Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 30 and 31 - Luke 1:26-56

I preached as if I were Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary this Advent.  Here's the sermon "from" Mary, based on this meditation by Rev. William Weedon:

There is just so much to treasure in your heart when the Son of God is in your life. I remember my childhood years, my father and mother taking me to the synagogue and traveling to the Temple for the Lord’s Festivals. We heard the stories of Moses and our people Israel leaving Egypt and traveling to the Promised Land – and that Moses promised a new Prophet was coming after him from among us to lead us all to the eternal Promised Land of Heaven. I heard the stories of how they built the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle, and how centuries later King David thought he would do God a favor by building a Temple to replace the old Tabernacle. However, God said no. David’s son would build God’s House. And more than that, God would establish a son of David on the throne forever – a promise that the eternal Messiah would come from David’s family. I learned the stories of our people’s rebellion against God, and how He sent foreign armies against us to destroy or capture everyone and everything – even Solomon’s Temple. But the angel Gabriel appeared to faithful Daniel to assure him that God was still with our people. And sure enough, our people returned to this land and built a new Temple to the Lord. I never dreamed that that same Gabriel would appear to me, to announce that a new Temple of the Lord, not made of bricks, but of human flesh, would arrive. That the Prophet Moses promised was about to arrive to lead us. That in fact, I, a virgin and a descendant of David, would give birth to the Messiah who would wage war against the enemy Devil and win the victory for us.

I remember how my heart pounded when the angel Gabriel first told me what was about to happen! When I heard about angels in the Bible, I thought I would not be afraid if I saw one. However when you stand face to face with their beauty and holiness, it makes you feel all the ugliness of your sin. Yet he assured me that I had found the Lord’s favor. God’s grace, His undeserved kindness was given to me despite the lowliness of the evil in my heart. God’s Love in the flesh, His only begotten Son, the Jesus who would save us all from our sins – I was blessed to carry Him in my womb for 9 months. My heart burst with great joy at the angel’s gracious words! I rushed off to Zechariah's house, where somehow Elizabeth knew my secret! And so did that baby John inside of her, leaping for joy. What relief to talk to someone else about what was going on inside me, someone who understood and would not treat me like I was out of my mind, someone else who knew what it was like when the Lord does great things for you - and you cannot contain your joy, but you feel like everyone else demands that you do.

I remember the first movements Jesus made inside my womb. I realized that God was quite literally alive inside of me – and my body was His temple. Soon after came the anxious time when Joseph did not know what to believe about the source of my pregnancy. But God's angel let my beloved know the truth and our wedding was back on.

I remember leaving Nazareth on that difficult journey to Bethlehem, knowing my baby could come at any time. Except that I knew it could not be the right time until we arrived there – for according to Micah's prophecy, the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem.

I remember being told there was no room in the inn, but there was the manger. And soon after that for the first time I saw Christ's face and touched His hands. I looked into Joseph's eyes, and it suddenly became so real to us.

I remember when the shepherds appeared at the entrance. And you know, under ordinary circumstances I might have been surprised to see them. But after being visited by an angel, and greeted by Elizabeth, I began to expect the unexpected to happen around my Son. These shepherds said angels had visited them too with songs of glory to God and peace on earth. I could still hear them talking excitedly as they walked away from worshiping Christ.

I remember when we brought Him at 40 days old to the Temple for my rites of purification. And those two old saints rushed up to us with joy. Dear widow Anna let everyone know that the Redeemer was here as she gave thanks to God. Simeon took my baby in his arms, praising the Lord and saying he was ready to depart this world in peace. Then he told me that not everyone would be so excited to see my son in the future. Their responses would cause my soul pain. Being the mother of Jesus would be harder than I thought. Yet, as I had said to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as He has said” – for I knew God would strengthen me to do His will in those hard times.

I remember sometime later when the wise men from the East arrived at our house. They bowed before my Son with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh while the Star they followed still shone upon us. But that glory was gone quickly, and Simeon's prophecy of pain began to come true. Joseph woke me before the morning dawn so we could escape ahead of Herod's terrible sword, which killed so many of our friends' baby boys. Yet God frustrated the proud king's attempts to keep his throne at all costs. When the Lord brought Herod down in death and it was safe for us, we took Jesus back to our little hometown of Nazareth.

I remember a later trip back to Nazareth, when 12 years old Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem's Temple. I was so afraid. Those of you who have ever lost your child know how your mind races through all the terrible possibilities of what might have happened, and how powerless you are, and how you wish you could go back and do the day differently. But there he was, safe in His Father's house. It is sad how easy it is to get confused about who Jesus really is, even for me.

I remember the wedding we were invited to – and that time I did not forget who my Son really is. I did not know what Jesus would do, but I knew when they had no more wine He would do something about it. So even after His response to me sounded rather cold, I instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. And soon the water they gathered was turned to the finest wine, an unexpected little taste of Heaven.

I remember His ministry as an adult and the crowds that followed Him and were as dear to Him as His own flesh and blood – even those who accused Him, and tortured Him, and crucified my Son. The Prophet Micah (6:7) had asked, “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Yet I knew I did not choose to give my Son this way. He tried telling us He gave His life willingly…

And then I remembered the words of old man Simeon in the Temple echoed in my mind as it felt like a sword cut right through my soul when I saw my Son dying. Yet even in that moment, during such a horrifying time, He showed Himself to be the God of Ruth and Naomi. He who restored a family to them provided for me in my widowhood. John, the son of Zebedee, stood next to me as Jesus said, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then He said to His disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And for the rest of my days John cared for me as if I had been his own mother. When the light from the eyes of Christ disappeared, John tried comforting me the same way Jesus did when my beloved husband Joseph died. But it was different. My heart sank beyond what words could express.

I remember those three hopeless days, when I did not trust my Son's promises like I should have. However, though my faith failed, He remained faithful to His Word, and rose from the tomb. A few of my friends and relatives were the first to witness that His life conquered death. Joy flooded my heart. His followers and I became more convinced of what I had always known – that Jesus is Lord and His Word of promise is true. That He was born of me not just for me, but to save the world of sinners, to forgive even my slowness to believe all He says.

I remember how, after Jesus ascended into Heaven, our little group of believers gathered together, and a new apostle was chosen. And as we prayed, the Holy Spirit who conceived Christ in me before now landed on each Apostle in wind and flame. And this was just the first of many times that the good news of my Son was brought to the world. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is preached in Christ's name, just as the God of Abraham says, to bless the world. Some still will not receive Him and believe it. But I welcomed each one who did believe, each one who became God's child. And I treated each one as a brother of my Son. And as you believe, you are the brothers and sisters of this same King who reigns forever and ever. Amen.