Have you ever been afraid at Christmas time? Maybe as a child you were afraid of Santa? Or maybe you were afraid that you hadn’t made the good list and you were afraid Santa wouldn’t come.
Or perhaps it was a rough year financially and you were afraid that you would let your family down at Christmas, you had seen their list and weren’t sure that you could meet their expectations.
Or maybe it was your first Christmas in your new reality and you were afraid of spending Christmas alone, either because of death or divorce.
By the way, a reminder that even though GriefShare and DivorceCare have both started you can still attend, each of the sessions stand by themselves.
This is week two of our “Fear Not” series at Cornerstone and this advent season we are looking at the various “Fear Nots” that show up in the Christmas story.
Last week our message was “Fear Not, Just Believe” and we looked at the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah and his message, Luke 1:13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.”
And we looked at the ramifications of those words, “God has heard your prayers.”
Sometimes we are afraid that God won’t answer our prayers, but we need to understand that when our prayers are answered there are usually many different moving parts that go along with the answered prayers. If you missed last week’s message, you can find the manuscript and the video on our website.
This morning we are moving to the next chapter of the Christmas story and it’s here we are first introduced to Mary.
If there is a person who should receive best supporting role in the Christmas story, it should be Mary. She almost deserves best lead, but how do you compete with the Son of God?
Kind of like the story about the Sunday School class, where the teachers asked the students, “What’s grey has a bushy tail and collects nuts.” One little boy blurted out, “It sounds like a squirrel, but I bet the answer is Jesus.”
Mary was a critical piece of the puzzle. And she truly is what makes Christmas, Christmas. She was the original Madonna and she put the word “Virgin” in songs two thousand years before “Like a Virgin” became a hit. Through the years she’s been called The Holy Mary, Saint Mary, The Blessed Mother, The Mother of God and on and on and on.
But in the Bible, she is simply called Mary.
Max Lucado has twenty-five questions that he wants to ask Mary the mother of Jesus; here are a few of my favourites.
What was it
like watching him pray?
When he saw a
rainbow did he ever mention a flood?
Did you ever
feel awkward teaching him how he created the world?
When he saw a
lamb being led to the slaughter did he act differently?
Did you ever
try to count the stars with him . . . and succeed?
Did he ever
come home with a black eye?
Did he have any
friends by the name of Judas?
Did the thought ever occur to you that the God to whom
praying was asleep under your own roof
Did you ever
accidentally call him father?
What did he and
his cousin John talk about as kids?
Did you ever think, That’s God eating my soup?
Mary is my hero. She was the one chosen to change the diapers of God. But before that she was just a young lady, with all the dreams and aspirations that young ladies 2000 years ago had. She was going to get married and she was going to raise a family.
So our story begins with these words in Luke 1:26-27 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.
Up to this point it really isn’t all that complicated. Just a young couple who were planning on getting married.
It is kind of interesting how Mary is described; did you catch that. God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. I don’t know when the last time was that I introduced someone by stating they were a virgin. Let me think, no never. But that description is going to be instrumental in the story.
And I know that there are folks out there who poo poo the entire idea of the virgin birth, and even some pastors and churches who say that it’s not possible for a virgin to conceive and then they assure their people that it’s not really necessary to believe in the Virgin birth. They would tell you that Matthew simply meant that Mary was a young woman, or perhaps a young unmarried woman.
If you’ve ever been to Greece, then you might have had the opportunity to visit the “Parthenon” in Athens.
This is considered to be the most important surviving example of Classical Greek architecture. It was built around 400 years before the birth of Christ and it was dedicated to the Greek Goddess Athena, here is a stature of her which is called Athena Parthenos, or literally Athena the Virgin.
Parthenon, the building, literally meant the Virgin’s Room.
Why is that important? Because the Greek word Parthenos is the word that is used time and time again to describe Mary.
And really there are only two options, either Mary was a Virgin or someone other than Joseph got her pregnant before the wedding. Because, we know from his response to the news, that it wasn’t Joseph.
Entire sermons have been preached on the Virgin birth, as a matter of fact I have preached entire sermons on the virgin birth, but the bottom line is you either believe it or you don’t believe it, the choice is yours. I believe it.
It was Mary who was there when Jesus was conceived, it was Mary who was there when Jesus was born, it was Mary who was there when Jesus was murdered.
So let’s pick up the story again in Luke 1:28-30 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!” Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God!
Gabriel is actually mentioned six times in the Bible. Four of those instances were in the book of Daniel, it would appear that this was the Angel who revealed the prophecies of God to Daniel, and twice in the book of Luke where he first spoke to Zechariah concerning Elizabeth’s delicate condition and again here.
Just a thought, but I wonder if maybe it wasn’t Gabriel at all but was Gabrielle? After all, if you were God would you send a male angel to break the news concerning unexpected pregnancies? Seems a little awkward. Just a thought.
We touched on this last week, we don’t know what an angel might or might not look like, but I don’t think Gabriel was saying “Don’t be afraid, I’m an angel.”
What Gabriel, or Gabrielle said was Luke 1:30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God!”
Now at first blush, one wouldn’t think that finding favour with God would be something that you should be afraid of. But listen to what finding favour with God entails for Mary,
Luke 1:31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.
Luke 1:32-33 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
I love the fact that Mary doesn’t question that her son will be great, will be called the Son of the Most High, will be given the throne of David and will reign over Israel.
She’s a little more practical, listen to her question: Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
Now in this instance Mary doesn’t use the Greek word Parthenos, instead what she says is “I’ve never known a man.” Which may seem a little vague to us in 2019, but was crystal clear 2000 years ago. She was stating without hesitation that she was a virgin.
And the Angel’s response was basically, “No problem, you just need to trust us on this.”
Well actually, he was a little more wordy than that, his words are recorded in Luke 1:35-37 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
I don’ know what was going through Mary’s mind right then but listen to her response: Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
Sometimes as Evangelicals I think we relegate Mary to some obscure corner and never talk about her We have seen how the Catholic Church has virtually dietyized Mary and so in an effort to not appear pro-Catholic we do what is normally done with other pregnant teenagers like her, we prefer that she not come to church.
The only time we mention Mary is at Christmas and the rest of the time, you’d think that Jesus was raised as an orphan. But Jesus wasn’t raised an orphan, it was Mary who changed God’s diapers and it was Mary who wiped God’s nose and it was Mary who held God when He was crying. Kind of a scary thought isn’t it?
“Well” you say, “He was the son of God”.
That’s true but let me tell you a little story. I’m the son of Burton Guptill, but for the first ten years of my life my dad was in the Armed forces and spent a lot of time playing soldier in the woods of Camp Gagetown New Brunswick or overseas in places like Cyprus and Germany.
For the next eight years that I spent at home, Dad was the captain of a Salvage tug and was gone as much as he was home. And so, while I am the son of Burton Guptill, I was raised for the most part by Elizabeth Guptill.
Therefore, the major influence in my life was not Captain B.R. Guptill although it has been said that I become more like him each year that I live, and I haven’t figured out if that is a compliment or a complaint? The major influence on the life of Rev. Denn Guptill was Elizabeth Guptill.
In much the same way, God was an absentee father and delegated the raising of his son to a very young Galilean lady by the name of Mary. Yes, Jesus was the son of God and he came to take away our sin but before that, he was a teenager and before that, he was a child and before that, he was a baby.
Moreover, we need to ask, “who held him to her breast?” and “Who cuddled Him” and “Who rocked him, told him bedtime stories and sang him lullabies?” Who stayed up all night with him when he was sick?” “And who wiped away the tear and bandaged his knee where he fell and scraped it?”
God may have been His Father, but Mary was his mother, and she was the one who raised Christ to be the man that he became.
Ask yourself this question: What type of person would you want to raise your kids? I probably wouldn’t want me raising mine, I’d want somebody that was a really good parent.
But what made Mary special? So special in fact that God was willing to entrust her with his one and only son. God was willing to trust Mary because Mary was willing to trust God.
What was it that she needed to trust God with?
Mary Needed to Trust God with the Details
If we believe that life begins at conception, then the reality is: one minute you’re not pregnant the next minute you are. But you are at least somewhat aware of the possibility of that happening. Regardless of how unplanned it was, or how surprised you were, the possibility was there.
But for Mary, that wasn’t the case. She was unpregnant, is that even a word? She was unpregnant and then she was pregnant with nothing in between.
In the account we read last week we discovered that Elizabeth and Zechariah had been unable to have children and then Gabriel told Zechariah that their prayers had been answered and they would have a son. But other than the fact that they couldn’t have children and then they did have a child there was nothing “miraculous” about what happened.
We have to assume from the story that Elizabeth and Zechariah did their part, nod nod, wink wink, and as a result Elizabeth conceived.
Elizabeth could say that John looked just like his father, Zechariah, we she was scolding him or praising him she could say “You’re just like your father.”
But with Mary it was outside the natural, she had to believe that she would become pregnant, not because of anything she might do, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
That’s the tough one isn’t it, it’s all well and good to say you believe that God has your very best at heart, it’s easy to say that you believe that God can do anything.
But Mary was basically saying not only do I believe it here, in my heart, but I’m allowing you to work it out in my life. I may not understand it, I might not even agree with what you are proposing but you are God so bring it on.
Can you trust God with the details of your Christian life? The everyday, how you fit your Christian commitment into the real world?
When he asks you to serve? When he asks you to give? Can you trust him to take care of the details?
We kind of get the highlights, Mary was engaged to Joseph, she became pregnant by the Holy spirit, she travelled to Bethlehem with Joseph, Jesus was born, they got married and they all lived happily ever after. The end.
But do we stop and think about the upheaval in her life. Her plan, I’m sure, was to get married and then get pregnant, not the other way around.
Her plan never included the scorn of people in her community, the distrust, if only for a while of her fiancé and ultimately the stress of raising the Son of God.
Mary Needed to Trust God with the Immediate Results
Think about it, Mary lived in a small community, where everybody knew everybody and everybody’s business.
I’m sure that people knew that Mary and Joseph were engaged, and they probably knew when Mary and Joseph were supposed to be married, and now all of a sudden, she’s pregnant and they are not yet married. And she has this fantastic tale about how she is still virgin and how the father is God.
I remember as a young teen my father explained a family situation to me by saying “The first baby can come anytime, the next one takes nine months.” Pretty sure that 2000 years ago they knew the nine-month rule and may even have joked about the first one coming prematurely, but it wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.
And while you probably would have believed Mary and supported her, I’m not sure that the rest of the community would have been as understanding and compassionate as you would have been.
And well I’m not sure that Mary understood all of the ramifications she would have known some of them and she willingly gave up her reputation and her plans for the future in order to be obedient to God.
And, she had to think about raising a child, we all worry about messing our kids up, but what if you had the added pressure and responsibility of that child being the child of God?
I wonder, as Mary watched Jesus grow up, how often as did she think of the words of the angel and wonder when the rest of the prophecy would come true?
For four hundred years the Jewish people had looked forward to the day their Messiah would come. They waited through the Babylonian Conquest, and then the Assyrian Conquest. They felt sure it would happen when Alexander’s troops held sway and now, they watched as the armies of Rome occupied their country, and still they waited.
And while it hadn’t happened yet, they were confident that God would send his Messiah to deliver them.
And much like our friend the camel in the Children’s presentation, most of them envisioned the Messiah arriving riding a white horse and conquering the conquerors with the might of the sword.
And perhaps that was what Mary envisioned when the Angel told her, Luke 1:31-33 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
But that wasn’t who Jesus was. Instead of leading an army, he came preaching grace and forgiveness. He told others to turn the other cheek and to go the extra mile.
Instead of arriving on a white horse as a conquerer, we read that he fulfilled the prophecy of the Prophet Jeremiah in Matthew 21:1-5 As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me.
If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.” This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, “Tell the people of Israel, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
And that of course led to the cross. I can’t imagine losing a child, and to have that magnified by having your chid murdered, but to have to watch him being murdered. We see Mary at the beginning of her son’s story and we also see her at the end. Let’s pick up the story in John 19:16-18 & 25 Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). There they nailed him to the cross . . . Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene.
Finally, Mary Needed to Trust God with the Ultimate Results How could God have let this happen? This wasn’t part of the plan. How could this be a part of the plan?
The angel said he would be called the Son of the Most High, but they called him a heretic and a traitor. The angel said that his Kingdom would never end, but now she was watching his life end on a cross, as his followers, scattered, betrayed him and denied they ever knew him.
If Mary only knew that in three days her Son would conquer the grave and rise again. If only Mary could have seen the difference that her Son would make through history, with sins forgiven and lives changed.
If only Mary could see the difference that those who followed her Son would make in a broken world. That for two thousand years, hospitals, schools, and orphanages would be started, wells would be drilled all in her son’s name.
God calls us to trust him, even when we can’t see all of the picture, even when we might not agree with the direction the path is taking.
We are reminded in Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
At the foot of the cross, all that Mary could cling to was her faith in God and his promises.
I don’t know where you are on your journey, I don’t know your story, but if God has called you to follow him, then God has called you to trust him.
With the details, with the immediate results and with the ultimate results.
And as we close my prayer for you this Christmas season is the same as Paul’s prayer for the church in Rome 2000 years ago
Romans 15:13 I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.