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JOY and Mary - Advent 2018 #1

JOY and Mary

Advent Message #1 - 2o18

Our theme throughout this year’s Christmas season is and will be “Great Joy For All.” Each Sunday morning message will remind us to be joyful.

In preparing for this year’s Christmas sermon series, I did an online search of Bible verses that speak of joy. There are of course many, many such verses, but one thing I was surprised to learn is that over and over again, verses on joy are so often set in the midst of passages that speak of suffering. I was surprised to learn that because it is so easy to think that when a person becomes a Christian, life should be easy and carefree forevermore. But that is not the case. After accepting Jesus, life continues to have troubled times. In some cases, accepting Jesus adds to troubled times from those who do not accept Jesus. Yet we can still have joy. That is a promise in the Bible.

Including in the first passage for today. Two verses in the New Testament Book of Jude. That book is just one chapter. Today’s first passage is verses 24 and 25 of that one chapter.

Before those two verses, there is a summary of troubled times for Christians. Times caused by “scoffers” who are against God. People who do whatever they can to set up “divisions,” sometimes in a church, all the time in society.

Times of division are troubled. They can be discouraging. But listen to verse 24 and 25, which addresses God, who, Jude wrote, “is able to keep us from falling.” What hope there is in that part of the passage. Yes, scoffers are dangerous. Yes, it is difficult facing people who want to divide. But we do not have to fall. God can keep us from falling spiritually. He is able to do that.

When we allow Him to do that, we will have - this is the theme for this season - we will have joy. “Great joy.” Maybe not happiness. Having conflict, for most of us, is not a pleasant thing with which to deal. But we can survive. We can thrive, knowing we are true to Jesus.

So, how do we allow God to keep us from falling? There are, according to Jude, some important steps to take. The list comes earlier in Jude.

We are to “build [ourselves] up in our most holy faith.”

A key word is “faith.” Faith in Jesus. God cannot keep us from falling if we have not taken the first basic step of accepting Jesus as Savior. Have you accepted Jesus? Make sure you have so God can help you.

Another key word is “holy.” Holy means “different.” The Christian faith is holy because we worship not a person, but a divine being. Our faith is different because it is based, not on what we do to earn blessings, but on the love and mercy and grace of our Savior.

Another key word is “build.” Our faith is not to remain stagnant. It is to always be growing. Our base is Jesus, but our faith is to get stronger.

Which will happen as we “pray in the Holy Spirit.” That means to allow the Spirit to help us pray so whatever we pray will be pleasing to and honoring of the Lord.

We are also to “keep [ourselves] in God’s love.” That refers to us knowing and obeying God’s law given to us in the Bible. Making the effort to know and obey.

We are then to “wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are to wait with anticipation for His help now and for the time the Lord leads us to Heaven.

All the while, we are to share with others the holy faith we are building. Our sharing is to come in the form of being merciful to any who doubt and to those who do not yet believe in Jesus.

But again think of joy. Joy now and joy in Heaven in the presence of the Lord. Joy that comes from knowing God is able to keep us from falling, even when attacked by spiritual scoffers.

Joy that is to be expressed using a number of important words. “To Him [to God - to our Savior] glory and majesty and power and authority.”

Do you want joy? As proclaimed in today’s first passage, the way to have joy is to allow God to keep you from falling so you will be and will remain faultless. Not perfect by your own strength. Instead, through the Lord’s grace and mercy. In that way being spiritually faultless.

*       *       *       *       *

You know what? We would not know about the Lord’s grace and mercy - we would not have those gifts available to us - were it not for the fact that a bit more than 2000 years ago, Jesus came to earth. 

He came as a baby, but He grew up to teach, by word and example, how to live, and yes, He did, as a 33-year-old, sacrifice Himself so we can be saved.

The coming, the growing, the teaching, the sacrifice were all necessary for Jesus to be everything we need. But you know what else? Jesus would never have been around in a physical way except for the willingness of a young virgin woman to be the mother of the Savior.

Let’s also think about her this morning. A young woman named Mary. For this, turn back to chapter 1 of Luke, beginning with verse 26.

Mary lived in the small town of Nazareth in Galilee, the northern province of Israel. 

She was betrothed. We would say engaged, but back then, a betrothal was more binding than engagements are today. Mary was a young woman - a virgin - who was betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph.

There is no description in the Bible to indicate there was anything special about Mary. Anything special in a worldly sense. For instance, she was young and she lived in a small town. However, God knew her and, for whatever reason, decided to favor her with a special assignment. An assignment announced to her one day by an angel. A special messenger from God named Gabriel.

That day, while Mary was alone, she was suddenly interrupted by Gabriel .

Gabriel began with the words, “Hail, O favored one,” referring to Mary. “The Lord is with you.”

“Hail” was a normal greeting. The only shocking part was that Mary thought she was by herself. Suddenly having someone beside her, talking to her, caused her to jump.

But being favored and having the Lord with her? Those were surprising words. 

Actually, all Jews, including Mary, were well-aware of the love God has for His people, so there was always a feeling the Lord was with His people.

But favored? That was a confusing statement. What was so favored about being a young woman in a small town in the province farthest away from the capital city of Jerusalem?

Mary no doubt displayed some shock and confusion with Gabriel’s appearance and words.  but Gabriel continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. So much favor that you, Mary, have been chosen by God for a special purpose. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.”

That was certainly interesting news to Mary, especially since Gabriel’s implication was that she would conceive before she and Joseph would be married. Conceiving after the wedding, no problem. That would be expected. But before? That did not make sense because Mary had no intention before being married of doing what is necessary to conceive.

Plus, the baby had already been named. The name was to be Jesus. That was a variation of a name that means “God with us.” That, too, was interesting.

And there was more. Gabriel added that the baby Mary would conceive will be “great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. Of His kingdom there will be no end.”

The Son of the Most High means the Son of God. The throne of David represents the position of ultimate authority over the people of God. It was through the lineage of David that the Savior was to come. Reigning and His kingdom would not end. The authority of the one to be conceived was to be permanent.

Wow, Mary must have thought. Everything Gabriel said indicated the one to be conceived in her was to be the Savior she and all other Jews had hoped for for centuries. 

Wow, Mary must have thought. But wait. Again, the implication was that the conceiving was to happen right away. “Wait,” Mary said. “How can this be since I have no husband?”

Gabriel’s response was, basically, to not worry about it. He told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High [the power of God] will overshadow you.”

What that means, I do not know. I am pretty sure Mary did not know either. But Gabriel challenged her to think about her relative Elizabeth, who is told about earlier in Luke 1. Elizabeth was old, as was her husband Zechariah. For as long as they had been married, Elizabeth had never had a baby. But one day, an angel - Gabriel again - had appeared to Zechariah and announced Elizabeth would conceive, that a baby would be born, and that he was to be named John.

Gabriel said to Mary, “Think of Elizabeth. Her conceiving was considered impossible, but she had conceived.” She was at that time six months into her pregnancy. If it happened with Elizabeth, it could happen with Mary. Gabriel said, “For with God, nothing will be impossible.”

Everything Gabriel said was a lot for Mary to take in. However, listen to her response. An immediate response. There is no indication Mary wanted or needed to think it over or talk it over.

Right away she answered Gabriel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it me to me according to your word.” Right away Mary agreed to God’s plan for her to be the one to bring the Savior into the world.

*       *       *       *       *

A little earlier I commented that Jesus would never have been around in a physical way except for the willingness of Mary, a young virgin woman, to be the mother of the Savior. Of course, had she refused, God would have developed another plan. But another plan was not needed. Mary agreed to God’s first plan. Her choice was to obey what God had for her to do.

Consider the ramifications of that.

Remember Mary was alone when Gabriel appeared to her. There was no one around to confirm what was going to happen. That what was going to happen was God’s plan.

Mary was likely to be accused of immorality. Such an accusation might cause her to be turned out by her family. It most certainly would cause her friends to reject her .

Most definitely Joseph would end their betrothal. And there is this. Religious law at the time allowed a man to stone an unfaithful fiance. If that is how Joseph would react, Mary would die. Especially when word would get out that Mary claimed her son was to be the Savior. Like anyone was supposed to believe that.

And what about the quiet life Mary may have envisioned. Maybe not rich, but at least quiet and peaceful. God’s plan would mean she would have a life raising a son who was destined to be the Savior. What a responsibility that would be as He grew up. What trouble He would get into after that. Trouble she would witness. Trouble all the way to a cross.

How tempting it might have been for Mary to deny what Gabriel said to her, but she did not deny. She did not say no. She agreed to obey God.

She even rejoiced that she could and would do all those things. Later, after she did indeed conceive in a divine way, when visiting Elizabeth, Mary said a number of things, including, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” To magnify the Lord means to show honor to God. “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Everything she was - every part of  her - was glad to be obedient to God.

Mary acknowledged she was of no importance to the world. That she was of “low estate.” But she knew and was amazed by the fact she had been chosen by God for a special responsibility.

Why was Mary willing to be obedient? Because, as she continued, her son was to be the Savior everyone needed. He would “scatter the proud, but show mercy to those who would fear Him.” He would grow up to “humble the proud and those who would misuse their might, but exalt those of low estate.” He would discipline the rich, but “fill the hungry with good things.”

All of what Mary did - all she agreed to do - makes her a wonderful example of the JOY acrostic that will be used throughout this Christmas season. 

An acrostic that begins with J, which stands for Jesus. The challenge is to make Him the priority. The first thing on our minds in all we do.

That was certainly the case for Mary. Despite the problems that would come her way when her pregnancy would be discovered and continue with the pressure of raising the Savior and include the turmoil of His sufferings as an adult, she was willing to be the mother of Jesus. She was willing to follow the plan for her to be the mother of Jesus. Mary did put Jesus first.

O stands for others. Despite the problems she would face, Mary knew the need people had and still do have for a Savior and a helper. She was willing to sacrifice herself for the good of others.

Jesus first. Others second. Third, Y, which stands for yourself.

You and I are important. Mary’s faith and our faith never even suggests we are to ignore our own well-being and interests. It is just that we are to be more aware what Jesus wants and what others need. 

Y. For Mary, she proclaimed that henceforth, all generations would call her blessed. That, too, was an incentive for Mary to be obedient to God’s plan concerning the birth of Jesus.

What about you? Me? Us? What we are facing is not whether to give birth to the Savior. That has already been done. But there are other issues we face. Challenges we have. Proddings from the Lord to do something or to grow in some way. Or maybe it is God offering to help you with grief or a financial problem or a relationship issue. 

Whatever we face, may we be like Mary and agree to do the plan of God, knowing it will be pleasing to Jesus and helpful to others. And remembering the point made at the start of today’s message, the promise that if - when - we build ourselves up in our faith and pray in the Holy Spirit and keep ourselves in the love of God and wait for God’s mercy and share our faith with others, God will be able to keep us from falling as He gives us  what is theme of this Christmas season. Joy. Great joy.

Lord, thank You for Mary’s obedience - and for her example of You first, others second, and ourselves third. Help us to also be obedient and filled with joy. Thank You. Amen.

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