Sunday, December 6, 2015

Isaiah 9, Luke 1,Blessed Mary

Sermon given at United Church of Beloit

Isaiah 9: 6-7
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Luke 1:26-45
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 the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39  At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,40  where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.  41  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  42  In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women,and blessed is the child you will bear!  43  But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord  should come to me?  44  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  45  Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

There's a cartoon going around online among some of our pastor friends, 2 panels, the first, the pastor is in the sanctuary in front of the advent wreath with a couple of the candles lit, saying, “Slow down, shh, it's Advent”. 2nd panel, same pastor in the office, with all around her, “Got the services planned, got the music yet?” “are the poinsettias ordered?, who;s making wreaths?” “Christmas party? At your place?” “Got your shopping done yet, Mom?”

Yes it's advent, the beautiful season when we attempt to slow down in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. And everywhere around us is hustle-bustle of planning, shopping, mailing, cleaning, baking, shopping, wrapping, cooking.... where is the rest? Where is the time to silence? To quietly embrace the mystery of the stories that happened so long ago, yet move us so powerfully today?

So let us have a moment of quiet.....

Holy God thank you for a chance to be still and anticipation of You. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to You, oh Lord our Rock and Redeemer, amen.

Our scriptures this morning are from the Prophet Isaiah and from the gospel of Luke...Isaiah was writing to the Jewish people several hundred years before the time of Jesus. Isaiah's 61 chapters have many of the prophecies of Jesus, including those of birth and of the 'suffering servant' we read during Good Friday services. This particular verse is read this time of year. Chapt 9 is one of the very key chapters of all of the book of Isaiah and these verses powerfully point to the birth of Jesus! In Isaiah 7 -as Steve shared last week, is the prophecy of the virgin birth, here we are told more about that child...that he is indeed a descendant of King David and that his will be a reign of peace, justice and righteousness.....

and so we await that time...the birth of this child who will bring peace. And yet we await....

the candles we light during advent symbolize Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. On Christmas Eve we will light the center candle, which is pure white...the Christ candle.

Let's look at our Gospel lesson...

Luke himself, the author of this gospel and of the book of Acts, was not one of the people who followed Jesus, but came a bit later. He accompanied Paul, was 'the beloved physician” and bible scholars agree that Luke spoke personally-interviewed many of the people written about, including Mary herself.

Mary is a young woman, pledged to be married. In these times to be betrothed was more of a legal, binding covenant than even an engagement is in our time. A betrothal could only be ended by a divorce decree. But this was not the same as marriage. The couple did NOT live together..but were preparing for marriage, the young man working at his trade, and perhaps building a home, the young woman learning from her female relatives how to be a wife, homemaker and mother.

She lived in Nazareth, in Galilee. We've talked before about Nazareth, it had a reputation as a rough town. And Galilee didn't have good rep, either, people from Galilee were considered to be uncultured.

We know from later in Luke that she and Joseph were not financially well off, so they were not a remarkable couple in any way.

Well they were in one way...they were faithful. As in FULL of Faith. They kept to their traditions, raising Jesus well in their faith, and they each had a personal faith. Nevertheless, being a young woman, not yet married, living in a town in the middle of nowheresville....and an angel appears to her!! who are highly favored, the Lord is with you!”

and this angel tells her the most amazing things!! she is to become pregnant, by the holy spirit, and have a child who will be a savior....

I have a feeling there was a long pause before Mary spoke, a VERY long pause.
Can you imagine, just going about your business and an angel appears?! And says the most extraordinary things are about to happen!?

I do know someone who says he saw God, but he also wasn't taking his medication! So I think Mary paused a long time...but then she only asked, how will this be, she didn't ask in a doubtful way, she just wanted to know how it could happen, And the angel explained, and Mary's response was “I am the Lord's Servant. May it be as you have said...” She gave her consent, even tho she was not married. In this time, to be pregnant before marriage―she'd be considered an adulterer and could possibly be stoned to death. But she said “May it be to me as you have said.” Remarkable.

Perhaps the angel telling her about her cousin Elizabeth helped Mary.

Elizabeth is the mother of John the Baptist....this is a miracle pregnancy, she and her husband are OLD! (Sarah and Abraham all over again) but Elizabeth is pregnant at long last, with a son who will be a great prophet...the one who announces that Jesus is the Messiah! Elizabeth and Mary are relatives. So Mary goes to her.

author Barbara Brown Taylor writes “Elizabeth is the first one to hear what Mary has to say, maybe because she is the first one willing to listen.” BBT Home by Another Way

We have to be willing to listen. To listen to God and to one another. Mary was willing, because she listened well to the words of the angel. She knew she could trust because she followed her faith's teachings well, and she knew that even though she wasn't anyone special in the eyes of the world, she was special to God. As are ALL of God's children.

Mary knew that she was a child of God and so her faith helped her to say YES to this amazing life change! And she went to enjoy the company of her cousin Elizabeth, who was in the midst of an amazing life change, who was the first to recognize Mary as Blessed!

And said “Blessed is she who has believed the Lord will fulfill his promises to her!” Elizabeth is saying this to Mary but it applies to herself as well! Both of our scriptures this morning refer to this! Isaiah “the zeal of the Lord God almighty will accomplish this”
and the Angels says to Mary “For no word from God will ever fail.”

God's promises WILL be fulfilled...for all of God's Children! And the Lord has promised Hope, Peace, Love and Joy, because the Lord gave us Jesus.

Peace often must begin with ourselves: "Love is not a vague feeling or an abstract idea. When I love someone, I seek what is best for them. If I begin to take the love of Christ seriously, then I will work toward what is best for my neighbor. I will seek to bind up the wounds and bring about healing, no matter what the cost may be."  -Billy Graham, cited in Peace Prayers

(have you seen our signs outside the church? What do they say-- EVERYONE is invited!} because everyone is a child of God.

Mary, blessed Mary, received the grace of God, and became the means for the Incarnation, for God to become human in the world! This was no accident, but a wonderful expression of the free will given by God. Mary bore Jesus as her very own child, and we can bear Jesus in our hearts as our very own savior and bearer of Love and Light and of God's grace and peace..of Shalom. That perfect peace of God for which we all yearn. WE yes, even we who live in a nondescript town can be the bearers of Jesus to the world!

During his adult life, one of the stories about Jesus goes like this “A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
as a Mom, I suspect that Mary gave Jesus the LOOK when he said this....but she likely got the point too. That yes, we are to care for one another ...all the time!

yes we are to be Jesus' brothers and sisters and doing His will! By listening, heeding the Word of God, by following Jesus- by remembering that there is a BIG picture! God has love and plans that are FAR beyond what any one of us can fathom alone, but we are to help bring about those plans!!

it's a challenge to preach on Peace when the news has been so full of anything but. We pray for the families of those who were murdered. But there are atrocities happening every day. People do not have enough to eat, or a safe place to sleep. People act as if no one else matters and “SELF” must get ahead at any cost, shoving aside any concerns for others. We fear the stranger and sometimes even the neighbor! And Jesus weeps. I believe Jesus weeps every single day, over this country as He wept over Jerusalem.

Found a wonderful quote from Dr. David Lose: "It’s not violence that is the greatest threat to us today, but fear. Fear that drives us to forget who we are, to see people in need as the enemy, and to place securing our safety and comfort above meeting  the basic needs of those in distress. Fear is more dangerous than violence because fear can lead us to forget our deepest identity and betray our most cherished values." (11-15-2015)

Couldn't God just fix everything? If God is so great why is the world such a mess? Author Ann Spangler writes, “God.... decided to take the long way round, quelling the world's rebellion not by brute force but by the power of divine love. That strategy requires restraint. It takes patience. It means justice in a final sense has to be delayed. It means evil is played out to the bitter end so that love can draw as many people as possible into the kingdom.    To say it another way, the weeds and the wheat are allowed to grow up together until the world's last day.h

and what if WE who profess to love Our Lord are to be part of the response?

Richard Foster phrases it this way:"Human beings are so important to God that the divine purposes are worked out through the messiness and sprawl of human history. Apparently, it is more important to God that human beings learn his ways in freedom than it is to get things done efficiently."

We are to learn God's ways and accomplish God's will! Yes God could make the world perfect again. But in order for humans to be fully in relationship with God and each other as we are created to be, we are to learn God's ways and help bring about that perfect Shalom.

This is why Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again. Jesus came to show us the Kingdom of God. God's kingdom is a place of Shalom. Peace. The perfect peace of God, which is no fear or violence of any sort, everlasting peace! But Shalom is also safety and protection, well-being for all of God's creation, completeness and harmony, perfect harmony. That is what Jesus came to earth to bring. But He didn't come to bring it all by Himself. Although he could! He came to model it for us. We are to live as he did, and love as he did, and bring His kingdom to one another. We live in hard times, violence, divisiveness and anger everywhere. If we do everything WE can to live our faith, we shine a light into the darkness and the darkness can not comprehend that light. So we keep on living in the Light. Look! I have faith! I bring you a meal. I bring you a Vacation Bible school lesson. I bring you back packs filled with school supplies by volunteers from 12 churches in Beloit! Look we have beautiful music to share with you! We have cookies to bake with you! Its God's kingdom breaking out here in Beloit!! This is what we individuals are here for, this is what our church is here for. To reach out to ALL of God's Children in the Name of the beautiful babe for whom we wait once again.

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