Good morning, Friends!
We’ve had a whole month to get ready for Christmas.
We always need to remember that even though we have all these Christmas activities and Christmas plans, it all started with a bunch of people who had no idea what was going on.
Looking back, from our point of view, we know the story, and how it all worked out. We know the story frontwards and backwards.
But the people who lived the events of Christmas didn’t have all that experience to guide them. The birth of Jesus took them completely by surprise. In fact, the motto of Christmas, from the point of view the people who were there was “Who, me?” or else “No way!”
So, let me read this part of the Christmas story. And try to imagine what it must have been like, for people who had no idea what was going on.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a young woman who was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The young woman’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings! You are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I have never been with a man?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on 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. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.Luke 1:26-38
Christmas is a much more challenging story than we admit to ourselves.
It’s easier for us to get involved in all the outward, physical stuff – the music, the presents, the meals, the decorations – it’s easier to deal with all these things, than it is for us to face up to the naked power of the real story.
It’s almost like we’re hiding from the real Christmas. I do it, too! We focus on the easy things, because the real Christmas story is too tough for us to deal with.
Mary didn’t have the benefit of two thousand years of Christmas carols, and pageants, and TV specials to interpret what was happening. Mary had to figure it out on the spot, for herself. What Mary had was a more real, more spiritual and more physical Christmas experience, than any of us will ever have.
Christmas is a revelation – a revealing of what God is doing to save the world.
I hear people saying all the time, “God has a plan”. “God has a plan for all this!” “God must surely have a plan.” “Things sure are messed up, but I know God has a plan for everything.”
Most of the time, God’s plans are hidden. We trust God to have a plan, even if we don’t know what his plan is.
Well, at Christmas, God revealed his plan, by sending an angel to Mary. We know nothing about Mary’s background. We know she was young, and scared. As far as we know, Mary had never seen an angel, never expected to see an angel, the thought of angels never crossed her mind.
Now, all of a sudden, this incredible being shows up in front of her and says, “Guess what? You are essential to God’s plan to save the world!” Wow.
It doesn’t say directly what Mary’s response was. It says she was “troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”
“Greatly troubled” is actually Bible-speak for gob-smacked, thunderstruck, hornswoggled and panic-attacked. Mary was flat-out terrified!
So the angel said, “Don’t be scared!” Like, that was really going to calm her down. Any sensible person would have been running straight for the horizon. Like, “I don’t want to be greatly favored! I don’t want to be an essential part of God’s plan! Thank you very much, but please include me out!”
We need to give Mary a lot more credit than we do. Even though she was terrified, she didn’t run away. Even when she panicked, she kept on listening.
So, the first part of the real Christmas story is revelation and awe. God says, “This is my plan, and I want you to be a part of it.” And Mary, with what tiny little bit of rational thought still remained to her, said, “What is this? Am I going flat-out crazy?”
The second part of the real Christmas is the angel saying, “Don’t be scared. This is a blessing. You’re going to have a baby, a son, and you’re going to call him Jesus. He’s going to be great. They’re going to call him the Son of the Most High God. He’s going to be king. And his kingdom is going to last forever.”
By this point, Mary should have fainted. Instead, she said, “Umm. . .how? I mean, like, I’m engaged, and Joe’s a nice guy, but – details, please?”
And the angel said, “God’s going to take care of it. And in case you don’t believe me, go ask your cousin Elizabeth. She’s getting along up in years, but all of a sudden she’s knitting little hats and booties. Nothing is impossible for God!”
That is one of the most important parts of the Christmas message. Nothing is impossible for God.
- Peace on earth? No problem!
- Complete change of heart, soul and mind? We come right to your home.
- Moving mountains? How many, dear?
- Healing? Just ask, God does it all the time!
- Setting people free? A specialty of the house.
Check, check, check, God’s got it all covered. Nothing is impossible for God!
“But you,” said the angel, “You are a part of God’s plan.”
The ball was over in Mary’s court now. Even though the two of them, Mary and the angel, are alone in the story, it’s like the whole world is watching, holding their breath. What was Mary going to say?
She could have said no. She could have fainted. She could have run screaming out the door.
It doesn’t say that the angel used any kind of compulsion on her. The angel never said, “You must do this.” The angel never said, “If you turn down this invitation, you’re a bad person.” There was no force, no guilt, no third degree of any kind.
Mary could have said no. But she didn’t. She said yes. And when we say yes to God, the whole world changes. Mary said yes, and that was the answer that the whole world needed.
God has a plan. God has had a plan, all along. God’s plan is for people to turn their lives around. God’s plan is for people to realize that the invisible kingdom is very near to them, that we can see it, if we open our eyes.
God’s plan is that we listen, and learn, and change. God’s plan is that people be healed, that people be set free. God’s plan is about forgiveness and mercy and amazing grace. God’s plan is about light, and faith, and hope for people who have lost everything. God’s plan is about good news. God’s plan is that everyone be saved.
Any time that we say yes to even a small part of God’s plan, our whole world changes. The more fully we say yes, the deeper we find ourselves moving into God’s world.
Christmas is when the curtain goes up. It’s when the show really starts. Christmas is the revelation, the revealing, of God’s plan for the whole world.
It’s not a hidden plan any more. It’s not a secret. We can tell everyone. We can shout it from the rooftops! God’s plan is breaking into the world, and we can be favored, we can be blessed, whenever we say yes to God’s plan and say yes to God’s way of doing things.
That’s what Mary did. And every one of us, ever since, has been blessed by her answer.