Anne couldn’t think of a good reason that God should give her a grandchild. And even though it was one of her deepest desires, she had almost given up on the idea. God had already blessed her with two wonderful children. Her son decided to remain single and had devoted his life to Bible translation in a faraway country. Her daughter was married and working hard as a teacher in an inner city elementary school, but had been unable to conceive for fifteen years. It seemed that grandchildren were not in Anne’s future.A few days earlier while she was cleaning out her attic, she came across an old poem that had been given to her by her aunt on her wedding day. It brought tears to her eyes as it brought back memories of that happy day. She had no idea that her happiness would be short-lived. Her husband died tragically after only seven years of marriage. God’s grace was the only explanation for h
ow she and her children had made it through, and God’s grace became the basis of the rest of her life. She decided that God would be the only other husband in her life, and time had not changed her feelings. He sustained her through the children’s growing up years, and now in her old age, he continued to be her hope and joy.
But that didn’t stop her from thinking often about how nice it would be to have a little bundle of joy to cuddle, and the old poem drew her thoughts to the subject again. It spoke of legacy in love and of joy overcoming sorrow. She saw her life reflected in its lines. The hope with which it ended kindled a similar feeling in her heart. She silently told God what she was feeling, and then went back to work with a deep sense of peace.
Over the next few days, she felt a sense of expectation during her prayer time. She wasn’t sure what it meant, but the sense of peace never left her. Monday morning the phone rang, and when she heard her daughter’s words, “Mom, I’m pregnant!” the peace seemed to explode in joy. She would finally become a grandmother. As she thought about how her wish had been granted and how God rekindled her hope, she felt that she wanted to write something too.
The lines spilled out of her soul onto the paper. She wrote of God’s faithfulness. She described how her longing was fulfilled after waiting in patient hope. She rejoiced at how much joy could flow into her heart. She praised God for the hope that this new life brought. When her grandson was born, Anne read the poem over him as a prayer, trusting that God would be as faithful in this newborn’s life as he had been in hers.
The Gospel reading from Luke 1:39-45 reflects both the sense of expectation Anne had and the sense of expectation that many of us have as Christmas approaches. Mary, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s unborn child were among the many people who at that time were hoping and praying for the long-awaited Messiah to come. The only difference is that Mary and Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s unborn child, who was John the Baptist, knew when and how the Messiah was coming. The promise of new life was being fulfilled after many centuries. It brought a sense of joy to many people at that time, and it still brings a sense of joy to many people today. It offers new life and hope to a sin-filled world
Along with the sense of anticipation there was a sense of uncertainty and fear, especially on the part of Mary. After all, here she was, a young virgin girl who was betrothed (but not married) to Joseph, and yet she was pregnant. Can you imagine the fear she must have felt, especially since in the culture of her time an unwed woman who was pregnant was considered to be an outcast or unclean? Can you imagine how Mary must have felt? She probably felt very lonely. Can you imagine how her family must have felt? They probably felt the same way Joseph did in Matthew 1:18-19. Joseph wanted to quietly divorce her, and he had the right to do that under the law at that time, but he was stopped by an angel of the Lord.
In contrast, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth reacted joyfully. She knew that Mary was pregnant with the long-promised Messiah, and that Mary did not likely understand its full significance. Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting is known as the Magnificat, or the Song of Mary. Mary knew that God used her, a sinner in need of a saviour, to fulfill his promise to send a Saviour to our world. She sacrificed her life, her plans and her dreams to fulfill God’s will for her life, just like her unborn child fulfilled God’s will for his life by dying on the cross to save us. We, like Mary, have to adjust our plans when God intervenes in our lives. We have to surrender our control over our lives to God. We have to trust God when we submit to his will.
What would have happened if Mary had not believed in the words of the angel Gabriel? Would she have refused to be the mother of Jesus? She did believe and she did obey God, and her obedience set the stage for God’s blessings. He fulfilled his word and used her to bring his prophecy to a lost and dying world.
We don’t know what Mary looked like, but we do know that she had a beautiful personality because she served God joyfully and she sought God by immersing herself in the Scriptures. She was an extraordinary woman who played an important role in God’s plan for salvation. She obeyed God’s will for her life, and as such she has a lot to teach us. If a simple, young woman can obey God’s will for her life, we can also obey God’s will for our lives. He did not force his plan on her-she freely chose to accept it. Likewise, he does not force his will on us. We have a choice-accept him or reject him. The choice we make affects our eternal destiny, just like Mary’s choice affected her eternal destiny.
Mary did what most women do when they find out they are pregnant. She went and told a friend-namely, her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth proclaimed that the Holy Spirit was present and acting on behalf of humanity. In other words, God’s Word was being fulfilled in Mary’s unborn baby. Elizabeth and Mary, like their unborn children Jesus and John the Baptist, learned to trust God when the mighty ignore him and turn on him. God made a promise and it would not be stopped. God was gracious to Elizabeth and Mary, and we are also recipients of his grace when we say “yes” to his plans for our lives.
Mary wanted to share her good news, and God wants us to share the good news of salvation. Mary needed a friend to affirm and bless her, and we as Christians need someone to affirm and bless us. We need to have love expressed in attention paid to us when an earth-shattering event happens to us, just like Mary needed Elizabeth to pay attention to her when she received her earth-shattering news.
Sometimes how God works doesn’t make sense to us. We might ask ourselves “Why did God choose Mary instead of someone from a more prestigious background?” After all, if he had, Jesus would have been accepted more readily. Well, unfortunately that would not have fit into his plans. He had other criteria. He wanted someone who was obedient and gave herself over to him. He preferred the obscure and insignificant to the prestigious and popular. His plan was encased in the fragility and the strength of Mary and Elizabeth. They consented to God’s purpose for their lives, and that consent bore much fruit.
God came to Mary and Elizabeth in a time of harsh reality, and they continued to believe and hope in a God who can do extraordinary things. They did this in a world very much like ours and that is why God came to them, not because they were protected from harsh reality, but because they continued to be open to God’s call. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. God noticed everything in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, just like he notices everything in our lives. In the words of a song we often hear at Christmastime:
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake
Sometimes following God’s plan isn’t the most popular thing to do. Mary and Elizabeth accepted God’s blessings even though they came at a cost. For Mary, she had to live with the stigma of sexual impurity because most of the people in her society would have found the concept of spiritual impregnation absurd. Mary and Elizabeth trusted God and were blessed. If we trust God, our hearts will be transformed so that we will receive the desires of our hearts, just like Anne in the story I read earlier was blessed with a grandson after many years of waiting. In order for us to have faith, we have to make room in our hearts for God. We must make our hearts hospitable, and to make our hearts hospitable we must show love and generosity, and not just at Christmastime. When we allow Christ into our lives, he will reshape us by replacing our old lives with a new creation.
God makes the impossible possible. He caused a virgin and an elderly woman to conceive and bear children. He can make the impossible possible for us today if we have faith. With God, the possibilities are endless, and if we have faith our blessings will be endless. God blessed Mary and Elizabeth when they were at messy points in their lives. In return, they responded with faith. He spoke to them in the mess, and he can speak to us in the messes of our lives.
John the Baptist is Elijah returned, the prophet who prepared the way of the Lord. Jesus is Lord bringing salvation and peace to people. God came to earth in the form of Jesus to restore our living relationship with him now and for all eternity. In order to restore that relationship, Jesus had to turn the world upside down. He came to give dignity to those who are not valued by society. He came to give hope to the hopeless, peace to those whose hearts are in turmoil, and love to those who are broken. Jesus came to give us the greatest gift of all. He will undermine the political structures and call the elite to accountability. He will call on people to show compassion to the poor and help them, just like many of you are helping the poor at this time of year. God does his best work with powerless people whose lives are defined by the world as impossible-people such as Mother Teresa and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Many of us are willing to takes risks in business deals or in extreme sports, but few of us are spiritual risk takers. Few of us are willing to place our total trust in God’s promises instead of our own plans. God wants to see unwavering faith and complete trust in him. No matter what our circumstances, God will use us if we are willing to follow him and step out in faith. When we recognize that we are nothing and God is everything, God moves into action through us. We are small, but God can do much through us. Dr. Charles Stanley, who is the head of In Touch Ministries and the author of one of the study Bibles I use in my sermon preparation, coined the phrase, “Obey God, and leave all the consequences to him”. If we obey God’s will for our lives like Mary and Elizabeth and Anne did, we will be richly blessed like they were because we will be blessed by the light and life of Christ-a light that shines brightly in our dark, sinful world, especially at Christmastime. All we have to do is let the light of Christ shine in our lives.
1. Chicken Soup for the Soul Bible, NLT (Colorado Springs, CO: Pinon Press)
2. Stanley, C.F, The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.: 2009)
3. Swindoll, Charles R., Insights on Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2012)
4. Pastor John Barnett, “Unfading Beauty (Part 2)”. Retrieved from http://www.dtbm.org
5. Sharon Jaynes, “Free to Fulfill an Extraordinary Purpose”. Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
6. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C”. Retrieved from http://www.preacherexchange.org
7. Dr. Michael Youssef, PhD, “Trusting God’s Promises”. Retrieved from http://www.leadingtheway.org
8. Rick Warren, “God is Mindful of You”. Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
9. Mark D. Roberts, “Is Faith the Key to being blessed by God?” Retrieved from Newsletter@TheHighcalling.org
10. Ron Moore, “The Generous Gift of Life”. Retrieved from http://www.thejourneyradioministry.com
11. Larson, B. & Ogilvie, L.J., The Preacher’s Commentary Series: Volume 26: Luke. (Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson, Inc.; 1983)
12. The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel, “With God Nothing is Impossible”. Retrieved from http://www.sermonwriter.com
13. Dr. Heather Entrekin, “Making a Place for Hospitality”. Retrieved from http://www.sermonwriter.com
14. Dr. Mickey Anders, “The Magnificent Mess”. Retrieved from http://www.sermonwriter.com
15. Exegesis for Luke 1:39-45. Retrieved from http://www.sermonwriter.com
16. “The Baby Leaped for Joy”. Retrieved from email@example.com
17. King Duncan, “Mary’s Song”. Retrieved from http://www.esermons.com
18. Brett Blair, “Elizabeth & Mary”. Retrieved from http://www.esermons.com
19. Kelly McFadden, “Disgraced Mary”. Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
20. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Year C-Advent 4. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod.org/archives/year-c-advent-4/
21. Peter H. Harries, O.P., “Salvation is Close at Hand”. Retrieved from http://torch.op.org/preaching_sermon_item.php?sermon=5718