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Sermon for December 16, 2007

Joy of Mary
Matthew 1:18-23; Luke 1:26-38

There was a perfect man who met a perfect woman. After a perfect courtship, they had a perfect wedding. Their life together was, of course, perfect. One snowy, stormy Christmas Eve this perfect couple was driving along a winding road when they noticed someone at the roadside in distress. Being the perfect couple, they stopped to help. There stood Santa Claus with a huge bundle of toys. Not wanting to disappoint any children on the eve of Christmas, the perfect couple loaded Santa and his toys into their vehicle. Soon they were driving along delivering the toys. Unfortunately, the driving conditions deteriorated and the perfect couple and Santa Claus had an accident. Only one of them survived the accident. Who was the survivor?
Answer: The perfect woman. She’s the only one that really existed in the first place.
A Man’s Response: So, if there is no perfect man and no Santa Claus, the perfect woman must have been driving. This explains why there was a car accident.

The longer I’m married, the more I realize that there are some real differences in the ways my wife and I go through life. There seem to be some differences between Mary and Joseph when they first receive the news of Jesus. The first is given in the Gospel according to Matthew.

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancĂ©, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’

I can imagine how Joseph must have felt. The poor guy comes home from a hard day’s work at the carpentry shop. He cleans up a little and goes out to see his wife-to-be at her parent’s house. When he gets there, she pulls him aside to a private spot and says, “Joe, I’m pregnant. This angel appeared to me and told me I’m going to give birth to God’s Son. Then the Holy Spirit came and put a child in my womb” . . . I don’t know . . . I guess if I were Joseph, I’d be a little upset. My first thought would be that my fiancĂ©e was fooling around behind my back. Of all the excuses, this one would have seen most pathetic. Notice that the text calls Joseph just, which probably means he was careful to observe the law. According to Jewish law, if a virgin promised to a man had sexual relations with another, she and the other man could be punished by death. But not wanting a public scandal or a harsh punishment, Josephs decided just to divorce her. He would publicly declare that she had been defiled, and the marriage contract would be annulled.

It’s not until the angel appears to Joseph that Mary’s bizarre story is confirmed. The angel then tells Joseph to take the woman home to be his wife. Good News is about to be proclaimed to the entire earth. The long-awaited hope of a Messiah will be fulfilled.

Joseph models one that people act when they are confused and uncertain. Mary offers another response to the situation.

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

I have a difficult time relating to Mary. Her unselfish attitude makes me uncomfortable. Here is a young lady, maybe as young as 15. She is pledged to be married to a working man. Her future seems to be shaping up well. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, this angel appears and tells her that she is going to give virgin birth to God’s Son.

I would not have been happy with news like that. As a matter of fact, I would be scared out of my wits. I would have complained. I would have said , “You know, I’m really not worthy of such an honor, sir. Maybe you should find someone else. I’m sure Sarah down the road wouldn’t mind giving birth to the Son of God. Maybe you should give her a try. If you need anything else, though, don’t hesitate to call.” Because of this news, she would be outcast from society. People would accuse her of adultery. If she told the truth, people would think she was crazy.

Mary’s real attitude confirms my own selfishness. She doesn’t try to get out of it. She doesn’t even sound uncomfortable. She says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said,” She later praises God saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” These are not words of disappointment. They are acclamations of praise. I am humbled by her acceptance of duty. Her faith and willingness leave me astounded.

There’s something different between the reactions of Mary and Joseph. Joseph tries to find a way out. God has to send a messenger to get him to change his mind. Mary’s obedience is marked by instant joy. Her excitement bubbles out in splashes of praise. She goes a step beyond obedience. In the midst of uncertainty, doubt, and anxiety, she expresses her trust in God. She had the faith to understand that the world would be changed through her.

On the surface Mary and Joseph’s story may seem far removed from us. After all, not many of us can claim to have had a virgin birth induced by the Holy Spirit. But think about the feelings and reactions that lie underneath. How do you react to troubling or confusing news? What do you do when everything seems to be going wrong? How do you respond when the future seems uncertain?

Some of us react like Joseph at first, trying to run away or avoid the problems. It may very well take something miraculous to help us regain focus.

There is another attitude – a posture like Mary’s – trust that God has something wonderful planned for your life. It’s the knowledge that God wants to do great things through you, just as you are. In the midst of our despair . . . our fear . . . our uncertainty, we know that God can transform us. God turns fear into courage. God transforms uncertainty into assurance. God can take despair and turn it into a song of praise.

During Advent, we remember that there is who shows us the full scope of God’s love. His name is Jesus. When we hear and believe the Good News that God has come to bring wholeness and new life to all, our lives will be transformed. Jesus Christ, God With Us, has come to mend fractured lives. We are changed when we meet Jesus. This is cause to rejoice and sing!

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you are a typical man or a typical woman . God looks at the heart. God is searching for those who can look upon the future with joy.

I hope you can find the joy and hope of God this Advent season. In the face of fear, loneliness, and uncertainty, may you know peace.

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