This is my 3rd sermon , preached on December 21, 2014 At Messiah Lutheran Church, Auburn WA
If we look back over 2014 I think we will see that it has been a very tough and trying year.........It has been tough all over the world........It has been a tough year for our country.........It has been tough year in our own state........How about right here in Auburn, or right here at Messiah? It has been a very tough and trying year...........
We begin in Oso with the mudslides on March 22nd. 43 people lost their lives that day. Families lost members, friends lost friends, and I think everyone was affected by this tragedy. Then there are the multiple shootings in schools, movie theaters, and malls. Some of those in Seattle and the surrounding communities. Many of us have lost loved ones this year, people who are near and dear to our hearts in a way that no other person is. Others may have had the shock and blow of unexpected illness in their families, and I know some are dealing with unemployment and money problems. Their lives, and the lives of their family's have been changed by these experiences, and in the some of the stories I have been involved with as a Stephens Minister, I have felt their pain and their fear. It has been a difficult year for many of us.
Let's think about the soldiers who lost their lives fighting the war on terrorism to protect our freedoms. Think about how those deaths have affected the lives of their families knowing that their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, or even friends won't be coming home. How about right here in Auburn, or even right here at Messiah? We have lost members, family, or friends. In our homes someone won't be there, and Christmas won't be the same. Questions and concerns . What will Christmas be like, what else will be missing, who else won't be there? Maybe money is tight right now and it just doesn't feel like Christmas at all. It affects us all, we've already felt like we were trying to juggle things while walking on a tightrope, and then the world falls over and we lose our balance and fall off. Some of us have never felt anything like this before and we don't want to ever again. Yet we still wait for the uncertain future and what it will bring us. It seems like time and time again the security of our world has been shaken.
This Christmas will be different. Whether or not we have experienced a personal loss in our families, we share the loss with our church family, we share the loss of our church family, and we share the loss in our country. There are many of us who are dealing with serious illness or death in those we love and we are worried. There are some who are struggling financially and things are only getting worse. Christmas coming only makes things more difficult. Many of us are dealing with other issues and struggles , and we need help. Our relationships are in jeopardy, our sanity is in jeopardy, and our serenity is in jeopardy. For some, it just doesn't feel like Christmas, and for others, they just wish Christmas would go away. This year will not be the same, places will be empty, traditions will be different, celebration will be diminished, joyfulness will be a little quieter, and the warm glow a little less bright. For many of us......No, for all of us, this will be a different kind of Christmas.
There are a lot of similarities between our lives, and the lives of Mary and Joseph. They would find themselves in some very similar situations. Their country was under military occupation by the Roman Empire. There were a lot of unknowns and concern for their family, friends, and country men, both economically and politically. The Hebrews had no control over their future. They had no certainty of what was to come. There was no stability in their lives. And, even though it's not talked about, I'm sure there was tragedy, death, illness and even financial worries as part of their lives. I think they probably felt like a lot of us feel here today.
In our reading from Luke Chapter 1, we hear the story of a great miracle in the face of difficult times. We read a story that could have started with once upon a time. We read of the angel Gabriel who made a visit to Nazareth, a city in the countryside of Galilee. There he visited a teenage girl, around the age of 15. Her name was Mary and she was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. Gabriel came to bring her a message. He greeted Mary as one who was favored by God. Mary was greatly troubled by this greeting from the angel, being chosen by God doesn't bring any ideas or goals that consume our daily lives. Some would assume that those who are favored by God will enjoy the good life, being wealthy and having social standings, or be in good health. But, that would not be the case for Mary. She will have a baby out of wedlock who would grow up to be executed. There was no wealth, no royal title, and no recognition at all for this mother who would give birth to a baby that would be King and his kingdom will never end.
Do not be afraid, Gabriel says to Mary, for you will give birth to a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be the son of the Most High, the Son of God. Through Him the whole world will be saved. For God, in His infinite wisdom has a plan. God knows our need for a savior. God knows of our need for Christmas. God knows we need His presence right here in Auburn, right here at Messiah. being able to relate to us on one hand, and able to save us with the other. God knew then and He knows now that there are times when the uncertainty and the severity of the events in our lives will overwhelm us. He knew of the kingdoms that would rise to power, and their leaders would grow strong and overwhelm and overpower others. He knew these leaders would oppress and hurt others, and He knows these kingdoms will crumble and fall away. God knows we need Jesus, all human, all God, a King to reign over His people forever, for His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom built out of love for us all. You see, the central figure in this story is not Mary, and it's not the angel Gabriel, The central figure in this story is the gracious and loving God who gave His Son, Jesus Christ, whose birth is the hope and promise of God's redeeming love, Emmanuel, God with us.
God's blessings may not take away our pain. God's blessings may not bring our health back. God's blessings are not going to erase the events like Oso, or the school shootings. His blessings are not going to bring our loved one's back, God's blessings can be a difficult gift to accept because they often call for great courage, great strength, great energy, and great faith. We are often asked to face what we would rather not face. We will be asked to grow through events and areas we'd rather not grow. But, no matter how overwhelming it may seem, as unbelievable as it may be, or incomprehensible as it is, Gabriel tells us........Nothing is impossible with God. An old barren women can have a child, a virgin may conceive. God can pit Himself into human history as a child, and from a tomb He shows us there can be resurrection and life. The Holy Spirit can empower a world, form a church from where there was none, and reach out far and wide.
I know, we have heard this story before, We have heard it so many times that we have lost sight of the awesomeness of this story, the awesomeness of God entering human life with all of it's corruption and violence, to give us hope , to rescue us from our own sinfulness, to send us Jesus, our deliverer. If there has ever been a Christmas we need to remember that God loves us, that God gave us His Son, and that Son was born among us as human, if there was ever a Christmas that we need to remember that nothing is impossible with God, it is this Christmas.
When the angle Gabriel delivered this message to Mary, after he told her about this miracle that was to happen, after Mary had heard all this news, do you know what she said? I am the Lord's servant, may it be as you have said. I think Mary knew that this meant greater challenges in her life, but I also think Mary knew that these blessings brought hope from a relationship with God. She could have said no, she could have rejected God's invitation, but she didn't.
I wonder, as we celebrate this Christmas that will be a different kind of Christmas for all of us......I wonder if we can grasp a hold of the hope that Christmas brings........I wonder if we can understand the magnitude of the impact Gabriel's message had on Mary's future and on our future today. I wonder, can we understand, even a little bit, what it took for Mary to commit to the path she chose, and can we understand the enormity of that commitment. I wonder, can we follow her lead, even in some small way. I wonder, in the light of events that have happened this year, and that will happen in the years to come, if we can find the hope that Christmas brings........Amen