Welcome to our worship this morning at Christ Lutheran. We’re glad you’re with us or listening on the radio.
This is the 4th Sunday in this season of preparation we call Advent. But I hope your preparations are done, because the way things fall this year, there is no 4th week in Advent. This is it! This afternoon and tonight we will celebrate the event that all this preparing has been about---the birth of Christ our Lord.
But let’s watch some others preparing to worship the Christ child.
VIDEO---The Fourth Wise Man by the Skit Guys
What did they say?---“I hope he’s the kind of Savior who’s bigger than all my mistakes.”
That is exactly the kind of Savior he is! That’s exactly who the angel Gabriel came to talk with Mary about.
Luke 1:26-27 “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”
Nazareth was not the center of the universe---or even the center of Israel. People said things like, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Joseph was a descendent of David, but there were lots of those and many of greater status than Joseph. Mary was likely known to only a few outside of Nazareth. They are an unlikely couple to be chosen by God. And yet that’s what Gabriel came to announce!
Luke 1:28-29 “The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”
“You who are highly favored” is pretty strong praise! Mary didn’t know what to make of that. What would any of us think?
Luke 1:30-33 “But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Wow, that’s quite a message! Not only a child, but “Son of the Most High”, one of the Hebrew names for God. The throne of David---An everlasting kingdom. This is the long awaited Messiah. But on a more personal note, Mary wasn’t sure how this was possible.
Luke 1:34-35 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
The only answer is that it will be a miracle. And other amazing things are happening.
Luke 1:36-37 “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
To prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist would be also born and to parents who couldn’t understand it either. How would Mary respond to this overwhelming news?
Luke 1:38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.”
If you think your Christmas preparations have been tough, think of Mary and this life-changing message she got. And then look at her response!---“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
Mary was exceptional. That’s why the Lord chose her. For centuries, she has been held up as an amazing example of faith and willingness to follow the Lord.
So contrast Mary’s response of--- “I am the Lord’s servant” with these more modern statements---“I gotta be me!” “It’s your thing---do what you wanna do!” “I did it my way!”
Notice that those song lyrics are not from today’s younger generation, but all come from the late 1960’s when I was the younger generation. But that self-absorbed view of life that was expressed over and over again in that turbulent time, continues to dominate our world in too many ways.
And obviously there are times that we need to speak up for ourselves, times we need to say that abuse is not acceptable, times we need to care for our individual needs.
But “I did it my way” is only admirable if your way is good and right. And there are times that your way is good and right---but not nearly as often as you think!
“I gotta be me” is only good if the “me” you’re talking about is the Godly “me” and not the sinful “me” that is too often the case.
When “Do what you wanna do” is the guiding principle of life, you end up with fractured relationships, families in turmoil, communities torn apart and ultimately people who are doing what they wanna do----all alone.
That view of life from the 60’s was called “counter-cultural”. But really it’s Mary’s view of life that is truly counter to our culture. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
Life can only be lived to the fullest when we learn that it is not “your thing” first and foremost---it is God’s thing!
Mary was willing to live by the Lord’s plan for her with all its parameters, guideposts and commands. That’s shocking to our “do it my way” kind of thinking.
But---if we believe that there is a God who created us and a God who loves us, which is what the Bible teaches, then following his intention for us makes perfect sense. Unless we think we know better than God---which is often the problem.
The other problem for us is that God doesn’t often send an angel to us to tell us his plan---though perhaps more often than we realize. And so, we have to take the time to learn through his Word---his written Word in the Bible and the living Word of Jesus---we have to take the time to learn through prayer, the guiding of his Spirit and the Spirit-filled people around us---we have to take the time to learn what the Lord’s plan is for us. There is something necessary for us in that process. Unless we want to stumble through life “doing it my way”!
Mary was ready and willing to do it God’s way---even though it changed her life totally---it meant facing many unknowns, and ultimately caused terrible pain and then immeasurable joy. And through her, God changed the course of history. Mary gave up much to serve the Lord. But her life was filled to overflowing because of the sacrifices she made.
One of God’s extraordinary creations is the great hornbill, a large bird that lives in southeast Asia.
It lives in the rain forests, high in the trees and depends on its wide. strong wings to escape from predators. It’s an agile flyer with a long wingspan and great agility.
But a time comes when the female hornbill gives up that freedom---that gift of flight. When the time is near to lay her eggs, the female finds a hollow tree. She enters the hollow trunk and with the help of the male hornbill, she uses mud and “other materials” to close up the opening from the inside, except for a narrow slot. She does that to protect her young from the many predators that live in the trees.
But doing that seals the mother off from the flying and freedom she’s used to. For several months, she is trapped in that tight dark space for the sake of her babies.
The only contact with the outside world comes through that narrow slot where the male deposits food to keep the female alive.
Once inside the tree, the female starts to molt, to lose her feathers, and not just the little ones, but the big flight feathers. She pushes the feathers out that hole and they flutter to the ground. Why has God created that process in the hornbill? Maybe because in that tight space, the long sharp shafts of those flight feathers could puncture the eggs or wound the chicks.
The mother stays inside that hollow tree, until the chicks are almost ready to fly.
This mother hornbill is all in for this birth process. Giving up her freedom by living in the cavity and giving up her ability to fly until those feathers grow back all for the protection and health of her babies.
The limitations the female hornbill endures and the sacrifices Mary made have some similarity. But even more so, God gives us a glimpse---in the instincts that he’s given that bird---of the sacrifices he endures for us.
In Jesus, God came to be with his people. But he didn’t do so with might and majesty or pomp and power.
God denied himself the infinity of heaven for the limits of earth.
As Walt Wangerin writes, like the hornbill, the Lord plucked himself of power, walled himself inside flesh and bones and accepted despair, suffering and even death.
Why? To protect and save us---his children. He came into our world as one of us. To experience first-hand what we experience. He restricted his power so as not to overwhelm or harm us. He loves us so purely that he would give up heaven for a time, to live with us on earth.
That hornbill, with the self-sacrificing nesting instincts,3 gives us a magnificent glimpse of the self-giving love of Jesus Christ.
And that is what we celebrate later today.
And knowing the incredible lengths that God went to for us, we can say, not out of guilt, but out of love---
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”