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Dec 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 22, 2019


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:26-33

Intro: It seems to me that the traditional Advent themes are jumbled

The first Sunday is hope, then the second, third, and fourth are faith, joy and peace
– if I had lived in the 4th century–and anyone had asked me
• I would have suggested that we put faith first
◦ faith is what enables us to hope
◦ so hope would be the theme of the second Sunday
• then, feeling secure about the future, we would be at peace
◦ and that, I think, is when we are most likely to feel joy
– one other Advent theme that integrates and completes the others
love–and we save that for Christmas Eve
• but since we are following the ancient tradition,
◦ the arrival of Jesus into our world is God’s gift of peace

The angel, before visiting Mary, had another appointment

Zechariah was already an old priest when assigned to his service
– there were hundreds of priests – he belonged to one division
• when they drew names to see who would enter the sanctuary,
◦ Zechariah’s name was drawn
◦ this is where we meet him – lighting incense in the temple
• this was done every morning and evening
◦ incense symbolized Israel’s prayers and praise
◦ the people praying outside waited to receive his blessing
– this moment had to be meaningful–Zechariah did not do this often
(this may have been the only time he had ever had this honor)
• he’s in the dark, sacred space and every object around him is holy
◦ suddenly, in his peripheral vision he glimpses someone else
◦ he turns, and standing beside the altar is the angel Gabriel
Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard
• I won’t go through the rest of story, except this:
• coming out of the holy place, Zechariah could not speak,
◦ he was unable to pronounce God’s blessing on the worshipers
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace
(Num. 6:24)

Sometime after Mary’s angelic encounter, Joseph got the news

I imagine him coming to his parents’ home after a long day
– he’s surprised to see his mother at the gate
• she takes him by the arm and leads him to side of house
◦ “Mother what is it?” “Mary,” she answers
◦ she has trouble getting the words out – “She’s pregnant”
• “That’s impossible! We never even . . .”
◦ “I know, I know, but it’s true”
– Joseph did not immediately assume, “Well, it must be a miracle”
• he was immediately contemplating divorce
◦ they were not merely “engaged,” but “betrothed”
◦ the first stage of an arranged marriage — legal and binding
• because Joseph is a good man, he wants to do the right thing
◦ the divorce will be private for her sake and for both families
◦ but the angel of the Lord appeared to him – in a dream
Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife

The angel had one more Christmas errand

This visit came after the birth of Jesus
– last week we read the story of the shepherds
• the angel of the Lord appeared to them also
◦ his first words were,
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy

So here we have four stories and one message
Do not be afraid
• for Zechariah and the shepherds,
◦ the fear was triggered by presence of other-worldly beings
• but it was different for Mary and Joseph
◦ Mary was “greatly troubled” by the angel’s greeting
◦ Joseph’s fear was the prospect of going forward with marriage
taking on the responsibility of the whole mess
– the idea I’m chasing, is that in each instance,
• fear was triggered, then addressed, and then calmed

In calming the fear, the theme of peace is implied

One of the statements made to Mary was a partial quote (v. 33)
– we read the full quote the first Sunday of Advent
. . . and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end
(Isa. 9:6-7)
• worshipers at the temple would have received a blessing of peace,
• if Zechariah had been able to speak
– in the announcement to the shepherds, the promise is explicit
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased
(Lk. 2:14)
• this wasn’t a promise of universal peace
• it was a promise to everyone who received heaven’s gift

Stephen Porges, a professor of psychiatry and research scientist
– he has focused his research on the vagus nerve
• it plays a vital role in preparing the body for action or rest
◦ it also functions in personal relationships and social interaction
• he says the human body and brain function best when we feel safe
Porges, “If our nervous system detects safety, then it’s no longer defensive. When it’s no longer defensive, then the [functions of] the nervous system support health, growth, and restoration.”
◦ socially we’re better adjusted
◦ we are more present, creative, and positive
– he says, safety is not defined by the absence of threat or risk
• but by the feeling of being safe
◦ in other words, my situation may not be safe,
◦ but we can still think and respond well if we feel safe
(for example, a car’s safety features allow us to feel safe while driving)

Perhaps the best way to understand promise of peace is Shalom

This Hebrew word signifies a state of complete well-being
– a quiet, secure and productive life,
• with good physical health and close relationships
– last week, when joy was our subject, I quoted Jesus,
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in your, and that your joy may be full (Jn. 15:11)
• he made a similar statement regarding peace
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33)
• he also said,
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (Jn. 14:27)

Here’s what I believe we need to understand

The Christmas promise is that we will find peace in Jesus
– this is not easy for us
• our minds are materialistically conditioned
◦ how can Jesus become real enough to us, to rest in him?
• by getting to know him in scripture,
◦ then by practicing spending time with him in silent prayer
– in the New Testament, we hear Paul say repeatedly that we are
• with relaxed, deep breaths we can learn what that feels like
◦ quiet our souls in him – to trust – and to rest
• no matter what our circumstances throw at us,
◦ if we can find our way back to Jesus, we can return to peace
◦ he is always a safe, loving, calming presence

Conclusion: One last thought about the angel and his messages

Each time he appeared to a person, he spoke to them by name
Do not be afraid, Zechariah
Do not be afraid, Mary
Joseph, son of David, do not fear
– as soon as the angel spoke, they discovered they were known
• they were not anonymous digits, lost in the mass of humanity
– God knew them by name – and he had a message for them
• as he knows each of us by name, and has a message for us
• are we listening?

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, his saints
(Ps. 85:8)

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