Here’s the link to the audio version of this message: https://pogoplug.com/s/x_BLvwtPA60/
“Advent 2: God’s Grace Revealed: Learn to Express Grateful Praise”
December 6, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Lord, above all else, I want to be used by You in Your saving work. Show me Your will and help me to do it. Amen.
Bud Cook worked in a manufacturing plant. George Dempster was a young man trying to discover his vocation. John Winterling owned his own business building and selling campers and boat trailers and racks. Steve Collins was an engineer with a major oil company.
These names mean nothing to you, but to me they each in their own way turned my world upside down. God used them to help me know Jesus personally, and to trust Jesus with my life.
There have been scores of others, some of whom are sitting in this room with us today, but I chose these four men because they represent a variety of levels of education and life skills and career directions. And God used them all in powerfully meaningful ways to introduce me to Jesus. They are/were ordinary individuals who had extraordinary willingness to be used by God in His saving work.
You could all make your own lists, and they would also be filled with ordinary Janes and Joes who were willing to listen to and obey God.
Do you think your name might be on someone’s list? Are you willing to allow the Lord to work through you to bring others into a saving relationship with Him?
Last Sunday we officially entered into the season which prepares us for Christmas, and we were invited, along with Zechariah the nearly retired priest and his post-menopausal wife Elizabeth, to keep our eyes and our faith open to see what God is already doing all around us.
Today we watch another couple, Joseph, a carpenter, and Mary, a barely pubescent girl, from a backwoods village, as they willingly listen to and obey God.
In The Gospel according to Luke we discover another story of preparing for the birthday of our Savior. In the middle of Luke’s unique story about the birth of John the Baptist, he interrupts himself with the story of the unmarried Virgin Mary’s announcement of her pregnancy!
Listen to how Luke 1:26-29 begins this interruption: In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, 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 favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
Put yourself in Mary’s sandals for just a minute. She’s engaged to be married, but not married yet somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14 years (that was normal marrying age for women in the Middle East 2,000 years ago); from the “dogtown” neighborhood of the Hillyard section of the nation of Israel. We know really nothing about her family background (except that Matthew tells us she comes from the distant lineage of David, a shepherd-boy turned King). And an angel of the Lord presents himself to her and speaks amazing, incredible, unbelievable words of blessing and affirmation!
Her reaction? “Greatly troubled” and “wondered what this means”. The JB Phillips translation says she was “greatly perturbed” and wondered what this “could possibly mean”.
But notice, Mary did not simply dismiss this. Mary was OPEN to hearing from God. She wasn’t expecting it – but she certainly did not reject it out of hand. Mary was as “ordinary” a young woman as young women get – meaning she did not carry clout, her name did not evoke awe, she had no money or influence. But, Mary was OPEN to hearing from God. And she invites us to Be OPEN to hear from God.
Listen as Luke 1:30-33 continues the Zechariah-and-Elizabeth-story interruption: But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Again, remember who Mary is: engaged to be married, but not married yet, somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14 years; and this “angel” tells her she’s gonna be pregnant! – But even more than being pregnant out of wedlock, she’s gonna be pregnant with Jesus (Yeshua – The Lord saves), the Son of the Most High!, the King of all kings! Whose Kingdom will never end!
Wait! What? Me?! No way!
But, being OPEN to hearing from God leads to being ready to LEARN God’s plan!
In the shock-and-awe of this angelic announcement, Mary LEARNs God’s plan. And as “ordinary” a girl as Mary was (at least from our limited human perspectives), God was going to use her in the most major way imaginable. If we want to understand God’s will in our life choices and directions, we need to be ready to LEARN God’s plan.
Luke 1:38 gives us Mary’s well-known response: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Mary does the most difficult thing I can conceive. She makes a HUMBLE commitment. Why do I say that that is so hard? Two reasons:
- an unwed, unexpected teenaged pregnancy is always a difficult place – the circumstances are less than ideal, the burdens seem overwhelming, the fear is crippling, and in her day it could have meant being put to death! And still, she made that commitment!
- She made this commitment with HUMILITY! I do not find it too hard, most of the time, to make the right decision. But to do so showing HUMILITY is super difficult. Especially if there’s the potential for debate about it. I will quote the Bible and Church tradition and God’s ideal – like as if I’m the only one who has a total grasp of God’s righteousness.
Mary shows us that by actually being OPEN to receive a Word from God and really LEARNING His will, we can make a HUMBLE commitment to obey. The angel left her because there was no need for him to stay following Mary’s beautiful HUMILITY (“I am the Lord’s servant”) and devoted commitment (“May your word to me be fulfilled [in me]”).
Remember that this whole story of Jesus’ conception is an interruption in the middle of the story describing the birth of John the Baptist, and Luke masterfully concludes this interruption in Luke 1:46-49 with Mary’s EXPRESSION of grateful praise: And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name….”
Are we able to do that? This might be the proof of faith. In the middle of life’s most difficult moments, can we still lift our voices and our hands in praise to God?
When the power goes out in the bitter cold weather, can we still sing God’s glory?
When the diagnosis is in, and it’s not hopeful news, can we still proclaim perfect hope in Jesus?
When another mass shooting hits the airwaves, or the school or care center just down the street, can we still declare our praise to the sovereign God of the universe?
Let me quote from a Facebook Friend in CA; Joyce was in my youth group at church 40+ years ago when I was still in HS and she was in Jr Hi. She wrote this on Friday:
“The stress of the never ending escrow, the sickness caused by the stress, the inability to live life as usual due to the circumstance, the desire to make changes that are put on hold due to the never ending escrow. Not being able to decorate, shop or celebrate the season in normal ways because we live out of boxes. The sadness/stress/concern about many loved ones mental and physical state. And not to mention the recent events in the world…..the only comfort/strength I rely on is our Father in Heaven. Standing strong in His name. Amen.”
Joyce is an ordinary woman, a wife and mother, with an AA degree, working for a construction company. And God uses her to share His grace and mercy. Joyce has Learned to EXPRESS grateful praise!
When Jesus walked this earth, He chose 12 ordinary men to listen to Him, to learn from Him, humbly commit their lives to Him – very ordinary men, rugged fishermen, educated government employees, quiet leaders, anti-government activists, literally people from across every spectrum. And, because they were willing to be used for God’s Kingdom purposes – they did listen and learn and commit – and to the end, they each learned to EXPRESS grateful praise to their Lord and Savior.
Eleven of these twelve went on and turned the world upside down expressing that grateful praise and telling others about Jesus. The one who didn’t regrets his decision into eternity.
Are you OPEN to hear from God? Are we as a church?
Do you know your part in God’s larger plan? As a church, are we LEARNing that?
Are you HUMBLY committed to God’s will? Is LPC?
Are you praising God for using even you in His work? Let’s EXPRESS our praise together!
Pray with me the prayer on the bottom of your Sermon Notes page, and let’s live into this prayer:
“Gracious Lord, thank You for choosing ordinary people like me to accomplish Your will. Amen.”
Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 17-24.
Family Bible Study; “The Herschel Hobbs Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 17-26.