Third Sunday in Advent
Dec. 16, 2018
The Voice of the Messenger
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid,Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God.
Over the past few months, we have been studying about Angels in our Wednesday Bible studies. The Bible describes several types of angels. There are those that provide and protect, there are others who wage war on our spiritual enemies.
Yet there is one particular type of angel that is most popular and renown. The MESSENGER. The angel that went to Zechariah (Gabriel), the angel that went to both Mary and Joseph in separate instances. And of course – the Angels who appeared to the shepherds on the outskirts of Bethlehem singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will to men.” They announced that a baby had been born and that the shepherds should hurry to see this one who was born. The presence of angels has become a major theme and symbol of Christmas.
The voices of the angels hold such a prominent place, that I’ve includes them in this Advent Series of “Voices”. Two weeks ago I focused on the ancient voices of the prophets the announced the need for salvation of all people. Last week, I talked about the “Voice of Creation” that cried out with groans, desiring to be renewed and redeemed after the Great Fall it took in Genesis chapter 3 when Adam and Eve sinned. This morning, we bring it into the present – that is the present tense of the biblical narrative of Christ’s birth. Into the lives of a carpenter and a maiden from Nazareth who were pledged to be married. To each of them, appeared the angel.
The first encounter with the angel Gabriel comes in the passage we read this morning. There, Gabriel appears to Mary. We pick up the story in verse 26: In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
I like what the New Living Translation says about Mary next. In verse 29, it says: “Confused and disturbed (NO KIDDING!), Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.” She was probably thinking, “Who are you and why are you here?” The angel Gabriel speaks to her again, and says, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! 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!”
“Do not be afraid,” Gabriel said. Mary may have been frightened by the sighting of an angel, but there is probably more to it than that. These words were preparing Mary for what was to follow—the announcement that God was calling her to do something that was completely out of the ordinary, something that would de-rail her life, possibly create a scandal, and leave her homeless and destitute. The fear lay in the dreams of a life about to be shattered by the call of God. We might know that same feeling. The feeling I had when God called me, and God called Grace. Our plans were derailed.
Don’t be afraid when God calls you out of the ordinary circumstances of your life. Don’t be afraid for God to choose to use you to do something great to impact the world. Don’t be afraid because where God calls, God provides—God provides the resources we need.
The SECOND appearance of an angel appears in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 1. An unnamed angel appears to Joseph in a dream. Joseph has already gotten the news of Mary’s pregnancy, and he’s considering all the options. He can “put her away privately” (break up with her) or he could continue their relationship and risk the shame it might bring. As Joseph sleeps, the angel comes and says, “Do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary.” Don’t be afraid. I can imagine as Joseph pondered the situation that things just appeared hopeless, but the angel’s announcement was a reminder that there was no reason for hopelessness. The angel reminded Joseph that what was happening was simply a fulfillment of God’s Word as found in the prophet Isaiah: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel (meaning God is with us). It was the angel’s way of saying, “You’re right where God wants you to be. You may not like it, but this is God at work, revealing himself to this world.” The angel shared a message of encouragement.
I am reminded that there is no such thing as a hopeless situation, there are only hopeless people. God can redeem any situation that life throws at us, and life can be pretty mean and unfair. You heard this last week, and you will hear it again. Why? Because we can’t talk about Advent without considering that it is about the redemption of a broken world. Guess what? Life is not fair. Because of sin, there are some things in life that are unjust. That doesn’t mean we don’t work to correct the injustice of life, but some things are just beyond our control. When life seems to be out of control, we need encouragement. We need to hear that we’re not alone, that we’re not forgotten, that God cares.
One day two people were out distributing loaves of bread in a low-income housing complex. They came to an apartment where they heard arguing through the door, but they decided to knock anyway. A man opened the door and asked what they wanted. One of the visitors said, "We don't want anything. We just wondered if you know anyone who could use some loaves of bread?" "Why are you doing that?" the man asked. "Just to let people know that God loves them." "What did you just say?" the man asked, rather anxiously. "We're just handing out loaves of bread to let people know that God loves them.. The man stared and said, "I can't believe this. We just buried our three-week-old son yesterday, and now here you are at our door." The visitors offered to pray with them, and the couple accepted their offer. As they were leaving, and the door was being closed, they heard the husband say to his wife, "See, honey? I told you God cares. We thought he wasn't paying attention to us, but he sent those people here to make sure we knew."
The encouragement of God’s presence can transform our fear into hope. Like a visit from an angel to Mary and then Joseph, God often makes visits to unsuspecting people through our presence. When we make ourselves available to God, he will place us where we need to be. How can we say no when God puts us in certain situations?
This past Monday morning, I dropped by The Bridge Behavioral Health center. We have been ministry partners with them for about 5 years. We provide transportation for their clients to medical appointments every week. We (Bob Howe and I) have been doing Bible study there every Monday night for the past three months. The attendance has been poor and many nights, nobody shows up. I called Tammy (The director of The Bridge) and asked if we could put up posters on the bulletin board to promote the Bible Study. So I walked in to hand her a few posters. As I entered the lobby, Tammy was having a conversation with one of the staff. The staff person said, “But we don’t want to serve them ‘Jail Food’” I had no idea what they were talking about. I was minding my own business. As I was waiting for the elevator door to open so I could exit their conversation gracefully, Tammy turned to me and said, “Pastor Steve, what we are talking about is that we get our food from the Lancaster Detention Center. We just believe on the holidays, it would be nice to serve them something a little more special. We’re thinking maybe ordering out for Pizza.”
As I stepped onto the elevator, I knew right away that my family – and maybe Second Baptist Church would be serving Christmas Dinner to the Bridge this year. I had thought that maybe I was interrupting the conversation of these two women. I realized that God was interrupting the conversation. I felt so strongly that there was a reason for me stepping off that elevator to hand those posters to Tammy at just that moment. So at 12:00 noon on Christmas Day, we will be serving a meal to the clients at the Bridge. Tammy and her family will help serve, too.If you are interested in preparing one of the dishes for the meal, please talk to me.
Like Mary and Joseph, we really don’t know when God is going to step into our world and call on us to extend ourselves beyond the comfortable. There are MANY stories of people being surprised by God. This Advent season, let Christ be born in us in new ways. Let Christ be born through us as we sing of God’s salvation, offering God’s encouragement and extending God’s grace to all who live bound by the fears of this life. We are the instruments of Grace in the lives of people around us – whether it is weak and struggling family members, or clients at The Bridge – God uses us to reveal himself to others.
If we don’t sing the song of the angels, no one else will. I really don’t see myself as an angel, and I’m sure not many other people do, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have a song to sing, and it is the angels song. How will we be messengers bearing Good News? How will God use us to be his mouthpiece of peace on earth, and goodwill to all humankind? AMEN