Sunday, December 28, 2008

Who's the Grinch


Sermon Text: Matthew 2:1-12
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'" 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him." 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

Introduction
Years ago, Dr. Seuss wrote a book called How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Many of you know the story, which happens in the town of Whoville. The Grinch hated seeing and hearing all the people celebrating Christmas--so he tries to figure out a way to stop Christmas from coming to Whoville.
He decides if he steals all the presents, decorations, and special Christmas food then he can stop Christmas from coming. The Grinch spends the whole night before Christmas sneaking around and stealing everything Christmassy from all the houses in Whoville. When Christmas morning comes the Grinch is shocked his plan didn't work--Christmas still comes to Whoville. The people are still happy and they gather hand-in-hand to sing Christmas songs. He learns Christmas is more than just presents and decorations.
In Matthew 2:1-12 we see a Grinch. This is the story of the Magi finding the Christ-child. [Read the Matthew text here.] Let’s zoom in on these characters a little more closely.

Magi
Do you know what would have happened if it had been three wise women instead of three wise men? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts, and there would be Peace On Earth.


We don’t know how many magi there actually were. We assume three because there were three gifts. We do know they were: men of science--astronomers, highly educated, wealthy, upper class citizens, and highly respected in their Gentile culture. The magi were not particularly prone to faith in Jewish religion being Gentiles. These men were virtually the exact opposite of the shepherds. In essence they were seekers after the truth, visionaries, and spiritual.

Herod
Herod the Great reigned from 37-4 B.C. He was a non-Jew, an Idumean, who was appointed by the Roman Senate. He was ruthless: murdering his wife, three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, and many others. No wonder he had no problem killing so many babies in Bethlehem. His reign was noted for splendor. He constructed many theaters, amphitheaters, monuments, pagan altars, and fortresses. His greatest work was the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, begun in 20 B.C. and totally completed in 64 A.D. It was destroyed by the Romans 6 years later (in 70 A.D.). He was choleric in personality. He was power hungry, self-absorbed, and ruthless.

Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law
The chief priests and teachers of the Law were trained and educated in the details of scripture, but spiritually ignorant. They knew the right answers, but didn’t possess the right heart.

The baby
Jesus was the real King of the Jews.

The Conflict
In this story we see some conflicts taking place. There was conflict between the Chief Priests – the Jews, and Herod – the Gentile over-ruler. Israel was known as a troublesome province of the empire, never accepting Rome’s rule.
Between Herod and the Magi: Herod tried to mask the conflict, but in reality he was at odds with them. Herod’s true colors came out when the magi didn’t go back and tell him where the Messiah was.

Between Herod and Jesus: Jesus was a threat to Herod. Jesus was the Messiah, the true King of the Jews. Herod was an imposter. He was not entitled to the throne by heritage or divine choice. There is an obvious conflict between these two. The king of the Jews was to be God’s representative, like God, and in the line of David (both spiritually and physically). Herod is the antithesis of God--devaluing life, pagan, murderous, self-centered, and so on. Herod is a Grinch-like character, who seems to be in conflict with everyone around him. There is another Grinch-like character in this story: sin. Keep this in the back of your mind. So, which one is the real Grinch?

The Motives
Let’s go back to the story and join the journey of these characters. And, to help us identify the real Grinch we have to look at their motivations. All of these characters were on a journey. They were all seeking for meaning in life, for something outside of themselves to put life in context. They were searching for something more than they had. This desire was motivating them to do what they did. All of the characters were searching for meaning.
This is also a picture of people today. Within people there is a desire for meaning in life. There is a natural (God-given) quest to seek for something of substance outside of ourselves. There is a battle between this God-given drive and the self-centered nature in all of us.
Notice how the characters dealt with this search for meaning and substance in life.
Herod believed the self was to be the focal point of life. Put yourself first--no one else will put you first. Look out for “numero uno.” His attitude was “every man for himself.” All of his drive and seeking was motivated by self-preservation. Don’t you see the same drive in people today? Selfishness motivates people to do all kinds of things. The Grinch’s selfish motivation made him want to steal Christmas.
Chief priests and teachers of the Law believed the Law and Knowledge (Torah) was paramount. Knowledge of the Law was what you were to seek for. Everything centered on knowledge and learning. They debated the fine points of the Law. They formed groups around theological interpretations. They made and broke relationships based on their views of the Law. They didn’t stress the importance of the Law-giver, but emphasized the Law. Today people still make knowledge paramount. They have the errant belief they can figure it out and come up with all the answers. Just listen to all the talk radio and television shows. Read the papers. The hosts and the callers have the answers to all the world’s problems.
The Grinch was also trying to figure it all out. He thought he had, but was confused again. This is normally the way it works.
The magi were searching for meaning in life outside of themselves. They were seeking the One who made life meaningful. Money was not an issue to them. Power was not an issue to them. Position and titles were not issues to them. They were seeking for something that would help them make sense out of what was going on in life. Perhaps you’re one of the ones who fall into this drive. Maybe you’ve tried the self-centered approach and it has left you empty and lonely. Maybe you’ve tried to figure it all out and it has left you cold and full of questions. Now, perhaps, you are seeking for something that would help you make sense out of life.


Notice the results of the actions of these three characters. Herod, the self-absorbed and power-hungry, was led to frustration, failure, and loneliness. The chief priests and teachers of the Law, the “I’ve-got-all-the-answers” people, found cold hard facts but they missed the meaning, they never really got it. The magi--sincere seekers of truth, meaning, and substance in life--discovered the incarnate God.

Notice the actions of the magi. They saw what was going on around them, where they were, the star. Something in life got their attention: the star. Something caused them to question meaning: the star.
What is your star? What is it that has you questioning meaning? What has seized your attention and made you start wondering what’s going on? Has God used a situation in life, a tragedy, a sickness, a financial crisis, a friend, or a book?
The magi started on a journey for truth, meaning, and substance in life. God led them on their journey. God has led you to this place, this morning, on purpose. Not one of us is here by accident.
The magi searched in the wrong place--Jerusalem. It was logical to go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the capitol city, so naturally you’d go there to look for a king. However, it was not logical if you knew the whole story. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. The logical thing would have been to go to Bethlehem. We often think we know more than we know. As a result we search where we think we ought to look, but it’s the wrong place.
If we knew the whole story, we’d know to go to Jesus to start with. God put them back on course. God looks at the sincerity of our hearts and guides us in our search for truth, meaning, and substance in life.

The Issue calls for a Response
Where are you going to choose to search for meaning and purpose in life? Self-absorption? Answers: trying to figure it all out in your own mind? Or faith in Christ?
Let’s get back to the Grinch?
Who is the real Grinch? Not Herod; he couldn’t steal Christmas. Not the chief priests and teachers of the Law; they couldn’t steal Christmas. Not sin; it couldn’t steal it (in fact, Christmas happened because of sin).
The real Grinch is our own selves. It is you, it is me. We stole Christmas from ourselves. We gave up: eternal life, our relationship with God, our character and integrity, peace.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15). We have forfeited Christmas – the incarnation of Emmanuel, God with us because we have blown it.
But, unlike Dr. Seuss’ Grinch--we can’t get it back to ourselves. We need a Savior. We need Jesus!

Conclusion
The magi point us to the right choice: break with the self-absorbed quest and go beyond mere knowledge. They teach us to search for the One who can give life meaning and substance.
You can live the self-absorbed life motivated by selfish ambition and self-preservation.
You can keep trying to figure it all out, gathering information, searching for answers as if you have the mental capability to know it all.
Or, you can worship Jesus. Open your treasures and give yourself to Him. What are you going to do, Mr. Grinch?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ordinary Shepherds, Extraordinary God


Luke 2:8-20


Do we have a class system in Canada? Are there jobs in our city, in our life that we consider below ourselves? People are working all around us. When we go to a mall there are tons of retail personnel, there are cleaners of the floors, the garbage cans, the windows, the bathrooms and the food court; there are security guards. When you buy a product it is surrounded by people – people who mined the materials in parts of Africa or Asia, or grew animals from which the material was sourced, people who refined those products, people who then assembled and packaged them, others who shipped it and drove the truck or worked on the ship; even those who received it in a warehouse, then shipped it to another, and then put it on a shelf for you or I to buy. Which job is worth more? They all had a place, a part in the process, but we often look down on some of those people as the consumer. Because we are paying money, we are worth perhaps a little bit more. That gives us the right, we think, to think we are superior in attitude, if not in voice or action. But we are no more special in God’s eyes.


The shepherds in the New Testament times lived lonely lives. Much of the year they had their sheep out in the countryside, and they were not regarded very highly. There was a predisposition to their status in society, and it was pretty low. So where does God first take the message of the incarnation, of Emmanuel, God with us? It goes to the shepherds. Who would God send it to first if it was today? God sends the message to all – a message of Good News. Did the angels ask or command the shepherds to do anything except to not be frightened? No. But these uneducated men shared their experience of God, and many listened. Take this to heart, we are all pilgrims in this journey. We need to be bringing whoever is near us along, encouraging and helping them in their own walk with Jesus.


So, we have looked at Elizabeth and Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. Other characters in this story are the magi. What is one common denominator for all these people? They all experienced a visit by an angel. Two of them had dreams where the angel(s) spoke to them, the rest were visited in person. I want us to leave today with a few thoughts –


First, Seek God – wise men still seek Him. I saw a video online this past week called the Story of Stuff. It is a very sobering look at how our world operates. It is a call to action to change what we are doing with our world. As important as that is, sometimes there is a place for the call to action to change what we are doing with Jesus. We need Christ in us. Our consumer driven society tries to tell us differently. The problems in our life try to give truth to the lie that there is no God, or that God is not concerned with where I am at. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The tragic fires causing death, the accidents on the roadways, the sickness, both physical and mental and social that affect us, our families, and our world are the result of sin and selfishness going back to the Garden of Eden of which we were all a part. God hurts to see His creation subjected to this stuff, but that was the price of free will, the ability for you and I to choose who will sit on the throne of our lives. I am here to tell you Jesus needs to sit there, if you want peace and love and grace in your life. Whether you have been a Christian for a week or for 4 decades, know the truth that wise men still seek Him.


Second, God is doing things that may cause us fear – but there is nothing to be afraid of. Most of these nativity people were afraid, and they were told to not be afraid. Here we are some 2012 years and 3 months later and God has said to us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear (or timidity), but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) God is at work redeeming people to Himself. He is using us and calling us to be involved, and he says, “Do not be afraid.” This truth is connected to God’s promise of presence and the faith we have in God to fulfill that promise. In the Great Commission God says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Hear that promise? I am with you always. What is there to fear if God, the lover of your soul, is with you?


Third, Know the Good News – God wants you to share it. This is the basic call of the one who follows Jesus, the one who calls themselves a Christian. You have to know it personally. For the shepherds it was an announcement, but not fully understood until that little baby they saw in the manger was resurrected from the grave for the forgiveness of our sins. Do you remember Peter? He was the man that rejected Jesus 3 times, who was always putting his foot in his mouth, trying his best to be all that Jesus wanted. It wasn’t until he was walking in the power of the Holy Spirit that his life became energized, alive. It wasn’t until then that he fully understood the Good News and began to share it in earnest, because he experienced it. This uneducated fisherman preached a sermon that would put any preacher to shame in Acts 2, and listen to what happened: “37 Now when they (the people assembled) heard this (Peter’s sermon), they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." The angels came and told the Good News, make sure you know it in your heart. Is there joy there? Happiness? I pray so, but if there is pain and sadness because you are far from God, and you need a touch from God, take the time right now to talk to Him, to ask forgiveness and ask for Him to come into your life as Lord. Don’t put it off.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Joseph - The Silent Superhero


Superman was created in 1932 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. It was sold to Detective Comics in 1938, appearing in Action Comics #1 on June 1 of that year. Superman has gone on in the comics and movies and action figures and on and on.
Batman first appeared in 1939, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Spiderman in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditka. We are a culture that likes heroes. I remember as a kid growing up on western comics where the heroes could draw fast and had integrity. Our heroes today tend to have fatal flaws and struggle, sometimes to make a story interesting, and sometimes to make them more human.
Then there are the silent heroes – the heroes in our everyday lives that model dedication or integrity or the triumph of the human spirit in the face of tragedy and loss. On David Felter’s blog he had a link to a YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uUd98KhLA4) of DJ Gregory who has cerebral palsy. He walked very haltingly but learned to play tennis. He then set a goal of walking every hole of every round of every course of the 2008 PGA tour. He completed it and to many people he was a hero and a role model.
Today we are going to look at another everyday hero, a silent guy. Many, if not most, would not call him that, but he set an example none-the-less. His name is Joseph.

Verse 19 – Pursue the right thing. We can read the newspapers and magazines and find story after story of people who did neat things, but in a different time and place they blow it. There’s the family that gets a nice big new house on TV’s extreme home makeover, and months later sell it for the money. The heroes in our stories have flaws that make them more readable and human. I love to look for the heroes with integrity. On a show that lasted 4 years there was a Mountie named Benton Frazier, who was beyond reproach. He was somewhat na├»ve but he knew who he was and lived by his ethics. In Christian Service Brigade I grew up with the 7 points of valor:

HONOUR The man of honour is the man whose word is true. Psalm 15:1, 2 The challenge is to not just know the right stuff, but to apply it. Integrity of words and life are the foundation of our testimony, our witness. If people around us are to see Jesus in us, our word must be true.
COURAGE No fear can overcome the courageous soldier's promise. Joshua 1:9 Fear is all about what has not happened yet. We have not been given the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and a sound mind.
CHIVALRY He is always ready to be strong on behalf of anyone weaker than himself. Romans 15:1 Where are the men who take initiative today. We need to be proactive, not just reactive, for the gates of hell will not prevail. It takes a strong man to reach out and pull another up.
PURITY To be clean in heart, mind, speech, and body is to be strong. Psalm 119:9 Our materialistic society is a breeding ground for idols and temptations. All of who we are needs to ring true to the Good News.
LOYALTY A man of faithfulness, devotion, and allegiance. I Corinthians 15:58 Life is not a series of quick fixes. It is largely the task of 3 steps forward, two steps back. It is the rushing game on the gridiron. We need to plug in for the long term, but be open to the vision, not just the method.
OBEDIENCE A man who knows how to obey will be better able to lead others. John 14:21 We need to hear God's voice. We need to know it intimately. We need to let it sink deep into our soul so that His desires become ours. We need to put our faith into action.
DEDICATION A man of whole-hearted dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ. Luke 9:23-24 Denial of selfish ambition and the complete surrender of all that we have - body, mind, strength, possessions - to the control of Jesus is what He asks. He set the example. Not us, but Him. Not ours, but His.

Joseph was a man who pursued the right things. He recognized there was a problem with his pregnant betrothed, and did not want to shame her. He also wanted to honour his God in purity, and this talk of angels was pretty farfetched. Indeed, if this was God’s doing, wouldn’t he clue Joseph in too! He sought to keep Mary’s shame to a minimum; that is, until he heard from God.

Verse 20 – Always be listening for God’s voice. Bonnie’s novel coming out next June is about a woman’s journey to God; about how she starts hearing her dead husband’s voice, but eventually hears her dead God’s voice – who isn’t dead anymore. Jesus who died still speaks to us. The Holy Spirit guides and directs us. God is in His holy heaven, let all the earth be silent says Habakkuk. Here he speaks to Joseph in a dream. He spoke to Elijah in a gentle breeze. Je spoke to Zacharius and Mary through the angel Gabriel. Paul met God on the road to Damascus. He speaks to us through the Scriptures, through nature, and in our heart. There’s a song I used to sing in youth group that says, “Don’t try to tell me that God is dead, He woke me up this morning. Don’t try to tell me that God is dead I talked with Him today. He opened up my blinded eyes and set me on my way. Don’t try to tell me that God is dead I walked with Him today!” Have you heard from God lately? I was reading a short autobiography of the man who led us in music at the clergy conference. He went through a period of depression in his life, and the thing that turned it around for him was the discipline of reading his Bible every day. Listen for God today. And if you do hear from Him…

Verse 24 – 25 – Do the God thing. Most of the time the right thing is the God thing, but sometimes He leads us in a different way, a different direction. There was the prophet who was told to marry a prostitute as a picture of Israel. Remember the Judges, and Peter and Paul? When God calls us out of the ordinary, He always equips us to do the job. Missionaries like the Goforths and Adoniram Judson, and Hudson Taylor, and the ones in our denomination today – all called to specific lifelong tasks. For us it may be as simple as to love our enemies, to bless those that persecute us. In the whole Biblical record we never hear Joseph speak; but we do see him obedient to what God has given him: to be a father to the Son of God.

Paul writes that Jesus did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped but emptied himself and taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. What an amazing Savior. He didn’t consider His rights first, didn’t cling to what He could gain, what He should have, who He should be, how others should think of Him.

It sounds an awful lot like someone else I know; someone we have been talking about today! Someone else who didn’t say, “I got rights, it’s my decision;” But instead lived a life that said, “I will follow your will and your way, O God.” No, we don’t read words of Joseph. There are no beautiful songs or thought provoking stories that begin, “And Joseph said.” But there is one powerful thing--a Son; a Son, who although He was fully God, was also fully man; a Son, who needed a father to guide Him, to point Him in the right direction. Jesus needed Joseph.

And we need more people like Joseph in this world. Not just the honorable Joseph who was going to do the right thing by kindly and quietly divorcing Mary. No, we need the Joseph who had the dream and chose to obey. Those who don’t worry about what other people think, those who are less concerned about themselves and more concerned about others, dads who take the time to listen, to love, to train, moms who are patient and understanding and willing, people who are willing to go where God calls. There may be no quotes in a book somewhere that you or I have made. No newspapers may write about us, no interviews on TV, no awards or accolades may be done in our name--but I would like to think that, like Joseph, it doesn’t matter. I am walking with Jesus. Just like we can catch glimmers of who Joseph was in the man that Jesus grew up to be, people should be able to catch glimmers of who Jesus is in the parents, the spouses, the children, the students, and the friends that we are.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mary: Ordinary Woman, Extraordinary God


Luke 1:46-55 “46 And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, 47 and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond-slave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. 50 AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. 51 He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. 53 HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; and sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever."

We tend to hold Mary out here at arm’s length. When you consider that she is a main character in the story of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it seems she should be closer. To put it in the language of our society--she is a star. For a culture that loves stars, Mary should be easy to get too know. Today, as part of our celebrity worshipping culture she would have a book deal on mothering, appearances on Oprah, and a blog read by millions.
What you will find, however, if you try to get to know Mary better is that there really isn’t a lot to know. If she is a star in this story she doesn’t have many lines, not very much “screen time,” so to speak. We find that there are many other people we can study in the Bible, people with more verses dedicated to them, characters that seem to matter a whole lot more in the greater scheme of things. If Mary really is a “star” she would have had more things to say and do in the Scriptures. If Mary is so important, there would be a lot more action surrounding her.
Certainly there was much action going on as the angel visited her and then she went to tell her mother what had happened. I am sure there was a flurry in that house--some hollering, some crying, great disappointment. When your daughter comes to tell you that she is pregnant and not yet married that causes some action to take place. It could easily be the plot of a film.
But we don’t hear any of that part of the story in the Bible. The angel comes to Mary. The news is given. She accepts it. It is a really short scene. We don’t get to know her very well at all. We don’t get any good shots of what she looks like or what she is wearing. We know that Joseph hears and we will find out more about his role next week. We don’t hear, however, how mom and dad took it; we don’t know what their responses were. We aren’t privy to the conversations at the well, the talk at the loom, or the gossip while grinding the wheat.
She drew water from the well--women did that in Jesus’ day. She wasn’t allowed to go to the synagogue to learn, but her father would have taught her--that was the custom. She had no real choice in her marriage partner, her father chose Joseph for her--that was life. She probably sewed, baked bread, kept house, worked with animals, helped raise her brothers and sisters.
All of those things were typical life tasks, the work of woman in 4 BC. And in the midst of this very ordinary life, in an ordinary town, something extraordinary happens. An angel comes and makes a pronouncement. She has a question about how it will happen, but there is no doubt. Instead, she makes a simple statement.
“May it be to me as you have said.” If you weren’t listening you might miss it. In the grand and epic drama that is unfolding in the Gospel of Luke this little line could be passed over in an instant and yet, it is the most important part of the story so far. It reveals everything we need to know about Mary: “May it be to me as you have said.” An extraordinary God was going to use an ordinary woman. What would that be like? Would you like to be used by the extraordinary God?

There are at least 3 things we need to be used of God.

The first is the knowledge that God’s blessing isn’t based on what we deserve. This is good news. It means it doesn’t matter who your mom and dad were or weren’t. It doesn’t matter whether you have a doctorate or failed grade 8. It doesn’t matter whether you have money in the bank and a regular pension set up, or you live day to day from pay check to pay check. It doesn’t matter whether you can run a 5 minute mile, or struggle up a 3 steps. In fact, God’s love has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with God. Jesus even said that it is hard for someone rich to be used of God because all their stuff tends to get in the way. I know I know, some of us are thinking, “Well, I’d like to give it a try – the part about being rich, I mean.” My point is, start where you are. Don’t fret about who you’re not, what you haven’t got, what’s missing. Just give what you got to God and watch Him take your ordinary stuff, your ordinary life and do a miracle. And some of you ladies are saying, “After last week’s story about Elizabeth and this week’s story about Mary - I don’t want that kind of miracle!” I think God is interested in other things …

How big is your God? We may have an opinion that may or may not be true. That is why we go by what the Bible says and not just by what we feel like today. When we read the passage called the Magnificat in Luke, we see some of Mary’s understanding of her God; and when faced with an impossible situation of being pregnant while yet a virgin, she accepted Gabriel’s answer at face value – “God is big enough!” Last week we saw Zacharias had to face the same question. He didn’t do so well, and he was struck silent until his impossible baby was born. God created the universe. Have you thought about what that means. One writer talked about the wastefulness of creation – about how much extra stuff God created that is just “extra”!
One show I like to watch on TV is Hubble’s Camera. It shows picture upon picture of stars and galaxies, of nebulae and gasses and light and darkness across unimaginable distances – and as far as we know it is only on this tiny speck of a planet that intelligent life is found. He created so much, and until Hubble we didn’t even know existed. This is my favourite picture. It is called HDF or the Hubble Deep Field. It sees galaxies and light that is about four-billion times fainter than can be seen by the human eye. It is looking at the slice of sky about the width of a dime at 75 feet. As we look at this picture, scientists consider that we are looking at the horizon of the galaxy – its outer edge. They also say that we could look in any direction and this is what we would see, for the universe is spaced somewhat evenly. Though this doesn’t jive with how old they say the universe is, the fact is it is a big place. And the God who put that all together knows how many hairs are on your head, keeps your tears in a bottle, and is looking out for you. The Psalmist asks, “What have I to fear?” With a God unimaginably bigger than this unimaginably big universe looking out for me, what can anyone do to me. Are you encouraged? I hope so. Mary understood this in a much smaller way, and she echoed the words of her Son who would later say, “Not my will but Your will be done.” We can hear the question, then, “Is there anything that limits His power?” and know in our hearts the answer is “Well, actually there is one thing.”

Our choices. There is this sin problem. We are born in sin, and we need to deal with it. It is not a small problem, and actually God has already dealt with it. It doesn’t automatically kick in, though. Remember the injections kids get before they go to school? By law children need vaccinations to protect from outbreaks of infectious diseases. The kid doesn’t have to do anything – when it is time, between the parents and the school and the public health board the child will get their inoculation. It’s not the same with this sin thing. God is offering forgiveness and abundant life and His presence as a gift. We have a choice – take it or go it on our own strength. Now, we make this decision initially and our life changes. The Holy Spirit is put as a seal on our heart, a guarantor. We are redeemed, sanctified, justified, propitiated, forgiven, set apart, adopted, snuggled by God says Bonnie, and the list goes on. But each and every day we need to continue to live in that decision, to renew that commitment that saw us not just accept Jesus as Saviour, but also as Lord! We are not saved anew every day, but we consecrate ourselves each day, each moment of each day to God. It is like Christmas is celebrated every day. Every day we experience the incarnation, the indwelling of God in our hearts anew. We can ask and even argue, “How can this be, this indwelling;” but don’t get distracted by semantics from what God wants to do in your life. Say with Mary, “"Behold, the bondservant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word."

The light that shone on Mary that day is the light that longs to shine on each of us from our heavenly Father everyday. It isn’t just a one-time occurrence kind of thing--it is a life-light. The only way to live in the life-light of God is to say, “May it be to me as you have said.” She was willingly obedient to do whatever God asked of her.
Was it because Mary was a totally different, amazing person that deserved this kind of blessing? If we look at the scope of Scripture we will see that God works with the regular, ordinary folk all the time. He chooses the smallest, the underdog, the failure, the outcast, the ordinary to do His extraordinary work. The only thing that matters is that my heart and your hearts are open and ready to say with Mary: “May it be to me as you have said.” Whatever comes my way, “May it be to me as you have said.” When I am in the valley, “May it be to me as you have said.” When I am on the mountaintop, “May it be to me as you have said.” Those ordinary words become extraordinary when we speak them to our God.

You might not feel like you have anything special to offer. Just remember that God chose ordinary Mary. He can and will choose ordinary you and me also. Today a light is dawning wherever a heart is completely submitting to God’s great plan.