I have a confession to make: I am a “News-a-holic.”
- I listen to WTOP while I drive around between hospitals—even though they repeat the same news stories over and over again.
- I watch the news in the morning—and when possible, I watch it in the evening.
- I have a news app on my phone that I check periodically.
- I even subscribe to a news magazine that I usually read cover to cover.
And If you wonder why I “stay tuned” to the news—well, it’s not just to keep up on everything that’s going on in the world. No—I keep listening and watching and reading because, every once in a while, there is GOOD NEWS. And receiving GOOD NEWS always feels well—GOOD!
Think of all the GOOD NEWS announcements that faithful news lovers like myself have heard over the years.
- THE WAR IS OVER! Pick a war—it doesn’t matter—the end of a war is always good news!
- THE HOSTAGES ARE FREE! I’m thinking of the ones from the U.S. Embassy kept in Iran—but again pick your own group of hostages. No matter who they are it’s good news when they are free.
- THE CURE HAS BEEN FOUND! Again—pick a disease—it’s always good news when a disease is eradicated.
- THE ASTRONAUTS ARE HOME SAFE!
- THE FOREST FIRE IS CONTAINED!
- THE SOCCER TEAM IS OUT OF THE CAVE!
Let’s get more personal with our good news. How many of you have heard announcements like this?
- IT’S A GIRL!
- IT’S A BOY!
- IT’S TWINS!\
- YOU ARE CANCER FREE!
- YOU GOT THE JOB!
- SHE SAID “YES!” WE’RE GETTING MARRIED!
- HE GRADUATED! NO MORE TUITION PAYMENTS!
I could go on—but I won’t because of time—but doesn’t it feel good to bask in even the memory of good news?! In fact, I have good news for you this morning. For the FOUR SUNDAYS of Advent this year that’s what we’re going to do—we are going to bask in the good news of Christmas. As you can see in your bulletin and on the screen, the title of this series is, “The Gospel According to Christmas.” Now, as you may or may not know, the word “gospel” literally means, “good news.” And—of course, the GOOD NEWS of Christmas—the GOSPEL according to Christmas—is the fact that Jesus, our Savior has been born. His birth is the BEST NEWS ever heard on this fallen planet of ours. Do you remember how the angel put it to the shepherds that first Christmas night? He said, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you GOOD NEWS of great joy which will be for all the people—for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord.”
The cool thing is the fact that Jesus’ coming was SO wonderful—it caused ripples of good news—like a waves in a lake when you throw a huge rock in the water. With that in mind, here’s the plan. This advent we will look at some of the central characters in the Christmas story—and see what their good news “ripple” was all about—the good news their particular part in the Christmas Story teaches us. And this morning we begin with a young virgin girl named Mary—the person who first heard the good news that Jesus was coming.
Are you ready to “bask?” GOOD! Let me begin by reminding you of the setting. Jesus’ birth literally cut time in two—so as to the “time setting” Mary’s part in the Christmas Story took place in or about the year ZERO. Mary grew up in Nazareth, an impoverished small town about 70 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Nazareth was located just above the main caravan route between Jerusalem and two ports on the northern coast of Israel—the cities of Tyre and Sidon And—since it was situated near this heavily traveled caravan route, Nazareth had many “inns” to serve the needs of the scores of travelers that came through—mostly Roman soldiers and merchants. Under their worldly influence, immorality and corruption became commonplace in the life of that little town. I imagine these inns formed a sort of “red light district” that kind of took over most of the town such that it was not the best place to live. Perhaps this is why Nathaniel said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” This tells us that Mary had lived all her life in a community where there was a lot of BAD NEWS—a place where GOOD NEWS was a rare thing.
Tradition says that Gabriel delivered His announcement of Mary’s part in the Christmas Story while she was drawing water from a small well. Most think it happened in this way because this would have been the only place women in Nazareth were alone. It was a woman’s job to bring water to the home, and at that time there was only one source of water in Nazareth—a tiny well with room for only one person at a time to enter, so most scholars have believed that Gabriel came to Mary with his news as she was alone drawing from this well. A church has been built over this site. I visited there in the early ‘90’s with some of you and drank from the well.
Now—Mary was probably very young at the time—about 13 or 14—which was prime marrying age in that culture. I mean, these days young girls begin to panic if they reach the age of 30 and are not married. For Mary and her peers—that panic would have set in when they were half that age. Now—Mary wasn’t MARRIED at the time the Angel came to her but she was betrothed—engaged—to a young man named Joseph. And we know almost nothing about Joseph—except for:
- He was also from Nazareth—
- He was a carpenter or handyman—and
- He was a righteous man—a Godly man.
Now—I said Mary wasn’t married—but in that culture being engaged was very close to marriage. The engagement period in those days lasted a year. This year was called the “Kiddushin.” In that culture, marriages were usually arranged by parents—and the official start of the “Kiddushin” involved a public ceremony, sort of a “pre-wedding.” From that pre-wedding point on Mary’s property belonged to her future husband. If Joseph had died during this “kiddushin” period, Mary would have been his legal widow. Only divorce could break a Jewish betrothal, and even though they were not yet married and did not enjoy any kind of physical relationship during this year—had either Joseph or Mary been unfaithful to each other during this time, the act would have been deemed adultery—punishable by death under the old Mosaic law. In fact, one of the purposes of the “kiddushin” year was to demonstrate the fidelity of both partners. These twelve months were also a time for the families to exchange gifts and for the couple to get to know each other and to prepare for the wedding ceremony itself, which was called the huppa—and the huppa REQUIRED a lot of prep time because back then weddings lasted a week! No wonder they ran out of wine at that wedding feast in Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle.
In any case, to the Jews the kiddushin was a joyous time. During these betrothal months Mary and Joseph would have spent a lot of time working and planning to make their dreams for their future life together a reality. Well, it was in the midst of this joyous time that Gabriel appeared to Mary. With that in mind take your Bibles and turn to Luke 1. Follow along as I read verses 26-38.
26 – Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,
27 – to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 – And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
29 – But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.
30 – The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.
31 – And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.
32 – He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;
33 – and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
34 – Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 – The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
36 – And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.
37 – For nothing will be impossible with God.”
38 – And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Now—one thing the Old Testament tells us is that numerous Godly women in Mary’s ancestry—going all the way back to Eve—lots of women had fostered the hope of being the one through whom the promised Redeemer would come.
So—why do you think God chose Mary?
Why pick her for this important task? Why bestow on this young, poor, peasant girl the honor of serving as a mother to the Messiah? Well, of course we don’t know the mind of God. His thoughts are not ours, so we can’t know the complete rationale behind His decision—but I believe that here in His Word the things God tells us about Mary gives us at least a partial answer to this question. And the answers are GOOD NEWS for each of us—because they tell us some of the prerequisites when it comes to being the kind of person God tends to use to do great things. So, here’s the question for today: “What are the requirements to be a ‘Mary?’”
(1) One is HUMILITY.
You see, God prefers to use HUMBLE people—not proud people. And, “HUMBLE” is a great word to describe Mary because she didn’t believe she deserved this honor that God had bestowed on her in any way. In fact, Luke tells us that she was “troubled” by the fact that Gabriel said she was “highly favored.” This didn’t seem right to her. It didn’t make sense. She thought, “Why should I be highly favored. You must have the wrong ‘Mary’ Gabriel. You’re at the wrong well. Surely God sent you to someone else, perhaps the next town on the trade route.”
We continue to see Mary’s humility expressed in her song of Christmas, the Magnificat, which is recorded for us in verses 46-55. Look at it. In verse 48 she sings that God, “has regarded the lowly estate of His maidservant.” In verse 52 she sings, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly.” As we read through her song, we see that Mary never even hinted at bragging about herself. Let me put it this way. God is the only one she magnified in her Magnificat. Mary was indeed a humble person.
This week I read that medieval artists often portrayed Mary in stained glass windows. But—her panes would be the only ones with no color on it—just clear glass. All the other window panes would filter the light of the sun through their own distinctive designs and colors—but not Mary’s. No—hers was clear, unfiltered. There was nothing of herself to affect the light that came through. To me this is a reminder of this essential quality—humility—when it comes to being the kind of person God uses. I mean, for the people God uses realize it’s not about them shining. It’s about letting God shine through them.
You know—another reminder of the importance of humility is the fact that pregnancy itself is a humbling thing. A mother’s entire body adjusts itself to the necessities of childbirth. I know this flies in the face of the pro-choice movement but from the moment of conception her body is not longer her own. From that instant on the mother’s body focuses itself on that other litter person.
Even after the delivery a mother’s life revolves around the life of her child.
Well, in my mind this is one thing we should take from our study of Mary. The fact that God chose her—shows us how much importance God places humility. In fact, this principle is seen from the beginning as we look at the SETTING of the Christmas event. I mean, think of it: the backwoods of Galilee—a small town with a bad reputation like Nazareth—peasants like Mary and Joseph—all this helps illustrate God’s reversal of human ideas about greatness and smallness, significance and insignificance. Paul’s words from 1st Corinthians 1:27, 29 come to mind where it says, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”
I know this may shock you—but when I was in school and we chose teams for some game—I was one of the last chosen—always. I wasn’t particularly athletic. I wasn’t good looking. I wasn’t popular. Sure—I participated in sports—but I was always 2nd or 3rd string on the football team—and when track season came around—I was always in the last heat—with the other slow runners. I mean, I was always a spectator watching the popular kids chosen to do “great things.”
Can any of you relate? Do you know the feeling of NOT being on the inside—where important things are happening? Well, the “gospel” of Christmas says that you are the kind of person God likes to use. Sure—God can use the first string quarterbacks and the head cheerleaders and the CEO’s of the world—but only if they are HUMBLE. I mean, it is not the boasters, the proud who have the last word in God’s kingdom. Arrogance and pride are totally out of place there. No, God exalts those who do not think of themselves as “having arrived,” but rather the humble people who hunger for Him and realize how much they need Him in their lives.
The fact is, in the Kingdom of God, humility is an essential. I mean, a person can’t even become a Christian until he or she humbly admits their need for God, until in humility they confess their sin and ask for God’s forgiveness. After we become Christians humility continues to be a necessity because God will not use us unless we bow to His will and humbly place our lives at His disposal the way Mary did. The Bible teaches that God chooses and uses humble people, people who will display His glory, not their own. In Isaiah 57:15 God says, “I live in a high and holy place but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.” In Isaiah 66:2 God says, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My Word.”
Referring to these and other Scriptures Jerry Bridges writes, “The promises of God toward the truly humble are almost breathtaking. The infinitely high and lofty One Who lives forever promises to dwell with them, to esteem them, to give them grace, to lift them up, and to exalt them.” The truth is, in order for us to be useful in God’s great kingdom, we must humble ourselves.
And when we do this we learn, as Mary did, that with God nothing is impossible! Please understand people, this is more than an angelic insertion. It is a positive reality!
- With God it was possible for an old, barren woman and her husband to conceive and bear a son, John, who was the forerunner of the Son of God.
- With God it was possible for a virgin girl to give birth to a baby, Jesus, Who was and is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
- With God sinful people like you and me can find redemption in Christ and have an abundant meaningful, incredibly significant life.
God can use each of us to do things that have ETERNAL significance! With God nothing is impossible. And wouldn’t you agree that this fact is “gospel”—GOOD NEWS?! Think about it this way: If God could use the life of a humble young peasant girl, then He can use any life, including yours. As St Francis of Assisi said, “If God can use me. God can use anyone.” Well, what would happen if you humbled yourself and allowed God to use your life? Wouldn’t it be exciting to find out this Christmas?
Here’s a second quality that is required for people who want to be a “Mary.”
I mean, God doesn’t call the humble “Mary’s” of the world to an easy life. No—God calls us to a challenging life, a life that can sometimes be difficult. So—one thing that is required is courage.
Mary experienced the fear of God’s overwhelming call—which is why the angel told her not to be afraid. By the way, do you know how many times the Bible says “Fear not!” or “Do not be afraid?” If you’ve seen the movie, Facing the Giants, you know. 365 times. One for every day of the year. That’s no coincidence, because being used by God means repeatedly facing fearful situations—it means doing things that you can’t do on your own. If you want to be a “Mary” you will have to learn to conquer fear on a daily basis.
- The fear of embarrassment.
- The fear of humiliation.
- The fear of being talked about.
- The fear of being criticized.
- The fear of being mocked.
- The fear of missing out.
- The fear of being hurt.
- The fear of being poor.
- The fear of being rejected.
- The fear of being a failure.
- The fear of opposition.
- The fear of persecution.
I could go on and on — and could probably name 365 fears, because people who aspire to use their lives to join God in His great work face every type of fear you can name. That’s why God begins so many conversations with His people by saying: “Do not be afraid. Fear not.”
Now—if you wonder how to NOT be afraid to follow God like Mary did then remember, fear is an emotion—but courage is a choice. Courage is acting, in spite of our fear. You can be courageous no matter how you feel, because courage is defined by what you do. As John Wayne said, “Courage is feeling afraid and saddling up anyway.” That’s exactly what Mary did. When the angel told her that she would have a child before she and Joseph were legally married, she certainly felt afraid.
- Afraid of what people would say.
- Afraid of what Joseph would assume.
- Afraid of the reputation her child would have.
- Afraid of the shame she would bring on her family.
- Afraid of being stoned to death.
- Afraid of not being able to provide for the child.
She could have easily given in to all these things and done nothing—but she didn’t. The first thing Mary did when God called her was to show courage. And understand—the kind of courage I’m talking about does not come from confidence in self—but rather from confidence in God. It’s a by-product of humility—the realization that we can’t be a “Mary” without God’s help. And Mary had this kind of courage. She believed that God would enable her to do this great and wonderful thing. That leads to another requirement to be a person like Mary.
God calls us to do things we can’t do on our own strength—so we have to trust in Him. As His Word says, “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” The “Mary’s” in God’s kingdom know that at times we are asked to take steps into the unknown—with nothing more to go on than the trust we have in God’s presence and His promise and His power. Do you remember the conversation Mary had with Gabriel? When told that she would become pregnant, she asked, “How can that be since I am a virgin?” Gabriel explained to her that the child would be born of the Holy Spirit. He also told her that her relative Elizabeth, who was well beyond her child-bearing years, would also give birth to a son. Then Gabriel spoke a phrase upon which you and I can build our lives. He said, “For nothing is impossible with God.” Jesus himself would teach this principle in the years to come. In Mark 10:27 He said, “All things are possible with God.”
In Mark 9:23: “Everything is possible for him who believes.” God calls us to a life of miracles, a life in which we see the impossible come to life before our eyes. How do we experience this “nothing-is-impossible lifestyle?” We experience it through faith. Everything IS possible to him who believes.
And we see this FAITH in Mary. When the angel told her that she would see the impossible take place in her life, how did she respond? “May it be to me as you have said.” In other words, she said, “Amen … I believe it.”
Think of it.
Mary had no idea what would happen next. She had no idea how Joseph would respond, or her parents, or the people in her community. She had no idea if she would be ostracized and chased out of Nazareth and forced to raise this child as a single mother. She had no idea what she might need to do next. All she knew was that the angel of the Lord had told her, “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.”
And Mary chose to believe all that. Well, in the same way, God is calling you and me to a life of faith. He wants us to live by embracing this principle that nothing is impossible with God — and we get there through faith. As Jesus said in Matthew 9, “According to your faith, it will be done for you.” (Matthew 9:29) Let me put it this way. Faith is the bridge between an ordinary life and a “good-news caliber” life—a life of miracles.
Martin Luther King once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” You and I don’t have to see the whole staircase. In faith we take one step and then another and another—even when we don’t know where the road will take us.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the life of the late Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Well, through Crusade staff around the world, the Four Spiritual Laws track that he wrote, and the JESUS FILM—that he produced—which by the way has been seen by over four BILLION people—Through all these things that Bill Bright did more than 150 million people have come to faith in Christ. Well, Bright was once asked why God used his life to this extent and he replied, “When I was a young man, I made a contract with God. I literally wrote it and signed my name at the bottom. It said, ‘From this day forward, I am a slave of Christ.’” His words remind me of Mary’s because when Gabriel explained God’s improbable plan she calmly responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. I am willing to accept whatever He asks of me.” Well each of us should do that—-we should think of our lives as a blank check given to God—letting Him fill in the amount as we yield completely to His will in everything. Can you imagine the difference in this world if more Christians obeyed God’s commands as willingly as Bill Bright did? As Mary did?
Here’s one more requirement to be a “Mary.”
I’m referring to that caliber of wisdom that comes from reading—knowing—the Bible—God’s written Word. As Paul says in Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing—and hearing by the Word of God.” You see, one of the things that nurtures the kind of faith we need to be a “Mary” is knowledge of the Scriptures. And Mary obviously had this “Bible Wisdom” deal. She new the Old Testament Scriptures. I say that because the lyrics to her “Magnificat” contain at least 15 direct quotes of Old Testament Scriptures. Obviously, this young woman was very familiar with God’s Word. She was a student of it. And we must understand—-this would have been difficult for Mary. You see, in those days printed Scriptures were a luxury, so peasants like Mary would not have had actual written copies. This means she would have had to memorize Old Testament Scriptures. And her song proves that she had done just that. She had hidden God’s Word in her heart. Mary was fully informed by the very heart and mind of God as expressed through His Word. She could say with the Psalmist, “Oh God, how I love Your law. I meditate on it all day long.” Psalm 119:97. I’m sure in the days to follow Gabriel’s visit, she pondered Gabriel’s startling announcement and as she did I think she reviewed the Scriptures in her mind—especially the Messianic prophecies she had learned as a child. And the more she remembered these texts, the more her fear diminished and the more her excitement and faith grew. Listen, when it comes to important assignments God uses people who believe His promises and trust them and live by them. Let me put it this way, when it comes to selecting people to do His will, God calls the prepared. He calls soldiers who put on the full armor of God especially the “sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)
The small island of Igloolik, in northern Canada is a bewildering place in the winter. The average temperature hovers at about 20 degrees below zero, thick sheets of sea ice cover the surrounding waters, and the sun is rarely seen. Despite the brutal conditions, Inuit hunters have for some 4,000 years ventured out from their homes on the island and traveled across miles of ice and tundra to search for game. The hunters’ ability to navigate vast stretches of the barren Arctic terrain, where landmarks are few, snow formations are in constant flux, and trails disappear overnight—has amazed explorers and scientists for centuries. The Inuit’s extraordinary way-finding skills are born not of technological prowess—they never used maps and compasses—but of a profound understanding of winds, snowdrift patterns, animal behavior, stars, and tides. Well, sadly, Inuit culture is changing now. The Igloolik hunters have begun to rely on computer-generated maps to get around, especially younger Inuit members. The ease and convenience of a GPS makes the traditional Inuit techniques seem archaic and cumbersome. But as GPS devices have proliferated on Igloolik, reports of serious accidents during hunts have spread. A hunter who hasn’t developed way-finding skills can easily become lost, particularly if his GPS receiver fails. The routes plotted on satellite maps can also give hunters tunnel vision, leading them onto thin ice or into other hazards a skilled navigator would avoid. A local anthropologist, who has been studying Inuit hunters for more than 15 years, notes that while satellite navigation has some advantages—its use also leads to a deterioration in way-finding abilities and a weakened feel for the land. A unique talent that has distinguished a people for centuries may evaporate in a generation. Without knowledge of the Bible—this GUIDEBOOK FOR LIFE that God has given us—we too can become lost. We are fallen—we tend to stray—the wisdom of the world is not reliable—so we NEED to know God’s Word. Without it we will be “tossed to and fro—blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14).
How many of you want to experience this part of the GOSPEL of Christmas? You want to be used by God to do wonderful things? You want to join Him in His work? Raise your hands
Thank you—You will need to be humble, courageous, full of faith, and you will need to know God’s Word—but the good news is—God can and will use you!