Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
December 14, 2014
“The Birth and a Promise”
The heart of Christmas, the heart of the adventure story, the heart of the promise of God starts with the proclamation from Gabriel, the announcement of the birth of Jesus. This is the beginning of the birth narrative of the Baby Jesus, the Christ child!
The message that Gabriel, the angel Gabriel makes onto Mary is no small revelation. Gabriel’s declaration that she will be with child and it is the Holy Spirit that has come upon her, and through that Spirit the child will be born and that he will be called the Son of God, is huge! Then Gabriel goes on and tells her to name the child Jesus. Gabriel continues to elaborate and goes on to promise that the Spirit of the Almighty will be with her at all times. These are not small messages and declarations that Gabriel makes. The very heart of the tradition of Christmas is built upon the announcement, the promise that Gabriel made to Mary.
Have you ever made a promise and then found it hard to keep it? Have you ever had someone promise you something and then not follow through? A promise is a pledge, a vow that we hold each other accountable for. As we take a moment to search our hearts for the promises we have made, promises that we have and have not kept; let us not forget those whom we have made a promise to; and let us not forget we can still reach out to them with our kept promises. As we ponder this thought I invite you listen to this poet’s rendition of a “Promise”:
“Do you remember, when we were young, those promises we made; the promise to be there for each other, no matter night or day. The promise to keep secrets, no matter what they are: the promise to be friends forever, no matter where we are. The promise to stand up for each other, no matter what the cause: the promise to never judge each other, no matter all the flaws. The promise to always tell the other, they’re doing something wrong: the promise to remember this, when the other has sadly gone. The promise to always help each other, no matter what the weather: the promise to always keep a promise, from then until forever. We’re older now, we’ve changed, we’ve grown, and we’ve forgotten many things. We’ve lived through life, are facing our end, whatever it may bring. We’ve had our problems, doubts, and sorrows that came along the way. Yet still we’ve managed, to keep them all, the promises we made.” /Morgan Gregg, March 2013/
The promises God made – do you know what they are?
It is all so very important to know some of the things that God has promised through-out the ages. I suspect that many of us can name at least one promise that God has made, which can apply to us in the Twenty-First Century. The obvious one that is contained in our lesson today and comes to us directly through verse 35: [The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.] This angel of God is clearly making two promises to Mary. The first is that the ‘presence and power of God would be with her via the Holy Spirit’. This is a dramatic and awesome promise! And the second promise is for all of us: That ‘the child would be Holy and be called the Son of God’. This is clearly meant to be an announcement of the prophecy of the coming Messiah. Couple this with Mary being told she would bear this child and from this – we clearly have the incarnate Holy One – being born in human form, clearly symbolizing God’s willingness to be with us – in our human journeys of life.
Discovering the promise is good; however, not everyone fully understands the meaning of this promise. Just look to all the confusion over the span of time that others have thought the promise was, but was not. To help clarify this a bit, let me ask you this rhetorical question: do you know clearly what God has not promised? God has not promised that everything will be okay in our journey of life. God has not promised that it will be easy. God has not promised that we will become perfect. Nor, has God promised to answer our pleas for a safe journey as we speed recklessly across town to a meeting, which we will most certainly be late for. Neither has God promised a sunny day for our favorite grand daughter’s wedding reception; nor the planned church picnic. God’s promise is to be with us, not change the all too real circumstances of human life, nor change the outcome of situations we create for ourselves. But, God does promise to comfort us when needed and rejoice with us in those special moments.
We can rejoice, however, that the Christmas that we prepare for, as we continue our journey of Advent; the Christmas Event, the Christmas story is about the essence of God being humbly born in the flesh. Let us shout with joy that God came to live amongst us, personified within the baby Jesus, and it all began with Gabriel’s announcement to Mary.
In simplicity and in the full spirit of understanding the promise of God as well as understanding the gift of Christmas, the gift of the Christ child, is our tradition, our belief that God came to journey with us in human form, being born of Mary. And we know, from the accounting of Jesus as contained in the gospels, also tells of his execution on a harsh cross. Yes, we can safely say that God, through Jesus the Christ, fully understands our pain our emotions and our journey.
Sadly there are skeptics and theologians and even young teenagers that do not have a concept of our traditions and beliefs, they often scoff at the story of our traditions. Yet it is such a beautiful tradition and such a beautiful way to express God’s ultimate love for us. If we do not believe anything else as Christians, as God-fearing people, we recognize the significance of the promise from God to be with us, as paramount! Even though there are skeptics who still doubt in their hearts that the story of Christ’s birth, as we understand it, can be proven. They still understand our belief as authentic and honor this annual ritual; the tradition of telling the Christmas story as recorded in the gospels. They fully understand that we believe the Christmas story clearly brings ‘the focus’ of God’s ‘humble presence’, as seen in the baby born of Mary, into the midst of humankind; thus thrusting the overriding heart of our belief into clear view – for all to see.
Stepping back, for a moment, let us take a second look at a broader view of Jesus; outside and beyond the romantic and devotional and traditional birth story. In so doing, we all have come to understand that when Jesus was baptized, and tradition tells us that it was John the Baptist whom preformed the act of baptism upon Jesus; and the gospels go on to tell us that when Jesus was baptized – “and the Spirit descended like a dove (on) upon him”. /Mark 1:7b/ We all agree, believers, disciples and theologians as well, that from that moment on the journey of Jesus was mystical to say the least. The Council of Nicaea, in the Fourth Century, around the year 325 AD, after the birth of Christ, at that Council of our Church Fathers, a conclusion and consensus was made, a landmark conclusion that has set our doctrine. This doctrine set in motion an understanding within the Christian church, that we are a part of, is that the essence of the man Jesus was a hundred percent human and hundred percent divine. It’s beyond my understanding as too what exactly this means; and every theologian that I’ve talk to has a slightly different understanding of exactly what this means. But, this doctrine lifts up our birth story as being crucial to understanding the humanness of Jesus, just as surely as grappling with and coming to accept that only the Son of God, the divine presence of God, could have accomplished what Jesus did in his dramatic three year ministry!
There is little debate that between Jesus’ baptism at age thirty, by John the Baptist, and his crucifixion three years later, there is little debate that he was a holy man; a man sent by God. He was a teacher and he drew the crowds to him. The Spirit of God was clearly upon Jesus and that even the skeptic and the nonbelievers testify that he was certainly a great prophet. The man Jesus was a great teacher worthy of being followed. Our traditions as written in the Gospels, according to Luke and Matthew, bear witness to the strength of this belief in the Spirit of God that surely was within Jesus. And this Holy One is surely the Son of God. Yet, to make our understanding of Jesus as the Christ, we must acknowledge he was born human, thus drawing us to the promise: God has walked this earth in human form and is with us on our human journeys. We are not alone.
Those that came before us have helped form for us such mystical and holy traditions, traditions that help us pass on our faith, our belief in a God that cares enough about us, loves us enough, to be amongst us and to live with us! Surely the promises of God throughout history have proven God’s love and loyalty and commitment to us; to those that are willing to believe. As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas let us open our hearts and simply believe that God is there for us – God is here for us, believe that the Spirit of God is present in our lives and available for us. Let us be worthy of the promises made to us and for us, let us honor the promises we make and let us have faith that God will be with us throughout our journeys in life. Our traditions remind us, the gospel accounts of the birth of the Baby Jesus remind us: that no matter what are tomorrows will bring – God will be there with us. May God’s presence and God’s love always be in your hearts.
Let us now hear and receive the words of Jesus, found in these verses of scripture, from the New Testament, the Gospel According to Luke, chapter 1, verses 26-38.
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.