a cold. Change his nappy. Red skin means that he’s sore. The boy next door is a bully. Don’t let Jesus play with himThis morning – on Christmas Day 2009 – we know that Mary turned out to be an okay mum for Jesus but we would probably counsel God not to be that reckless again. If – at any stage – he must use humans for his plans, then he should show more diligence in choosing the best possible specimen – not a teenager like Mary.

I think that God must have anticipated our friendly advice because before he chose Mary, he did choose a “better” candidate for a similar job. In the same Bible chapter that talks about Mary we also read about another person – Luke 1:5-17: “In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah … his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly … Once when Zechariah … was serving as priest before God, he was chosen … to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense … Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord

Zechariah was perfect – a priest – married to a godly woman – both: righteous and observing all of God’s commandments blamelessly. He had maturity (all the pictures show him with a long grey beard) and the angel commissioned him at the very moment when it was his turn to serve in the highest office – serving as the priest in the holy place of the temple in Jerusalem. Perfect. God chose well and he entrusted Zechariah and his wife with another baby – “he will be great”, “filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth”, “make ready a people prepared for the Lord”.

Only Zechariah created more problems for God than Mary. When the angel first talked to Mary, she was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting he had for her. But she settled down and later simply asked a question – Luke 1:34: “How will this be (how can I have this child), since I am a virgin” – before concluding with these words – Luke 1:38: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Zechariah – in contrast to Mary – he managed to anger the angel, saying – Luke 1:18: “How can I be sure of this (the birth of this baby John)? I am an old man and my wife is well along in yearsZechariah demanded a sign – something to prove to him that the angel’s words would come true. No matter how perfect everything was – at the most important moment of his life – Zechariah chose to doubt rather than believe. And we are like him which confirms God’s “recklessness” of ever choosing humans to do important jobs.

Today we celebrate Christmas but can God find another Mary and trust you? Look how much Zechariah was set up to succeed in his faith: a) Obedient – even blameless, b) a priest with experience, c) a righteous woman as his wife, d) much Bible learning, e) access to the temple – even the holy place … and then the angel appeared in the midst of temple worship – with all the people praying outside – and the angel came even pointing out to him that he had prayed for a son and now his prayers would be answered – Luke 1:13: “ … Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard … ” Yet, Zechariah asked for a sign – for undeniable proof. He was not convinced by any angel appearing to him.

This is so much like us. You may sit here this morning and you may like the Christmas story – angels, virgin birth, worship, Christmas carols – but let any of the Christmas events happen in your own life – or in the life of this church – and confusion sets in.

Have you come here this morning expecting to see an angel? Have you come here this morning expecting the answer of your prayer – what you have prayed and longed for (for years)? Or are we like Zechariah who went to church (a priest even) but did not expect anything to happen out of the ordinary? Are we not here to meet with God but when he actually comes, are we ready for the “supernatural”? Are you open for God to speak with you this morning? He loves you and he wants you to know.

Mary was the better choice. Mary was young and inexperienced but she did not argue with the angel and she did not demand a sign. However – at this point – let me ask the question again: What was God thinking in co-opting humans for his plans of salvation? Even with the benefit of hindsight I am stressing about what could have gone wrong. Mary, Zechariah, you, me – how much confidence can be placed in people like us? I am surprised by how much God values us. He wants to work with us and – looking at the birth of God in the person of Jesus (note: expand and explain) – baby Jesus – he – by all accounts – desperately – wanted to save us.

This is the fascinating news of Christmas. The Son of God – Jesus Christ – became a helpless baby and entrusted himself to young Mary. There were no longer the airs and graces of heaven for him but the inconveniences and frights of earth. Jesus chose not to use his divine power but layed it aside (while he was here on earth) and therefore – like any other human boy – he would even be disciplined by his mum. God at the mercy of someone like Mary (!!!) – who would say to him: “Jesus, finish your plate or there won’t be sweets for you.” “No – first you do your chores. Then you can go outside and playHow could God ever come up with such a plan? According to the Bible – “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory … sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3), yet – by his own choosing – he sunk so low – he humbled himself so much – that he looked like any other peasant boy. [His family had no money for Christmas presents.]

Why? Because we are very slow in believing that God loves us. If there had just been a booming voice from heaven – saying: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” – or if Jesus had been born into a rich family of privilege, then we may continued having our doubts about God: “God, why is the world broken with so much pain? We sinned but are you not to blame? Do you careAll of us manage so easily to harden our hearts against God but the story of Christmas softens us. How can you not be overwhelmed by the love of God when you see him sacrificing all of his privileges and become a baby – for us? Then, Jesus never had money but – nevertheless – always – gave away everything in his possession – including his very life. He died for us on a cross. The Bible sums up the intent of Jesus with these words – 2 Corinthians 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become richGod loves you. Christmas Day is about the price God paid for loving you. Can you see his love when you look into the manger? This morning – trust him. Believe in him. Worship him. He is forgiving all of your sins. He makes you clean. You belong to him – for eternity. There is no better news than that.

God humbled himself in co-opting humans for his plans of salvation. He made himself dependent on people like Zechariah and Mary because his love for us knows no bounds – not even the bounds of (human) reason. And maybe the challening news this morning is that today we are the new Zechariah and the new Mary. God wants to work through you. The question is: How will you respond to his call and will you do a good job?

After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven – before he would return at the end of time – he commissioned us – his followers – and therefore we read in the Bible – 2 Corinthians 5:18-6:1: “God has done it all! He sent Christ to make peace between himself and us, and he has given us the work of making peace between himself and others … he has given us the work of sharing his message about peace. We were to speak for Christ, and God is begging you to listen to our message. We speak for Christ … Christ never sinned! But God treated him as a sinner, so that Christ could make us acceptable to God. We work together with God … ” God is working together with us – like he did with Zechariah and Mary – and we speak for Christ. One verse in the Bible even suggests that we are closer to Mary than we think because we are also giving birth to Jesus in the life of other people. I read – Galatians 4:19: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in youIn teaching and praying and loving we labour until Jesus Christ is formed in people, that is: they put their faith in him and – thus –are saved by faith in him and live by faith in him.

How will you succeed in this task? What must you do? Let’s be practical now. The most important key to success is this: Don’t get in the way of God. It is as simple as that. The pressure is off. We don’t have to make anything happen in the life of others. We can’t but God will and we only come on board with his initiative and his strategy and his power. He provides the ride and we hop on.

Zechariah was slow in coming on board with God. He demanded a sign but the good news is that God even succeeded with him because he loves us too much to give up on us without exercising some discipline. This is what happened – Luke 1:20: “The angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.’”

The angel struck Zechariah with temporary muteness which taught him some discipline (maybe not quite the sign he wanted) but at the same time made him glad. He had prayed for a child and he wanted him to be born and he was overjoyed – together with his wife – that the angel’s words would come true – despite his unbelief. God can cope with a fair measure of unbelief before his plans are delayed or thwarted. [E.g.: The Israelites needed to be persistent in their sinful testing of God before the rebellious generation was not allowed into the promised land. God told Reinhard Bonnke that he was the third person who was called for a particular ministry. The others had declined the commission.]

Mary’s response to the same angel that had come to Zechariah was better. The angel explained to her that she would fall pregnant with the Son of God whose kingdom would never end and he told her in closing – Luke 1:37: “Nothing is impossible with Godwhich prompted her to say – immediately – Luke 1:38: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” This is the key of working with God: “God, I’m getting out of the way. I am giving up my plans [Mary had not planned on a baby out of wedlock]. I am available for what you want to do. Let everything happen according to your good pleasure

And this applies even when we do not understand what is going on. The angel spoke to Mary about Jesus and his future role of greatness but at that time she had no idea what would unfold in her life and the life of her son. She had no idea about any future preaching of the kingdom of God, healing and driving out demons, dying on a cross, the resurrection, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and ongoing work in his power, the formation of the church, and so on. Mary did not give her consent to a ten-year-plan. She did not know what would lie ahead except that God would be in it and that he wanted her to serve him.

The same goes for you and the same goes for our church. Who knows where God will lead us and how our lives will unfold? We are not told and we don’t have to stress about the details. We go ahead in life one step at a time, saying – at every turn: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

All of this is a privilege because the angel did say to Mary – Luke 1:28: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with youWhat an honour that God is working with us and through us. Yet – at the same time – it will cost us and we better know this from the start so that we are not befuddled (thrown into unbelief) by this fact. When we say: “May it be to me as you have saidthere will be a cost and it cost Mary. When they presented the baby Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem, a prophet told her – Luke 2:34: “ … This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul tooMary would see her son die on a cross and no mum can bear watching her son die – unscathed. Her service to God would hurt her. What are you prepared to suffer for him? Persecution? Poverty? A cutting down on your leisure time? Feeling the pain of people that are lost without God?

When we are hurting in the service of God, we need to fall back on another key to success which Mary practiced. She surrendered herself to God – without understanding everything that would happen in the future – but she would pay attention to every word that was spoken to her and she would ponder these words – Luke 2:53: “ … his mother kept on thinking about all these thingsGod will not leave us in the dark. There will be prophetic words and discernment which we are to record and ponder. Then, the apparent failures – the death of Jesus on the cross – will not get the better of us but we will remain secure in the knowledge that God is still working his plans through us.

Zechariah and Mary were surprised by Christmas and that they had a role to play in God’s plans. However, it was a good surprise – also for us. This is our God. He loves us and he is so humble in letting us co-work with him. It can work: 1) Nothing is impossible with God. 2) Don’t get in his way. Simply say: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” 3) Appreciate his discipline when his words come true despite your unbelief. 4) Accept that there is a cost – as it cost him to save us. 5) Ponder his words for future reference.

NN, would you please come out here again? Look at her. Do we still think that God is reckless in using people like her – and us? God is amazing. He’s not what we expect. He’s full of mystery but we are happy to tell him: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Amen.

 

Prayer time.