2015 Advent Message #2 !
Once upon a forest, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become
when they grew up. !
The first little tree looked up at the stars and said, “I want to hold treasure. I want to be
covered with gold and be filled with precious stones. I will be the most beautiful treasure
chest in the world!" !
The second little tree looked out at the small stream nearby trickling by on its way to the
ocean. "I want to be traveling mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I will be the
strongest ship in the world!” !
The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women
worked in a busy town. “I don't want to leave the forest at all,” that tree said. “I want to
grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they will raise their eyes to Heaven and
think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.” !
Years passed. The rains came, the sun shone, the little trees grew tall. One day three
wood cutters entered the forest. !
The first wood cutter looked at the first tree and said, "This tree is beautiful. It is perfect
for me." With a swoop of his shining ax, the first tree fell. "Now I shall make a beautiful
treasure chest. I shall hold wonderful treasure!" the first tree said. !
The second wood cutter looked at the second tree and said, "This tree is strong. It is
perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining ax, the second tree fell. "Now I shall sail
mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!” !
The third tree felt its heart sink when the last wood cutter looked its way. It stood
straight and tall and pointed bravely to Heaven, but the wood cutter, never looking up,
muttered, "Any kind of tree will do for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the third
tree fell. !
The first tree rejoiced when the wood cutter took it to a carpenter's shop. But the
carpenter fashioned the tree into a manger - a feed box for animals. The once-beautiful
tree was not covered with gold or filled with treasure. It was coated with saw dust and
filled with hay for hungry farm animals. !
The second tree smiled when the wood cutter took it to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing
ship was made that day. Instead, the once-strong tree was sawed and hammered into a
simple fishing boat. It was too small and too weak to sail an ocean, or even a river. It was
taken to a lake.
The third tree was confused when the wood cutter cut it into strong beams and left it in
a wood pile. "What happened?" the once-tall tree wondered. "All I ever wanted was to
stay in the forest and point to God.” !
Many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night,
golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in
the feed box. "I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband Joseph whispered. The
mother, named Mary, squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the
smooth and sturdy wood. "This manger is beautiful for Jesus,” she said. Suddenly the
first tree knew it was holding the greatest treasure in the world. !
One evening several years later a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the fishing
boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out onto the lake. Soon a
thundering and a thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. It knew it did not
have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and the rain. The
tired man, who the others called Jesus, awoke. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and
said, “Peace. Be still.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. Suddenly the
second tree knew it was carrying the King of Heaven and earth. !
One Friday morning less than three years later, the third tree was startled when its
beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile. It flinched as it was carried through
an angry, jeering crowd. It shuddered when soldiers nailed a man's hands and feet to it.
It felt ugly and harsh and cruel as on it, a man named Jesus was crucified. !
But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy, the third
tree knew that God's love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong,
and every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was
better than being the tallest tree in the world. !
That story is called The Three Trees. It ends with the thought that the next time you feel
down because you did not get what you wanted, sit tight and be happy because God is
thinking of something better to give you. !
That thought - that story - leads us to today’s Bible passages, which tell of two people
who got more than they expected. Better than they expected. More than they hoped for.
Two people who were at least as common as what the three trees were made into. Two
common people who were also used for the Lord’s purposes. !
The two people? Mary, who we will think about first, and Joseph. !
For Mary, we will begin in chapter 1 of the Gospel of Luke. Beginning with verse 26 of
Luke 1, here is what is recorded about her. !
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. The virgin’s name
was Mary. !
Right away we have a picture of Mary - and of Joseph. The picture comes from the
description of where they lived. !
You see, Galilee was the unpopular, disrespected northern province of the Jewish
homeland. Nazareth was a small town, meaning it was an unimportant town in that
unpopular, disrespected province. In fact, so unimportant was Nazareth, it was the
general belief that nothing good ever had or ever would come from that town. !
Add to that the fact Mary was a young girl, probably early- to mid-teen in age. A young
girl already betrothed. Engaged is how we would word it today, though a betrothal was
more binding. A young girl already engaged to be married to Joseph. He was older than
Mary, but he was also not important in the eyes of the world. !
Mary was a common girl in a small city in a disrespected area of the Jewish homeland.
Relating that to The Three Trees story, Mary might earlier have hoped for some
importance in her life, but by the time of Luke 1, I am sure she was convinced she was
destined for nothing spectacular. !
However, God, for some reason, had noticed her and decided to favor her with a special
assignment, which was announced to her by the angel Gabriel. !
The announcement? Continuing with verses 28 through 31, “Mary, you are favored and
the Lord is with you. As proof of that, in a short time you will conceive and, nine months
later, give birth to a baby. The baby is going to be a boy. You will name Him Jesus.” !
Remember that Mary was just a common girl. Even the news that she was favored must
have sounded strange to her. I mean, her residence and her lifestyle certainly did not
point to any kind of divine favor. !
And the news she was soon going to conceive did not make sense because she was going
to be married in the future, but she was not married yet. Until she was married, she had
no intention of being intimate with Joseph. Mary certainly had no intention of being
intimate with anyone else. !
What Gabriel announced was obviously impossible. And what else did He say? Verses 32
and 33. Her son would be great. So great He would be called the Son of the Most High.
Her son would be given a throne - the throne of David. Of her son’s kingdom there
would be no end. !
Neither did those parts of the announcement make sense to Mary. Again, she was just a
humble girl from a humble place. Why would her baby be anyone special? !
And that part about her son having a kingdom that would never end. That was
confusing. Mary knew every ruler dies sometime. !
Nothing Gabriel said to Mary made any sense. I wonder. Did Mary think she was just
dreaming, or maybe hallucinating? !
In case it was not a dream, Mary decided to answer Gabriel, which she did with a
question. She asked, “How shall this be? How shall I conceive and give birth to a son
since I have no husband?” !
Gabriel had the answer ready. The Holy Spirit was to come upon her and the power of
the Most High was to overshadow her, both of which mean the plan was for her to
become pregnant in an other-than-normal way. !
Gabriel added the challenge that she believe in strange things. One evidence of that was
Mary’s relative Elizabeth who, at an old age, was currently pregnant for the first time in
her life. That was the result of a promise by God. As Gabriel added, “With God, nothing
To that, Mary had more to say, which began with an expression of her love for God. Love
displayed in obedience. Mary identified herself as “the handmaid of the Lord.” That
means she knew her role was to be obedient to whatever her master - whatever God -
told her to do. She added, “Let it be to me according to your word” - according to what
Gabriel had told her. !
With that, Gabriel left, and soon, Mary had proof she had not been dreaming or
hallucinating that day. A short time later, she was pregnant. Not by being intimate with
Joseph or any other man. Instead, just as Gabriel had predicted would happen, the Holy
Spirit had come upon her and the power of the Most High had overshadowed her. And
no, I do not have a clue how either of those things happened. It really was a miracle that
Mary had conceived. !
Shortly after that - shortly after Mary became pregnant - she traveled from Nazareth in
Galilee to a town in Judea near Jerusalem to visit her relative Elizabeth. Maybe she
traveled to check out what Gabriel had told her. Maybe she wanted to visit with another
woman who had been directly affected by God. Mary went to visit Elizabeth. !
Upon arriving, Mary greeted Elizabeth. It is recorded that at the sound of Mary’s voice,
the baby in Elizabeth leaped. He leaped with joy. That caused Elizabeth to say more than
“hi” to Mary. She touched Mary as she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you,
Mary, among women. Blessed are you because you believed there would be a fulfillment
of God’s plan announced by Gabriel. Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” !
How did Mary respond to that? She responded by making a number of statements. !
First, she said “her soul magnified the Lord and that her spirit rejoiced in God her
Savior.” In other words, her whole being was happy that she had been chosen by God to
give birth to the Son of the Most High. !
Mary admitted her low estate. That was an admission she did not feel worthy of being
chosen by God to give birth to the one who would have a kingdom that would never end.
But then she praised God for being mighty. Might shown not only by exalting her in her
low estate, but also by humbling those who were powerful. Maybe that referred to so
many other women being much more important. Maybe it referred to those who
misused their power. But Mary proclaimed that God humbles those who are proud. !
Mary stayed with Elizabeth f0r three months. It was then time for her to return home,
by which time Mary had a problem. The problem was that it had become evident she
was pregnant. !
That fact was going to be troubling in general. Can we imagine how active the rumor
mills would become in Nazareth? !
And what about Joseph the one Mary was not married to, but engaged to? Wouldn’t he
be surprised when he found out Mary was pregnant. And it would not be a happy or a
pleasant surprise. He had not been with Mary before she had left to visit Elizabeth. She
had been gone for three months. Apparently right after she had left, she had been
unfaithful to him and been intimate with someone else.
Or maybe a Roman soldier had taken advantage of her. There were a lot of Roman
soldiers around. There were at least occasional incidents when Roman soldiers attacked
Jewish women. !
However it might have happened, Mary’s baby was not Joseph’s baby. In reality, it was
not. It was God’s baby. But yes, Joseph was going to be surprised with a very unhappy
surprise. Either Mary had been unfaithful or she had been attacked. Either way, the
plans Joseph had with Mary seemed doomed. How could he be expected to marry
someone already pregnant with a baby that was not his? That is certainly not what
Joseph had bargained for. !
Which takes us chapter 1 of Matthew. !
I wonder if, upon her return to Nazareth, Mary tried to explain to Joseph what had
happened. I would guess that even if she did, how was he to be expected to believe the
explanation “You’re pregnant? And God did it? God is the father? Right.”
If all that had been confusing to Mary, it would be to Joseph, too. !
Joseph decided to end his engagement to Mary. But there apparently was love in their
relationship. A love that continued, even in the situation they faced. Joseph decided to
end the engagement, but to divorce her quietly so she would not be put to shame.
When that decision was made, Joseph fell asleep. While he slept, he had a dream, in
which an angel of the Lord appeared to him. !
The angel is not identified, but it might have been Gabriel, the one who had earlier
talked to Mary, because the message once again had to do with Mary being chosen by
God to conceive and give birth to a son to be named Jesus. !
The message was this. Joseph was to continue with his plans to make Mary his wife. “Do
not be afraid to do that,” the angel said. Why? Because, the angel explained, her baby
had been “conceived by the Holy Spirit.” !
As mentioned, Mary might have tried to explain that to Joseph, but now Joseph heard it
from an angel. He heard that, along with the news the baby would be a boy who was to
be named Jesus.
And - this is also exactly what Mary had been told - Jesus would grow up to save people
from their sins - His people, as in those who would accept Him as the Savior. !
What the angel told Joseph was as incomprehensible to him as what Gabriel had said to
Mary. Joseph was a poor man from a small town in a disrespected part of the Jewish
homeland. Again, no one from there - indeed, no one who was poor - could ever hope to
be much of anything according to the world’s standards. And that stuff about being
conceived by the Holy Spirit? That did not make sense. !
But remember that Mary loved God so much she obeyed the message He had sent to her
via Gabriel. Joseph apparently loved God, too. So much that He, too, obeyed. When he
woke up after his dream, he did as the angel had commanded him. He stayed with Mary,
continuing their betrothal, eventually marrying her. !
Shortly before Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a
town five or six miles south of Jerusalem. It was in Bethlehem Jesus was born, which we
are going to talk about in greater detail next week. For now, let me just give a few detail. !
There was an inn in Bethlehem, but there were no rooms left when Mary and Joseph
They were sent to a barn. That was better than being out in the open under the stars, but
they were sent to a barn where animals were kept each night. It was there Mary gave
birth to her son, who she and Joseph did name Jesus. !
Remember The Three Trees story? When Jesus was born, He was placed in a manger - a
feeding trough - made from the wood of the first tree. The tree that had wanted to hold
treasure, which it did the night of Jesus’ birth. The greatest treasure of all. !
The two other trees were also used by Jesus, one for a time Jesus showed His
miraculous power over nature, the other to hold the sacrifice for our sins. !
But the point - remember the point - is that even though we, like the trees and we, like
Mary and Joseph might have our own plans - for the trees, to be important, for Mary
and Joseph, to just lead quiet, normal lives - while we might have our own plans,
sometimes God has other plans. Better plans. !
Which leads us to the key word for today. The word is “prepare.” Are we prepared - will
we be prepared - to be like Mary and Joseph and follow what God has in mind? Are we -
will we be - prepared to be like the trees, allowing ourselves to be molded and fashioned
and used however God wants us to be used? Even if we have to wait a while for that to
happen? Do we love God enough to be used for Jesus? !
The promise is that loving God and being used for Jesus will make our lives better, now
and forever. !
Today’s closing carol reminds us of what Gabriel told Mary and what Joseph was told
about who Jesus would be - who He is for us. It is Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus. !
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart. !
Born Thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious Kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit raise us to Thy glorious throne. !
Isaiah 60. “Arise, shine. For your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen
upon you.” !
That light is Jesus. May we be like Mary and Joseph, and yes, like the trees in the story.
May we be prepared to be us
ed by Him and for Him. May His will and His purpose be
our way. Amen. !!
Posted on Wed, December 23, 2015
by George Cook