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According to Your Word

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It’s almost Christmas

You can feel it can’t you. Christmas is close. Today is Christmas eve and it is the last Sunday of Advent. It is a wonder any of the children can sit still because the time to open presents is so close but I’m sure all the children here this morning are so well behaved not one single mother has had to threaten them with taking away a present or delaying the time when presents will be opened. As we look at what our scripture text is for this morning we see the announcement of the coming of Jesus. This is the background of the Christmas story that most of us are most familiar with. It is the story of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah.
As we have progressed through Advent we have seen the promise of God’s coming judgment. We have seen the promise that God will set all things to right and now we are seeing how this promised redeemer is going to come and be the fulfillment of all the expectations of the people.
It is a text that we know so well. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and he addresses her by saying “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you”. Favored one. Mary is favored by God. Nowhere do we see that Mary is somehow the holiest and best of the young ladies in her neighborhood and so she is the one worthy of bearing the messiah. Instead the passage speaks only of the favor of God that is put upon her. Mary is someone who receives the grace of God in the same way that you and I do. God comes to us not because of any goodness or merit in ourselves but because he is the one who is good and gracious. This idea seems to confuse her. She is troubled at what this could mean. Imagine that an angel shows us and tells you that God has decided to show favor to you. You’d likely be wondering what God had in store for you. The history of this is not something that is usually a positive thing by human standards. The favor and call of God has meant difficulty for many of the people that came before Mary. God showed favor to Noah and he had to build an ark and see the world around him be destroyed but he was saved from the wrath of God by that ark. Abraham was called out of idolatry and was told that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed but he had hardship. Having a child of the promise was slow in coming and it caused heartache but God was good to his promise even though the road was not easy. Moses was shown favor by God and the road for him was also not an easy one and even though he was favored he never entered the promised land with the people. The Old Testament prophets were favored by God. They proclaimed his messages to the people and yet their lives were very difficult and many of them were killed.
So, when an angel shows up and tells Mary she is favored, it could be a difficult a difficult path. It is not a rosy road. We see this right away when she is told what is going to happen to her. In her womb she is going to carry a child. She has never been with a man and so this means the difficult road of explaining why you are pregnant when you shouldn’t be. It means you will have to share with your betrothed that this is the way your life together is going to start. And the name of this child is to be Jesus. His name means “The Lord Saves” and because we know the rest of the story we know that one of the most difficult parts of this favor that she is receiving from God is that she will have to one day see this child unjustly executed. But this is the beauty of the story, isn’t it. When Mary asks how any of this can be the angel informs her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the child will be called holy, the Son of God. This is amazing for her to hear and we need to do our best to hear what is said to her with her ears and not our own. Some of the words used there by the angel don’t resonate the same way to our 21st century ears. When we hear that the child will be holy we assume that this is talking about being morally upright. Jesus was, in fact, perfectly moral, but that isn’t what holy means here. It means to be set apart. It means that this is not any ordinary child. This is the messiah. The one promised from immediately after the fall of humanity into sin. The one who the people have been waiting for. But that isn’t all the angel says about this child. He is to be called holy, the Son of God. This is a very unique name. It tells us that this child is going to be divine. He is different and we know that because of this he is able to save us from the worst problem that we have: sin, death, and hell.
All of this has to seem impossible to Mary. I’m sure she was overcome with the fact that she was chosen to be the one to bear the promised messiah. She had known the story of the promise her whole life and now it was her who would bear this child. Her response is humbling and it is the response that we should echo in our Christian lives. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” The experience of Mary is obviously unique. It will never happen again but as we look at Mary’s reaction we see that it is important that our attitude be like hers.
God has shown us favor. In our sin and unbelief we were undeserving but God showed us favor by giving us the gift of faith. It is easy for us to look at this gift and say “How can this be?” I have done nothing to deserve your favor God. We can easily think that somehow we have earned this or that we should do something to earn it but that isn’t how the favor and grace of God works. Through the Holy Spirit and because of the work of Jesus for us on the cross we are recipients of God’s favor by the grace of God. This is why we confess that our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone.
God’s favor has been given to us and our response should echo that of Mary’s: I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. We humbly trust that God will do what God has promised to do. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas tomorrow may this attitude of humbly trusting God be a part of our celebration. We put our trust in the fact that this child in the manger who is born of low estate is the same child who died, rose again, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father for us. We trust that all of this was done for us and will be done for us. We are his servants. Let it all be to us according to His word.
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