Well, today’s the fourth Sunday of Advent, right? Let me give you a snapshot of where we’ve been since Advent started. We’ve been talking about the restoration that God is bringing about through the birth of Christ. In the birth of Christ, restoration came into the world and during Advent every year, we are reminded that we all still need this restoration. So on the first Sunday of Advent, we talked about how we are all in desperate need of this restoration. On the second Sunday, we talked about the need to prepare for this restoration and some things we could do to prepare. Last week, Mike brought a message about how restoration passes through the hands of the humble. So in all of this, we are building up to the great restoration of all things that began leaking into the world with the birth of Christ.
So this week, the fourth Sunday in Advent, we’re talking about Mary. Every year in the lectionary, the focus in the fourth Sunday of Advent is on Mary. And I think that’s important to note. In the past three weeks, we’ve been talking about this coming restoration as something that happens to us, something that we all need and we have to prepare for. And that’s all true. But it’s not the whole story. This week, in hearing the story of Mary, we hear the story of how each one of us has a specific place in God’s plan for restoration. It’s not just something that happens to us. It’s something that God is bringing about through us. You with me so far?
So last week, the Scripture was about how this woman Elizabeth, who everyone believed to be unable to have children, became pregnant with a son who would come to be known as John the Baptist. So in the Scripture for this week, Elizabeth is in the sixth month of her pregnancy and we start reading about a relative of Elizabeth’s, Mary.
As the story opens up, we read that Mary is engaged to a man named Joseph. The idea of engagement back then in the first century was actually kind of similar to our idea of engagement. It’s a period of preparation for a wedding. Back then, it usually lasted around a year, and it was taken more seriously than how we see engagement. It was taken almost as seriously as marriage. The couple still didn’t live together, but if either of them was unfaithful to the other or if they had relations during that time, it was seen as adultery, with all of the punishments associated with that.
So there Mary is. We don’t know much about Mary, just that she was probably young, since girls got married around 12- or 13-years old back then, and we know she’s a virgin. So there Mary is, minding her own business, when an angel appears to her.
And the angel says “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” And Mary’s like “What in the world is going on here? What kind of greeting is that, who is this weirdo?” And the angel says “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you!”
And now I’m sure Mary’s thinking “What in the world is going on? What do you mean God’s honoring me? What is happening here?!” Because you see, Nazareth wasn’t a big city. Nazareth was a small village of a few dozen families. No trade routes went through it, nothing big really happened. It was just kind of out in the middle of nowhere. This kind of stuff didn’t really happen there.
And the angel goes on to say “Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.” Now those are some great words to be said about your son, right? Wouldn’t you want an angel to tell you something like that about your kids?
But there’s part of me that thinks that Mary didn’t really hear much of what the angel said. I think Mary heard the angel say “You will conceive and give birth to a son” and stopped there. I mean, that’s pretty big news, right? I don’t think this announcement is something you can really just take calmly like we always picture Mary, right?
Because like we’ve already said, Mary was a virgin, she had never done anything to make that stork come with a baby for her, right? Never married, she’d been a good girl her whole life, but she’s not stupid. She knows there’s something missing in this equation, virgins don’t just get pregnant. So, in the Andy Burns translation, she asks the angel, “Waitwaitwait. I’m gonna get pregnant?! You’ve gotta have the wrong person, you can’t be talking about me. Maybe you’re just early, come to me the day after my wedding, and that will be much more believable.”
And the angel says “No, I’m talking about you Mary. The Holy Spirit’s gonna come upon you, the power of the Most High will hover over you. God’s gonna do this in God’s mysterious ways. So your Son will be the Son of God. Don’t you know that your cousin Elizabeth is having a son, even though she’s old enough to be a grandmother? No one thought she was gonna have a baby, and now she’s six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible with God!”
And after all of this, the only thing the Bible has Mary as saying is “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” And that’s a great response to something like this. But I like to imagine what actually came out of Mary’s mouth as being something a little more realistic. She got to that point of completely submitting to God, and that’s great, but part of me thinks there had to be something more there.
Remember, this is a 12- or 13-year old girl. Now that meant something different in biblical times than it does now, 12- or 13-year old girls were already seen as adults back then. But that’s still young, you know. And here’s this shiny dude from heaven saying that she’s gonna be pregnant, she’s gonna have a baby. I try to put myself in Mary’s shoes and I would be overcome with panic in that situation. I could imagine her mind racing, thinking “I’m pledged to be married to Joseph. Any sign of unfaithfulness is treated as adultery. When Joseph finds out that I’m pregnant, he’s going to know that that baby is not his. And he’s going to assume that I’ve been sleeping around, and he’s going say that I cheated on him. I could be executed for this! No one’s going to believe me when I say that some weirdo in shiny clothes came to me and said that this baby is God’s! No one’s going to believe that story, I hardly believe it! What am I going to do? Should I run away? Where would I run? I live in the middle of nowhere!” Pure panic. That’s how I imagine Mary’s response.
After the angel leaves, Mary knows that she has some time to figure out what to do, no one’s going to be able to tell for a while. So she takes some time to process through this, to figure out what’s actually happening and what she should do. And after she’s had some time to do that kind of work, she sings this beautiful song, written a few verses later in Luke 1. Can I read it for you?
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49 because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50 He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
55 just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
Remember how I just described Mary’s situation? This news from the angel could have really ruined Mary’s life. But Mary sings a song of praise to God. How crazy is that? Mary’s life is being ruined, she could be killed for this, but she praises God for the great things God has done for her. What does this mean?
Here, Mary gets it. Mary knows what’s going on now. You know the restoration that we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks? The restoration that God has promised to bring, that we all need, that we all prepare for, that we all long for, that restoration is going to be flowing through her. Mary knows what God is really doing through her, and she feels blessed. Even though her life is changing faster than she can imagine, even though her family and friends are probably going to ostracize her, even though her reputation is going to be ruined, even though her fiancé might leave her, she knows that God is blessing her through this.
I mean, this is a big moment. She sees the coming restoration. She sings “God has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” That’s the restoration that God is bringing, that is the salvation that God is bringing to the whole world, that is the restoration that we all need, and that is what Mary carried inside of herself for 9 months. That is the intimate place that Mary had in God’s plan for restoration.
So what does this mean for us? What is God saying to us through this story? Well, let’s think what this meant for Mary. If we really look at it, this was intimate involvement with God. I mean, we talk about having a personal relationship with God, but I don’t think anyone in history has really known what that meant more than Mary. Mary’s kind of the definition of having a personal relationship with God-she carried God in her womb for 9 months. That is intimate involvement in God’s plan for restoration. She didn’t just come to church maybe once a week, give money if she remembered to bring any that week, maybe sing along with the hymns if she liked the hymn, sit there and listen the preacher talk at her for 20 or 30 minutes, and then go home unaffected and unchanged. She let God in, she let God affect her to her core.
And it wasn’t all pretty. Imagine what she would have thought the first time that God’s baby caused her to have morning sickness. Imagine what she would have thought when she realized that accepting her place in God’s plan for restoration meant that she would have to start wearing maternity clothes since her normal clothes started to not fit her anymore.
And what about what happened when she started to really look pregnant and everyone in the village of Nazareth gave her those looks and started talking about her. What was Mary thinking when she became the talk of the town and everyone was wondering who the baby daddy was?
Mary was deeply, intimately involved with God and God’s plan to restore the world. And it cost her. It cost her her dignity, her image, probably a lot of her friends and her family, I’m sure it almost cost her Joseph. But despite all of that, Mary accepted her place in God’s plan for restoration.
Do you remember the metaphor I used in the first week of Advent about restoring? We’re like an antique chair that’s been sitting in the attic for years. We used to be beautiful and ornate, but now we’re worn, ragged, chipped wood and torn upholstery. But God sees us in the attic. And God sees our original beauty and knows that he can get us back to that. So he takes us down from exile in the attic, sands and polishes the wood, reupholsters us, completely restores the chair to its original beauty. Got it? The funny thing about this is that through the grace of God, we are both the chair in need of restoring and the ones who stand next to God, helping in the restoring. We’re like the son who stands next to their father as he works on his projects in his work room, watching his every move to try to learn to do that work like their dad. And soon enough, with enough watching and waiting, God hands us some tools and asks us to help him in this work of restoring. God guides our hands and helps us every step of the way as we become more and more intimately involved in this work of restoring.
Each of us has our own individual spot in God’s plan for restoration. But we all collectively, as one church family, have one place in God’s plan for restoration. And I believe that that place is the Community Outreach Center we’ve been working on . That is our place in God’s plan for restoration. That is how we can allow the grace of God to move through us to restore this community. The Community Outreach Center is the way that we can bring Jesus to our neighbors. So are we intimately involved in it?
As of now, the foundation has been laid, the pipes have been put in, and the floor is pretty close to being finished. That’s all the work that we’ll be able to do until after winter. But that’s ok, because that’s about all we have the money to do so far.
Now there’s a way you can become intimately involved with the Community Outreach Center and step into your place in God’s plan for restoration. Like I said at the beginning of the sermon, we have the Matching Challenge going on right now, which is one way that you can become intimately involved and invested in this project. Just to refresh your memories your Commission on Missions voted to start a matching challenge for the Community Outreach Center, using the money given to the church by Mary and Ivan Beard to be used for missions. What that means is all the money given specifically to the Building Fund between November 16 and December 28 will be matched dollar for dollar for up to $5,000. I have no doubt that we can get all the way up to $5,000 and even go over it by next Sunday, when the challenge ends. So I would really encourage you to give to this whatever you are feeling God calling you to give. Maybe you have some undesignated money that you want to switch over to the Building Fund, maybe Christmas isn’t going to be as expensive as you thought it would be this year. Whatever it is, this is an opportunity for you to partner with God and your church to bring God’s restoration into this community.
If you can’t give any more money, you can still become intimately involved. How? Pray. This whole project needs to be covered in prayer. Pray every day that God would give us the ability to finish this building. Pray every day that God would enable us to really step into our place as a church in God’s plan for restoration once the building is complete. Pray for all of the ministries that we’ll be able to do in that building. Pray for all of the people who will be affected, who will encounter Jesus through the Community Outreach Center. Pray that God would enter the scene here, wipe away all obstacles, and help us to do this work.
In all of this, we become more and more intimately involved in God’s plan for restoration. That is what the story of Mary tells us. That is what we remember at Christmas every year. So I end with a question. Mary accepted her place in God’s plan for restoration. Do you?