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Dec 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 12, 2021



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. Luke 1:26-29

Intro: I know — this is a strange place to stop reading

These few verses are a small piece of story surrounding Jesus’ birth,
– many big things take place in this long chapter,
• so it is easy to skim this short scene and get to the action
• but I think it may do us some good to linger here awhile

There is something odd about Mary’s reaction

I’ll show you why – earlier, the same angel appeared to Zechariah
– even before the angel spoke
Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him (v. 12)
• later on, an angel appeared to shepherds, and immediately
they were filled with great fear (2:9)
◦ this is typical of angel sightings in scripture — angels frightened people
• now here in our verses, an angel appears to Mary
◦ she also reacts – but not to the angel!
– it wasn’t his presence, but his opening line that troubled her
Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!
• Luke tells us, she was greatly troubled at the saying
◦ and she began wrestling with what sort of greeting this might be

Centuries prior to this story, someone else had a similar encounter
– Israel had been conquered and oppressed by a powerful nation
• the character in this episode was Gideon – a angel appeared to him and said,
The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor (Jdgs. 6:12)
◦ when you read his story, you discover Gideon was anything but a man of valor
• Gideon’s response reveals the despair of his people
Please, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? (Jdgs. 6:13)
– Mary did not respond with words as Gideon had
• instead, her response was with concerns and thoughts
• she was troubled, not because she knew what was coming next,
◦ but because she had no idea where this was going
• I think most of us would wonder, Why me?
◦ “Favored one? I’ve never done anything to distinguish myself. How did you get my address?”

As we get to know Mary, we will discover this trait in her

That she was a deep thinker – held things close to her heart
– after the shepherds found their way to her, Joseph, and the baby,
• they went away telling everyone what they had seen
And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart (Lk. 2:18-19)
• then when Jesus was twelve and had given her and Joseph a scare,
. . . they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. . . . And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart (Lk. 2:49-51)
– mothers are frequently the family historians
• the ones who put together the photograph albums
◦ who cherish the special memories and tell the stories
• of course, for Mary this became a journey of discovery
◦ and along the way, she paused to contemplate the meaning of things

At the outset, Mary’s experience was not wonderful

It wasn’t like unwrapping a Christmas gift to find exactly what you wanted
– it was disturbing and unsettling
• God’s will for us sometimes affects us this way
◦ whether we are thrown into it or choose to step into it
• our predictable routines are disrupted
◦ the future we had planned for ourselves dissolves
◦ instead of knowing where we’ll be tomorrow, we are uncertain
– do you ever wonder if God has a purpose for your life?
• whether he is in control or things just happen randomly?
• even if you cruise along for awhile and life is going well,
◦ if there’s a sudden and unexpected deviation, a hardship or loss
◦ and it seems to have no rational place in your imagined world,
it can make you wonder if there is a purpose for any of it

At that point, a lot of people give up on God
– they may still go to church, pray before meals, donate to charities
• but they don’t believe their lives serve a spiritual purpose
• and they don’t trust God for every detail of their lives
– if ever we are tempted to think faith and trust are easy,
• all we have to do is follow just one character in the Bible
◦ even those on whom God poured out his love,
◦ their safety and security were not guaranteed (think of Job!)
• God does have a vision for each of us
◦ we do not have to understand all that happens, but we have to trust
◦ he can work with everything that enters our story
God lets nothing go to waste

The angel immediately reassured Mary

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God
– “It’s true, from now on you will not have a normal life,
• but you have been graced by God”
◦ that is the meaning of the word “favor”
◦ verse 28, “graced one” and verse 30, “found grace with God”
• God’s grace will carry you through all that comes at you
– remember the annoyance Paul called his thorn in the flesh?
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:8-9)
• personally, I don’t want to believe this
• I want to believe that if things get really bad, it’s okay for me give up
◦ but by this point in my life, I know better
◦ I’ve witnessed God’s grace too many times to give up

Do not be afraid, Mary – on the other hand, be terrified
– your destiny has arrived at your front door
• it will seem an impossibility to bear
• but God will support you through all of it
– your destiny is worth giving up the life you dreamed for self
• it will be worth the suffering
• God will be gracious to you all the way through
◦ this is the new condition of your life–grace
◦ God bring his purpose for you to fruition by his grace

I am not trying to throw cold water on our holiday spirit

But the thing is, we do not know Christmas if we leave out the cross
• the cross cuts through everything
• when Jesus was only eight days old,
◦ the happy couple brought him to temple to present him to the Lord
◦ we’ll meet old Simeon next week, but he was there and predicted Jesus’ future
He also told Mary, a sword will pierce through your own soul also (Lk. 2:35)
– what kind of pain pierces all the way down into the soul?
• not physical pain, but emotional pain
• the grief of seeing a loved one suffer – the grief of loss

Viktor Frankl discovered that people can survive pain and suffering,
– if they can find a meaning for it or in it
• those who research pain tell us that, “the symptom serves a function”
Jake Caldwell, “Bodily suffering is the refusal of the body to be ignored and treated like a lifeless machine, and is the refusal of the soul to be ignored and forgotten . . .”
• pain has a story to tell us, and we can learn to listen to it
Caldwell, “If nothing else, illness should change us, make us wiser and deeper. We come back, if we come back, with a deepened experience of life. We will never be the same.”
Thomas Moore, “If we allow sickness to lead us into wonder about the very base of experience, then our spirituality is strengthened. Accepting that we are wounded, we enter life differently.”
– in Genesis we read about Jacob after wrestling with God
• he emerged from that match wounded but changed
◦ God gave him a new name, which is equivalent to a new identity and destiny
◦ God also gave him a permanent disability–his limp

What did we do for our children when they complained about some of their pains?
– we told them, “Those are growing pains”
• we gave their pain a meaning
– the cross is a mystery – it is a surgical instrument
• it cuts in order to heal, it kills in order to give life
• it tells us we are experiencing growing pains

Conclusion: When I was kid I read stories about children in other countries

That in some places, they would leave their boots outside their homes
– then when St. Nicholas came by he would leave them a gift in their boots
• that gift, for instance could be an orange
• when I read that, I thought, “What a rip-off!”

Before the United States commercialized Christmas,
it was not all about materialist gift-giving
Christmas was focused on our longing for Jesus
and our joyous celebration of “God with us”
An orange was a good-enough present,
because what matter most was the Infinite coming to us as an infant
Can we recover that simplicity?
If I tell you, all I want for Christmas this year is an orange,
I’m saying I want to spend Christmas with Jesus
I want to approach the manger, but stay near the cross
The one brings God to us, and the other brings us to God

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