Sermon for Christmas 2017

BIBLE READING   Luke 1.26-56

HYMNS   MHB 126 “Give heed, my heart”

               SF 594 “When I feel the touch”

 

NOTE  Actually this sermon was not preached because of a blizzard of snow.  So it was put on the web-site early on Sunday morning so that members could share it at home.

 

INTRODUCTION 

Last week’s subject was how the angel appeared to Mary.  “Do not be afraid, you have found favour with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”  That was a great blessing to us all; thank you, Peter, it was an inspiration. That’s the reason why I want to do a follow-up today leading up to the role of Elizabeth, one of an aged couple in Luke’s story, wife of Zechariah, relatives of Mary, living in an out-of-the-way village in the Judean hills.  But we must begin with Mary.

 

MARY OF NAZARETH THE TEEN-AGER

Yes, Mary was young, probably much younger than the person we see on Christmas cards.  She was engaged to be married to Joseph, and her age could have been anything from 14 upwards, though I hope she was not that young.  But certainly a teen-ager, chosen by God to bear a child by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The angel reassured her, and in the power of the Holy Spirit she uttered a marvellous hymn of praise which is still recited in the liturgies of the church.  But don’t you think there must have been times when she felt bewildered and uncertain with it all?  And who could she turn to, especially in the interval before Joseph was convinced in his dream that Mary remained a pure virgin? 

 

I WANT YOU TO USE YOUR IMAGINATION

and see a vulnerable girl in a very difficult situation.  Surely God had given her something she could not cope with?  I noticed in the Bible Reading that God did not exactly ask for her permission to be used like that.  But I also note that Mary gave her permission.  “”I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.”  Even so, let us realise that it was hard when she was misunderstood and that even Joseph misunderstood. Yet her faith was so strong and in our Bible Reading you could hear her singing: “All generations will call me blessed.  The Mighty One has done great things for me.”  I’m not sure that other people believed it though.

Now we add to our imaginative scene because

 

THERE IS A FAMILY HERE

And it will have been a very strong family.  There are two family trees in the records, both apparently of Joseph, but I think including Mary as well. It was a small town; the people would tend to inter-marry.  It might be a little like Bozeat when in the old days people didn’t travel far, and the lads looked for a wife among the neighbours.  This continued until bicycles were invented; then men went further.  You can tell that from my family tree.  So in villages family trees have inter-twined branches.

 

PICTURE THE EXTENDED FAMILY

Brothers and sisters; uncles and aunts, cousins and half-cousins, all related and not always being sure how.  Joseph goes home and says “By the way, Mary is pregnant.” Family angry: “We shall have to hurry the wedding up.”  Joseph: “I am not the father.” Family: “Then call the whole thing off.”  Joseph did not know what to do.  God had not yet given him the vision.

 

MEANWHILE MARY GOES HOME

with similar news. “I was down at the well today and got talking to an angel.”  “Pull the other one.”  “No, there’s more. She said I’m going to have a baby.”  Disbelief all round. “Well the angel also said Aunt Elizabeth is pregnant.”  Now they laughed.  They had given up Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zechariah’s prospects children years ago. “Well, that’s the proof. Send someone into the Judean hills; if she’s expecting a child that settles it.”  Took 2/3 days journey get there, same to get back. In a week they knew.  It was amazing.  Perhaps they didn’t believe Joseph’s dream or Mary angel, but they couldn’t deny Aunt Elizabeth’s baby.

 

JUST TO TIE IN A FEW ENDS

Her baby was John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin - a young son of aged parents.  They died when he was a lad and he was brought up by monks in the desert.  It’s all in the Bible!

We must get back to Elizabeth

 

ELIZABETH’S COMMITMENT TO GOD

And now we meet a woman who totally entered into God’s plan for her life.  And we shall see why that was important for her as an individual, and why that made her such a good support for Mary, who was also expecting a child.

It’s certain that

 

EVERYONE WOULD HAVE RESPECTED ELIZABETH FOR BEING A VERY GODLY PERSON 

and Zechariah too.. Zechariah was a priest, and while he could have married a girl from any tribe he married another priest’s daughter.  So there we have what we would describe today as a very committed Christian couple, deeply devoted to one another and to God.

One sign of their devotion to each other is seen in that

 

IT WAS A CHILDLESS MARRIAGE.

In those days if a wife could not give her husband a child it was a reason for divorce.  No word of such a thing here. They were together in a life-time commitment. Then, after all those decades of marriage, ELIZABETH WAS PREGNANT.  Well, they had to believe that.

 

GOD’S PROVISION FOR MARY WAS ELIZABETH. 

Appropriately, Elizabeth and Zechariah were country folk (1.39) living in the hill country of Judah, far from Nazareth, perhaps in the priestly city of Hebron.  Four or five days journey to get there.  Far out of range of the self-righteous busy-bodies in Nazareth who would talk about her behind her back, and perhaps even spit in her face.

 

MARY FOUND IN ELIZABETH A TRUE FRIEND

and also in a similar situation.  One old and one rather young, but both bearing children.  Elizabeth was six month pregnant and Mary newly pregnant.  Elizabeth would be alongside Mary through those hormonal changes. So Mary went to Elizabeth and stayed three months until Elizabeth’s son was born.  By that time Joseph would have been sorted out by God and he would take over responsibility.

 

MARY’S ARRIVAL IN JUDAH WAS A SIGNIFICANT OCCASION.

She arrived and called out to Elizabeth, but it wasn’t just Elizabeth who heard the greeting.  The baby in Elizabeth’s womb heard it too and gave a hard kick, which it could do at six months. The embryonic John had responded to the coming of his Lord.  Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and addressed Mary as “the mother of my Lord”.  She knew because her baby had leaped for joy inside her.

 

SO ELIZABETH WAS JUST THE RIGHT PERSON

in the right place at the right time. She was someone who had been prepared by the Lord through her whole lifetime and ready for this special ministry to someone who really needed it.

 

THE PRACTICAL MEANING OF THIS STORY FOR OURSELVES

is so obvious that it hardly needs me to say much about it.  You could all teach the lesson of it.  I could go further and say that your own experiences of life have prepared you for whatever God has for you to do.

 

SO LIVE A GODLY LIFE

and don’t let anyone put you off by saying “You don’t want to get too religious, you know.”  “Being religious” puts people off these days, and that is because of people who are very off-putting about it, and who do nothing but religious things.  But genuine religion is very practical.  James writes (1.27) “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

 

SO BE RELIGIOUS IN THE ACCEPTABLE SENSE. 

Pray, read your Bible, talk about the Lord, and be helpful to everyone everywhere.  This is the important thing, what you are as a follower of Jesus, a person that others are glad to know, and not a person that others tend to avoid.

 

YOU MIGHT BE SURPRISED AT THE KIND OF PEOPLE AND THE WAYS YOU CAN BE ALONGSIDE. 

Even to those much younger than yourself.  You have had a lot of life’s experiences and have much accumulated wisdom.  You know the love of God, you know how to pray, you have received so much of God’s grace yourselves.  You aren’t judgemental, you have compassion and understanding.

 

AND THE BEST OF ALL, YOU DON’T DO IT AS A “DO-GOODER”. 

You do it out of love for our Lord.  It fills you with joy to serve Him.  It is all about Jesus, not your own morality.  It glorifies God.  And it truly keeps Christmas, filling it with wonder and happiness.