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December 18, 2005
Please turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Luke chapter 1 and follow along as I read verses 30-33.
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."
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
The baby’s name is Aaliyah, meaning “high” or “exalted.” It’s a perfect name, as you’ll soon see. When Aaliyah was born, she weighed just 12 ounces, and fit into the palm of her mother’s hand. She arrived about four months early, and had been growing too slowly in her mother’s womb. When she entered the world, she was the second-smallest surviving baby ever to be born in Great Britain [“Miracle baby,” BBC Inside Out, January 5,2004, bbc.co.uk.]. Before her delivery, doctors warned Aaliyah’s mother that her daughter had only a 10 percent chance of surviving. They recommended termination, but she and her husband said no. They had been trying to have a baby for more than 10 years. Against all odds, Aaliyah was born, and showed an amazing fighting spirit. After a few days on a life support machine and four months in the neo natal unit, Aaliyah made it home to enjoy Christmas with her family. She is a miracle baby, one who has been lifted up as high and exalted by her grateful mother and father. But although this is a story that warms the heart and brightens the soul, the truth is that from Japan to Germany to the United States, there is a baby bust, not a baby boom. People are having fewer babies.
Here in the United States, the total fertility rate has dropped from 3.2 children per woman in 1920 to 2.1 children today. In Europe, between 1970 and 2000, fertility declined from 2.8 children per woman to 1.5.
Why? Several factors are involved. The cost of raising children is much higher today than it was in 1920. More women have jobs in the workplace today. And then today we have old-age pensions and savings plans. I know it sounds crass to say this during the Christmas season, but in 1920 most people probably had children for economic reasons. Farmers saw children as extra hands to work the fields. Children were the main security for old age. Today we no longer have those ‘incentives” and so birth rates drop. In other words, the bigger the benefit system, the bigger the baby bust. People say, “Hello 401K, goodbye babies.” Thus, we, as a nation, are becoming less welcoming to children, less willing to bring them into the world.
But today we need to think about how impoverished we would be if Mary had not had the baby Jesus.
Luke chapter 1, beginning at v26, describes the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary, a young woman who is engaged to Joseph, a hometown boy with a good, or at least decent, job. Like a newspaper reporter, Luke gives us the basics — who, what, where. Mary was a virgin who was espoused to Joseph. Espousal or betrothal was a legal relationship in the first century Middle East. It was kind of like being married before the couple were actually married.
God sent the angelic messenger Gabriel to Mary. By the way, Gabriel also appeared to Daniel and to Zechariah the father of John the baptist.
So that’s the who and the what. The where is Nazareth, a tiny town in semi-Gentile Galilee, a Roman province in northern Palestine, west of the sea of Galilee. Jerusalem Jews considered Galilee to be the backwoods. They thought of Galileans as rednecks.
In v28 Gabriel’s greeting, “Hail [Mary]” (RSV) or in Latin Ave (Maria), means “Greetings” or “Rejoice.” Mary is called the favored one or the blessed one, and she is assured that “The Lord is with you”—which is the best assurance that anyone can ever have.
This passage from Luke 1 is what scholars label “a call narrative,” where God summons someone to divine service. Usually the recipient of God’s call initially rejects the call or misunderstands the call, but they later accept.
We see this process with Mary. In v29, Mary is perplexed, troubled, and disturbed by the appearance of this angel. She ponders the situation. “Why is this happening to me?”
Gabriel quickly reassures her in v30 calling her by name and saying, “Do not be afraid.”
Gabriel then tells Mary that she will conceive and bear a son who will be God’s long-awaited Messiah. “He will have the throne of his ancestor David.” “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.” V32 tells us he will be the “Son of the Most High.” V35 says he will be “Son of God.”
Up to this point, God is announcing things to Mary (this passage is known as “The Annunciation”). The annunciation is God’s call to Mary. At Christmas, we focus on the baby. Rightly so. Jesus was the most important thing that was happening that first Christmas in Bethlehem. But we should not forget Mary. Mary had to say Yes, in order for God to send Jesus. What if she had said, No? After all, she had a life. She had Joseph. She was going to get married. She had plans. She could have said, “I don’t have time for this.” Of course, she did not say that. Her answer is found in our call to worship today from v38: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
Many people are willing to serve God on their own terms. When they are ready, when they do not have anything else to do, when it is too cold to play golf and they are caught up on shopping, when they have done every conceivable thing that they ever wanted to do, then they will say, Maybe I ought to listen to God. Mary of a model of service to God on God’s terms. Mary was willing to serve when God called her to serve.
The question for us today is: Am I ready to serve, when God calls me? Am I ready to welcome this baby into my life, right now?
Many pregnant women when they start to realize what having a child really means start to think about an abortion. Well, how do we react when we start to realize what it really means to have the baby Jesus in our lives? Jesus demands that we live in a certain way, the way of love. That is not easy. That is entirely different from the way the world lives. The world says be selfish, get all you can get for yourself and devil take the hindmost.
Jesus taught us to take risks, the risks of love. When Mary said yes to Jesus, she was willing to risk her reputation in order to allow the Son of God to enter the world. She didn’t worry about her engagement, her social standing, her health, or her long term financial security. She didn’t spend a minute thinking about retirement benefits, or whether she could use a child to take care of her in her old age. Instead, she said yes to a baby who would grow up to be the Savior of the world.
The challenge for us today is to be risktakers like Mary. God calls us to take a leap of faith and receive the Christ Child, and let this child make a difference in our lives?
If we say yes to Jesus, we’ll find ourselves changed. We’ll become people who have Christ at the very center of who we are, just as Mary received the life of Jesus into the deepest and most intimate part of herself. We’ll turn into people who can say along with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
As we think of the next few days, we know that for some people this is the most depressing time of the year. On the one hand, everyone is talking about joy and rejoicing and everyone things they ought to be happy, but som are not. Perhaps they are in nursing homes feeling cut off from relatives and friends. Perhaps they have lost a job or lost a loved one, gone through a divorce. Perhaps they are far from home, like our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they are down and depressed, and the more people sing about “Jolly old Saint Nick,” the more depressed they become. They need a different message, a different attitude. They need to turn back to God and give their lives to God and say, with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Whatever our problems and difficulties, we need to give them to God and abide in God.
Christmas is stressful time of year. I got to get my decorations up. I got to buy gifts, wrap those gifts, deliver those gifts. I got to go to this party because I don’t want to hurt their feelings and that party and that party.
This is be a good time to give the Lord charge of our lives, and let the Lord take over our stress. Just let God take over. Say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” Let the Lord have your live, and you do not have to worry about it.
I remember years ago when we had young children, we used to spend Christmas Eve in Easley, SC with relatives. We would get back to York about midnight. After a day spent on the road and partying, I was tired. Yet we were not nearly done. After we got the boys to bed, we had to get out Christmas toys, and some of them were marked “some assembly required.” I remember staying up to one or two o’clock in the morning to do that “some assembly.” I was ready to say, “Christmas, Bah Humbug.” I would have been better off saying: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” Just turn it over to God and ask God for the strength to do whatever you have to do. Do that in every frustrating situation, at every time of the year.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where people pressure us to do things we are not exactly sure are right. In school it might be something as simple as “Let me copy your homework.” At work it might be, “I’m running late this morning, would you go ahead and clock me in.” Or, I am a business person and I can hire this Hispanic looking person for practically nothing. I may suspect that she is illegal immigrant but I just won’t ask questions.
Now we all have a little bell in the back of our minds that goes off when we are confronted with situations that are just not right. We know that it is not right. The question is what do we do when the bell goes off. We can ignore it. Many people do. They know what is right, they just don’t do it. This week the Herald carried several articles about homelessness in our area. The comment was made that generally we ignore the homeless. Bell goes off. That is not right. When people show distain for others, bell goes off. When people distrust others just because they have a different color of skin or speak a different language, bell goes off.
Now there is no actual “bell,” of course. Christians would describe the “bell” as the prompting of the Holy Spirit. But the point is we know what is right, and we need to respond to that knowledge. We need to answer God’s call to give God charge over our lives and walk in God’s way.
This is Mary’s lesson. I need to say right now about every aspect of my life: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 02/27/06