Advent: Faith

This morning we are diving into the Christmas Story – and we are going to read about an amazing picture of faith.  The Bible has an entire chapter devoted to the great hero’s of faith.  Hebrews 11.  And it talks about people who have renowned faith – Noah!  Who by faith built a boat! Sarah! Moses – Rahab!  All of these people – great heroes of the faith – but this morning we’re going to look at a picture of faith that I think – if not exceeds – then at least matches all of these hero’s of faith.

Her name is Mary.  And we read about her story in Luke chapter 1.  This week I was searching through the internet for images – artists rendering of Mary – and what I found was a preponderance of images of Mary – almost always – something akin to this nativity set – with Mary – almost always looking down – head tiled – hands always doing something very holy.  Often with eyes closed.

And okay – there isn’t anything wrong with that idea – except sometimes I think these kinds of images kind of robs her of her humanity.

I did come across this sculpture – and I couldn’t find the background on it at all – I don’t know who made it – but I like it.  Mary, Baby Jesus and Joseph.  I like that someone tried to sculpt what looks like a candid shot a a mom handing her baby over to the babies dad.

And I like the fact that it almost looks like Joseph is being playful with Jesus.  As if he’s playing goochie goochie goo.  And Jesus looks like he is smiling.  Reaching for Joseph.  Jody used to hand me my sons when they needed a little roughing up – playtime with dad.

I like how her thumb is making an indent on his fat little thighs.  

 And Mary’s face is – the beginning of a smile – joyful – and yet – very real.

It’s tempting to think of Mary as some kind of superhuman saint, but I think it would serve us all well to remember that Mary was a normal human being in every respect.  Which makes the way that Mary responds to the call that God has placed on her life even more remarkable.

So this morning let’s study and appreciate the remarkable, strong, faith of Mary.

We will be reading from the book of Luke chapter 1.  If you wanted to read about the Christmas story in the Bible you will either have to read the first couple of chapters of Luke or Matthew.  These are the only two writers who give us details about the birth of Jesus.  John and Mark, the other two writers who detail the life of Jesus start with the public launch of his ministry at about the age of 30.

Matthew and Luke feel very different.  Matthew is very straight to the point. He is writing to a Jewish audience and so spends a considerable amount of time showing how the birth of Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah.  Feels like it was written by an accountant.

What makes Luke special is that it appears Luke spent considerable time interviewing Mary herself.  Why do we say that?  Well Luke gives us insight into what Mary was thinking.  And it makes the account much more intimate than Matthews.

So we will read this imaging that Mary herself was the one telling the story to Luke.

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.

 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

 29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.

 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  By the way – I think it’s very sweet here that the angel mentions her by name.  He starts with Favored woman!  But then lets her know – I’m not here by accident.  I know your name – and so does God, by the way.  I think it had to have been comforting for Mary to hear the angel soften his tone a little…

 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.

 32 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. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

 34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

 35 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.

36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”

 38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Today we celebrate the Faith of Mary.  Around here at Journey our working definition of faith is:  “Thinking highly enough of God to trust him with my life.”

Faith is trust in action – it’s not wishing.  It is a combination of knowing and doing.  If you know what God is asking you to do it but don’t do it – that’s not faith – that’s knowledge.

Faith is when you know what God is asking you to do and you then act upon it.  Fait is a combination of trust and obedience.

Mary was a woman of faith.  So let’s celebrate Mary’s “Even If” faith.  Mary thought highly enough of God to trust him with her life… 

  1. Even she was troubled by what was being asked of her.

Luke reports that Mary was Confused and disturbed – Mary wonders what is going on. 

By the way – it’s not unusual – I mean – You know what’s disturbing?  For some people – maybe you have grown up in a home that taught you there is no such thing as God – and then you learn that not only is there a God, but – that the reason we have Christmas at all is because you were in such bad shape – so sinful, so self centered, that the only thing that could rescue you from an eternity apart from God was the sacrificial death of God himself – taking our place on the cross.

It might be shocking for you to hear that you cannot be good enough to save yourself – that even if you were judged only by the standards you judge others – you are going to come out on the wrong side of the verdict – you cannot save yourself.

You know what else is disturbing?  After you place your faith in Jesus – after you cross the line and become a Christian – God reserves the right to show up in your life – tap you on the shoulder and tell you – let’s go – we’re going that direction.  But Lord, my plans – I’ve been working on all these plans to go that direction –  It can be disturbing when God changes your plans.  And it can be thrilling as well.

Certainly at some point in your life you will be confronted with confusing and disturbing news  – How do you respond to disturbing news?  Mary teaches us to respond in faith.  To think highly enough of God to follow him wherever he leads.  And sometimes it’s to green pastures and quiet waters, and sometimes it’s through the darkest of valleys.  Either way – faith says – I think highly enough of you to follow you – I am the Lord’s servant – thy will be done.

Mary is a picture of faith.  She thought highly enough of God to trust him in spite of the fact that she was troubled by his call.

Mary thought highly enough of God to trust him with her life… Even if she was skeptical.  (v34)

We say that we started Journey Church for people who are skeptical.  And we mean it – because here’s the deal – just about every single great hero of the faith in the Bible begins by having to work through an initial phase of doubt or skepticism.

And Mary was no different.  What does she say?  In verse 34 – How can this be?  I am a virgin.  She’s like, Gabriel – I understand how the birds and the bees work – but do you?  I do -and so I’m quite sure I am not pregnant.

We say here at Journey that doubts are okay.  It’s not faith or doubt – we understand that it’s always faith with doubts.

Note however that Mary’s skepticism is sincere.  In other words, she isn’t using her skepticism to brush the angel aside, or dismiss his words.  Some people use their skepticism as an excuse to not have to change. There isn’t the wrestling through the implications of what they are being challenged to re-think.  They just say – yea right and move on.  It’s an insincere form of skepticism.

Now – maybe you’re thinking – Why in the world would army have any doubts?  I mean – if an angel showed up in front of me – I would believe!  If an angel showed up in front of me I’d change my mind too!

But not so fast – in fact – people think all the time – I’d change my mind -all I require is a miracle.  But in Jesus ministry – almost every time he does a miracle – you know what the next thing that comes out of people mouth is?  Not – I am the Lord’s servant, use me as you wish.

No – usually the first words out of peoples mouth are “Do another one.”

If you read Luke’s account you will find a very interesting story just before Mary’s account when Gabriel – the same angel – appears to Zechariah in the temple to tell him that his wife is going to become pregnant and give birth to John the Baptist.  And Zechariah – also with skepticism in his voice says, “I’m an old man – my wife is an old lady – How you going to make this happen.  And I just love the response.

19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news!

For some reason I imagine Gabriel doing his best Samuel L Jackson.  I am Gabriel!  I stand I the presence of God.  What’s wrong with you man!  What more proof do you need!  And Gabriel zips his lips until his son is born.

Mary worked through her initial doubts – they were honest – And reached a verdict that stands today as one of the greatest example of faith in the world.  In spite of her reservations and in spite of her doubts, she says, I am the Lord’s servant.  May it happen as you say.”

She thought highly enough of God to trust him with her life… even if she was disturbed, and skeptical.   And Lastly…

  1. Even if it would cost her everything.

Can we appreciate for a moment exactly what this news would cost Mary?  She knew.

How many of her friends and family would believe that she became pregnant by God?  Certainly – being an unmarried pregnant teenager was going to cost her her reputation – I mean – who is going to believe that she became pregnant by a miraculous work of God?  Would you have believed her?

Certainly she must have known that it would cost her her relationship with Joseph.  I mean, Matthew tells us that when Joseph heard that Mary was pregnant he didn’t believe her – and – to his credit he was trying to figure out a way to quietly break off the engagement and not make a drag her through the mud.  We know reading Matthew that an angel shows up to Joseph in a dream to confirm her story…

For sure this news was the end of Mary’s plans for her own future – She couldn’t have been different than any other young engaged woman – we’re going to get married and then we will own a dog and then we will have kids and then we will regret having the dog…  Isn’t that how it works?

Mary had dreams – and this news forced Mary to put down her own plans for life and take up God’s plan for her life instead.  Which was very different indeed.

And if Mary were standing here today – what would she say to those of you who are struggling with a decision in front of you – God is calling you to do a difficult thing… it might cost you everything.

I feel quite confident that Mary would say – it’s worth it.

And here’s why it’s worth it. Because some 33 years later or so, Jesus would be in the garden of gethsemane – on the night he would be betrayed into the hands of the authorities who would put him on a cross.

And as Jesus prayed in that garden he prayed words very similar to his moms.

Not my will, but yours be done.

Jesus wasn’t looking forward to the agony of the cross.  But he laid his own life down because he knew it was the only way that you and I could be reunited with God in his right now kingdom.

Mary was willing to lay down everything to follow God – because – he is the kind of God who laid down everything to win us to himself.

He might ask much from you, but he will never ask more than he gave for you.

Think highly of the God who willingly laid down his life for his people.

To those of you out there who have yet to decide to follow Jesus…  Is today the day you place your faith in Jesus and receive the free gift of salvation – and a fresh start with God?

If so you can pray a prayer – it will sound something like this – Father – I’m understanding Christmas in a while different light today.  You became a man in order to die – and the reason you died was to take away my sins, and bring me into your family.  I believe what you did was enough for me Jesus.  And I surrender my life to you today.  I am the Lord’s servant, do with me as you see fit.

To my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord – is God asking something difficult of you?  Is he asking you to make a change in your habits?  giving something up that you find too much to let go of?

May the incredible “Even if” faith of Mary challenge and encourage you today to say yes to whatever he is asking of you, no matter the cost.

Bring your doubts with you and pray to the Lord – let him know – May we be quick to say, as Mary said, I am the Lord’s servant.  Thy will be done in my life.