An Advent Sermon and Prayer: “The Christmas Story:A Story of Hope”
This morning we begin the season of Advent. The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word that means “coming,” and, in the setting of the Christian faith, refers to the coming of Jesus into the word. As we proceed through the Sundays of Advent leading up to Christmas, we’ll be looking at several major themes of the season: hope, preparation, joy, and love.
Walter Wangerin, a Christian writer, once began an article about Christmas with the words,
” And God saw his people walking around in darkness, carrying their little candles, and God felt sorry for them, and sent Gabriel to the home of a young woman named Mary.” (From the book, The Manger is Empty)
And so we get into the familiar Christmas story.
A story of light coming into a world of darkness.
For many people of that time-and ours as well–a story of hope.
Max Lucado, in his book, God Came Near (pages 88 & 89), illustrates the kinds of things people hope for today:
“We were hoping the doctor would release him.”
“I had hoped to pass the exam.”
“We had hoped the surgery would get all the tumor.”
“I thought the job was in the bag.”
Lucado continues : “Our problem is not so much that God doesn’t give us what we hope for as it is that we don’t know the right thing for which to hope.”
This morning, then, we begin the Christmas story with the story of hope .
II. First, this is a Story about Mary (Which means it is a story about human beings, like us)
Mary is part of the process of bringing hope into the world.
Why Mary? Why did God choose her?
I remember when I was in Junior High School back in Fort Dodge, Iowa. We had an assembly of the entire student body to see a magician. At some point, he wanted someone from the crowd to come up on the stage to help him in the program. I didn’t volunteer, but he pointed right at me and said, “You, in the pink shirt, come up here.”
I had worn a bright, almost florescent pink shirt to school that day and I stood out from just about everyone else in the auditorium.
I knew why I had been chosen, but, again, why Mary?
Frederick Buechner has Gabriel wondering the same thing, as Gabriel comes to tell Mary that God has chosen her to be the mother of Jesus:
” She struck the angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, but he’d been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, and who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. “You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,” he said.As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.” (From Peculiar Treasures, page 39)
It is a strange encounter.
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Whatever Mary saw this angel to be, she was frightened, because Gabriel tells her, “Do not be afraid,” and, more important, “The Lord is with you.”
Then he gives her the details of what God has in mind for her: to bear a son to be named Jesus.
Mary asks the obvious question: “How will this be, since I am a virgin.”
Gabriel gives the not-so-obvious answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
Mary doesn’t raise any other questions, such as “What will people think if I get pregnant, and I’m not even married?” or “What do I tell Joseph, and will he believe me?”
Mary doesn’t bring up any of that or the fact that if she is pregnant by anyone other than Joseph, she could be put to death by stoning.
And although Gabriel presents his case as something already settled, Mary responds as though she has a choice in the matter, and she probably does. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
God obviously knew what Mary was like and had chosen her for a specific task:to help bring hope into the world,and Mary said, “Yes, I will do it.”
That is the essence of Mary, the specialness of Mary: A willingness to be submitted to the Lord.
What has God chosen you to do?
What has God chosen me to do?
What will our response be?
A speaker at the Senior lunch earlier this month said that “Life is not about chances; life is about choices.”
Mary made her choice.
What choices will we make?
III. Second, this is not just a story about Mary; It’s also a Story about Jesus
And hope-at Christmas and at any other time of the year-is somehow related to Jesus. As the Apostle Paul put it in his opening words of I Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of CHRIST JESUS OUR HOPE.” –I Timothy 1:1
Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah, a Jewish prophet, said: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”).
Gabriel had told Mary that God was with her.
And here is the prophet saying that the Son will be “God with us.”
In Matthew 1, an angel tells Joseph, who is engaged to Mary, not to be afraid to take her as his wife, because the child Mary is carrying is from the Lord. Then Matthew adds: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”-which means “God with us.”
A prophet writes 700 years before the birth of Jesus, and predicts that someone will be born who will be called Immanuel, and here an angel tells Joseph that his son will be that one who will be called Immanuel.
What are the chances of Jesus fulfilling the prophecy?
There are several hundred prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah/Savior, all of which were fulfilled in and through Jesus. A mathematician has said that the chances of just eight of those prophecies being
fulfilled in one man is 1 in 10 to the 17 th power.That’s 1 followed by 17 zeroes.
As a graphic illustration, he says to think of the state of Texas being covered with 10 to the 17 th power silver dollars. Texas, by the way, covers 268, 500 square miles. The silver dollars will cover the entire state two feet deep. Now mark one of those silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Then blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the marked one. The probability that he would pick the marked dollar is the same probability that those 8 prophecies would be fulfilled in Jesus. (Cited in Evidence that Demands A Verdict, page 175)
What’s the point of all this?
Simply to show that there is something special, and planned, and not accidental about Jesus.
When Gabriel describes him to Mary, we see that this baby will become someone very special:
” …you are to give him the name Jesus [which means “the Lord saves”]. 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 the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Jesus will be the descendant of David, the greatest king of Israel, but unlike David and his other descendants, Jesus will rule forever. And more than that, when an angel speaks to Mary’s husband Joseph in the book of Matthew, he tells Joseph that “Jesus will save his people from their sins.”
He was a man who was born to die a painful death because we needed him to die.
Without the death of Jesus, we have no hope.
Jesus is not defined by the manner of his birth; he is defined by his death.
He needed to be born, but we needed him to die.
Have you seen Jesus for who he really is?
I keep coming back in my mind to what the great English writer, C. S. Lewis, once wrote about Jesus. Anyone who would say the things about himself that Jesus said would be a Lunatic or a Liar or truly the Lord.
(From Mere Christianity, page 56)
And the Bread of Life?
The Light of the World?
But also the Hope of the World.
The only Hope.
Have you seen Him as your hope?
Do You personally need Him as that?
IV. Third, this is not just a story about Mary and Jesus; above all, it’s a Story about God:
The God who was with Mary.
The God who is with us.
Let’s go back for a moment to that reading from Frederick Buechner that I used earlier:
As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.”
I know what the writer is trying to say: that in this particular instance with this particular girl, the whole future of creation hung on the answer of Mary, IF Mary was to be the one through whom Jesus was to come into the world.
But, ultimately, the whole future of creation did not depend on Mary.
It does not depend on us.
It depends on God.
The whole plan laid out by Gabriel falls apart if God is not part of it and behind it all.
This was not some last-minute, hastily slapped together plan. Listen to these words from Ephesians 1:4: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
God knew we would be without hope.
God sent the only one who could give hope.
And so it began before the creation of the world.
Then in the Garden of Eden, God promises someone who will destroy the devil who had deceived Adam and Eve.
Next, a promise is made to Abraham that all nations will be blessed through Abraham’s family.
A descendant of Abraham is Judah about whom it is said that one will come from Judah’s family who will be a ruler and the nations will obey him.
King David came out of Judah’s family.
Jumping ahead to the book of Isaiah, God declares that a virgin will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (God with us).
And in Matthew 1:22, talking about the coming birth of Jesus: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means “God with us.”
That brings us to our passage for today from Luke, where Gabriel brings the message to Mary.
Whatever else may be at work, this was and is God’s plan.
What seems hopeless in your life?
Does it involve sickness?
Does it involve finances?
Does it involve guilt?
If you’re without hope, God has a word for you: There is hope and it’s wrapped up in Jesus.
A Prayer for Advent:
Lord, here it is that time of the year again, and here we are again, caught up in the excitement of the season:
Thanksgiving behind us, and almost forgotten;
And Christmas ahead of us, and almost here.
And, Lord, things get so heavy and so busy at times that we need an infusion of hope into our lives, so we can celebrate properly.
As we look around at the trouble the world is in, at the hard times for many individuals and families, as the bleak future many are predicting–we need the hope that comes from you.
Forgive us for letting the circumstances of life push you out of our lives.
Forgive us for thinking that getting more things is the secret to hope and joy.
Forgive us for the times we forget that Christmas is about your Son.
As we go begin our journey through Advent, please show us that real hope is found in Jesus, and prepare us to celebrate his birth and his eventual death for us.
We see him laid in a manger.
We see him nailed to a cross.
We see him raised from death.
We see him alive forevermore.
We sing “Away in a Manger.”
We think of “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Lord, let us not forget the man on the cross while we adore the baby in the manger.
Please bless us Lord.
We want to be a blessing to others.
Use us, Lord.
We want to be useful.
Fill us, Lord, so we are filled with you.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Wangerin, Walter. The Manger is Empty (San Francisco: San Francisco Harper, 1996)
Lucado, Max. God Came Near (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1987), 88 & 89
Buechner, Frederick. Peculiar Treasures (San Francisco: Harper & Row), 39
McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands A Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ), 175
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan), 56