Jesus’ Birth Foretold

Jesus’ Birth Foretold
A Message on Luke 1:26-38
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 28, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

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Happy Liturgical New Year!

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, which means that today is the beginning of a new liturgical year in the church calendar.

Advent, like the season of Lent, is a season of preparation and expectation. Just as the season of Lent prepares our hearts and souls for the celebration of Easter, Advent prepares our hearts and souls for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, what we also call Christmas.

The word Advent, which comes from the Latin word adventus, which is that Latin translation of the Greek word parousia, which means “presence,” or “arrival.” And although it comes near the end of the calendar year, it begins the Christian year.

So Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas day. As part of our Advent observance we have an Advent wreath with five candles on it. The Carroll family came and lit one of the three blue candles this morning. We will light one candle each week until we finally light the white candle in the middle, the Christ candle, on Christmas Eve. The one pink candle, which represents Jesus’ mother, Mary, we will light on the third Sunday in Advent.

Since we are starting this season of preparation today let’s look at some of the things that happened leading up to the birth of Jesus.

For centuries the Jewish people longed for the appearance of the Messiah. The prophets of old had foretold of the messiah’s coming. One of those, Jeremiah, we read today as our first reading.

Here it is again from The Message paraphrase: ‘Watch“ for this: The time is coming’—God’s Decree—‘when I will keep the promise I made to the families of Israel and Judah. When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right. That’s when Judah will be secure and Jerusalem live in safety. The motto for the city will be, “God Has Set Things Right for Us.” — Jeremiah 33:14-16

Depending on who you believe, there are about 300-some prophecies in the Old Testament that refer to the coming Messiah. The Jewish people experienced the oft repeated cycle of prosperity, turning away from God during that prosperity, being invaded and conquered by foreign forces, being led off into exile, and then repenting and turning back to God in exile. It was during the that last phase, when things were bad, that they put their hope in a messiah, one who would come and make everything right.

Jeremiah is one of those examples. The prophet Jeremiah lived during the years when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem three times, destroying buildings, including the temple, killing people, and leading the survivors off into exile.

It was some tough times for the Jewish people. But Jeremiah gave them something they were in great need of: hope. The messiah is coming. “He will set things right. That’s when Judah will be secure and Jerusalem live in safety.”

Fast forward to the 1st Century and the Jewish people again found themselves in a troublesome situation. The Romans had invaded the land and had incorporated the Holy Land into the vast and powerful Roman Empire.

Not only were the Romans the occupying military force, but they also taxed the Jewish people. The Romans hired Jewish people to be tax collectors for them, and the Jewish people had a very, very negative opinion of the tax collectors. They were considered traitors for going to work for the Romans, and many of them were unethical by overcharging and collecting on taxes, keeping the overage for themselves.

The temple, destroyed by the Babylonians, had by this time been rebuilt and the Jewish people were allowed to worship there, but there were still strong tensions between the Jews and the Romans.

It was into this world that we are introduced to Mary as we read in today’s scripture. Mary is pledged to Joseph, which is kind of like a “money down” engagement in that Joseph had already paid the dowry, but they weren’t yet man and wife in that they had not… uh… well… you know.

In the midst of this the angel Gabriel shows up and tells Mary about what is going to happen.

Now let’s think about this for a while. Anytime an angel shows up it’s a strange, supernatural, and scary moment. Just about everywhere we find angels revealing themselves to humans in the scriptures the angels start off saying the same thing: “Do not be afraid.” And the reason they say that is because it is a frightening thing!

That is no exception here. Gabriel, the angel, shows up to talk to Mary, and of course she is scared. But Gabriel tells her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” So far so good, right?

But then he tells her something that is very, VERY unexpected: she is going to have a baby. And not just any baby. No. “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Wow. That’s quite a promise, isn’t it?

It is widely believed that Mary was young, perhaps as young as 14 or 15 years old. And although at the time Jewish girls didn’t go to school and study biology, she probably knew enough about the birds and the bees to understand the basics of procreation. So she pointed out to Gabriel what she saw as a fallacy in his logic. Biologically it wasn’t possible for her to be a mother. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

Gabriel has an answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

Now this puts Mary in quite a predicament. I think most of us would respond to this news by saying something like, “You gotta be kidding me.” Or “This is a joke. It’s gotta be a joke.” Or if you are younger, maybe “Is this one of those reaction videos for Tik Tok?”

Mary has to have a lot of questions in her mind just from what Gabriel has told her. So many questions. She could have just kept peppering Gabriel with all the questions she had, things like, “What’s this ‘overshadow’ mean? What about Joseph? What is his role in all of this? Who’s gonna tell him? And why me? Why not someone else, somebody more important?”

And while Mary may have had all these questions going on in her mind, she didn’t voice them. No. She responded to Gabriel with a simple statement: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Seventeen words. That was her response. But what a powerful, life-giving, life-altering 17 words they were.

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary didn’t know the details. She didn’t know just exactly how God was going to make these things happen, and she was okay with that. She had hope. She had faith. And she had a servant’s heart.

How would our world change if every Christian, every person who proclaims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, responded to God in that way? What if this Advent, as we prepare our hearts and anticipate celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, what if every Christian had the attitude of Mary: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

We don’t often associate servanthood with Christmas, but we really should. I think part of the reason we don’t is because Christmas has become so commercialized. So much attention focuses on presents, implying, or outright saying, that if you get that one special gift, or if you get that one special gift for someone on your list, then your life will be full and complete.

But it won’t. It can’t. As mathematician and theologian Blaise Paschal pointed out, humans have a God-shaped hole. We try to fill that hole so many earthly things, but the only thing that can make our lives full and complete is Jesus Christ.

As Christians, Advent is a great time for us to be like Mary and practice servanthood. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Let me tell you about a group of people here in this church that are living out their servant hearts this Advent. Our youth, under the wonderful leadership of Cassie Bingham and Patrick Foster, our youth again this year are focusing on making this world a better place.

They have been collecting change for several weeks now. Their goal is to collect $2,000 that they will then use to buy for 10 children on the Angel Tree at our local Walmart. (They will actually raise more than that, which will be given to the organization.)

Our youth will actually go to Walmart and shop for those kids. They will pick out the presents, calculate the costs to make sure $200 is spent on each child, and then bring them back to the church and wrap them. The wrapped presents will then be delivered.

This has become a tradition with our youth as this is the fifth year they have done it. In the past four years they have bought for more than 38 children through the Angel Tree. It’s a great way to celebrate advent. And the youth really get excited about it.

I think this is a good example of the youth responding to God like Mary: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Let me tell you about an individual that exemplifies a servant’s heart. His name is Kirk Evatt, and he is married to Pam’s cousin, Betty. Kirk and Betty had two children, but when their daughter, Rachel, was 16 she was driving to a Christmas party at church and was in an automobile accident that took her life.

Betty and Kirk went through all the stages of grief. They could have become very bitter about things. They could have given up on God and been angry with him for letting their daughter die. But they didn’t.

Instead, the two of them kept on believing. And Kirk, specifically, developed a servant’s heart.

I know a lot of people, and Kirk has the biggest servant’s heart of anyone I know. If you visit him and Betty he will wait on you hand and foot. We were visiting there once and Emily left to go back to College Station. She stopped for gas a few miles away from Betty and Kirk’s house but couldn’t get the door to her gas cap open. Kirk dropped everything, drove to the station, and helped her get it open.

Kirk is just that way. You have to be careful about what you say around him, because if you mention something that you like, he will go to great lengths to get it for you.

Kirk epitomizes Mary’s words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

We find servanthood steeped in the traditions of Advent and Christmas. Santa Claus is based on the real life St. Nicholas, who lived in what is now the country of Turkey in the third century. Although he came from wealthy parents, he gave away pretty much everything he had. He was known to toss bags of gold through the windows of families who were very impoverished. Sometimes these bags would land in shoes or stockings hung by the window to dry, and from that we get not only the legend of Santa Claus but also stockings and gifts.

So yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

So my challenge to you as we start the season of Advent is to be like Mary. Have a servant’s heart as we prepare our hearts and anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ. May we have hope that God is in control and will work things out when we don’t know the details. May we always respond to God’s call on our lives with the response: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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