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Forth Sunday in Advent, 12/24/2017

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38, by Walter W. Harms

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 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. 36 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. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Who Is Your God?

Here it is Christmas Eve day! I hope all of you have everything ready, waiting for St. Nicholas to arrive. I know some people buy their gifts on this day and get some good bargains, I presume.

Tonight is Christmas Eve. This is the night we celebrate the birth of this person we call Jesus. Actually we have no idea as to the birthdate of Jesus. Early Christians over some 1600 years ago didn’t want to celebrate the pagan festivals associated with the change of seasons and end of the calendar. The result is that they made this date to correspond to the birth of Jesus.

This morning just happens to be the 4th Sunday in Advent, according to the church calendar. So we have the Gospel reading that tells of the angel appearing to this young girl, telling her the starling news that she was going to conceive and have this child whom she is to call Jesus. The name means rescuer, savior, and, of course, then leader.

This is one of those almost humorous coincidents where we think about the conception and on the same day the birth of a child. I don’t know most women would like that kind of event so quickly as we have in this day’s celebrations. So let see what this Jesus is all about anyway.

I wonder how you picture your God in your mind. Some Orientals picture him as a fiercely stern character, likely rather to go after you than help you, unless you appease him properly. Others see him as a sort of benign overweight person who has found contentment in sitting there and contemplating all the time, giving up every desire that might cause any kind of frustration. Still others have a god for every different situation they might run into—a god for fertility, a god for health, a god who takes care of the weather, and on and on. And most of us have a god in what is called “foxhole” situations.

Many Christians have this rather idealized Jesus as a kindly white shepherd who has white clothes on and takes care of quiet, gentle sheep. We are the sheep, of course. From what I can gather, shepherds were and are very rugged persons who live out in the open and protect their sheep, not only from predators, but also from the dumb situations they get themselves into. The 23rd Psalm calls God the good shepherd who makes it so that we want nothing. Kind of strange, don’t you think, when we always want something more, even though we are some of the richest persons in this world? Must be a different kind of God who takes care of all our needs.

Even though Christians have the Word of God, we call the Bible; they have some strange notions about God. You know if you can’t see a person, well then, you have to imagine what or whom he is like.

There is no more a mystery about our God. That’s what this day is all about. He was born as a true human being, while at the same time being true God, so that we would know our God. We would know that he knows what it is like to be a human being, a man or a woman.

Does our God know what it is like to be obedient to parents, who sometimes don’t understand him? Yes! Does he know what it means to be misunderstood and not appreciated? Yes! Does he know what it means to have to face the temptations to give in to the needs and wants of the bodies we have? If you don’t think so, see his initial temptations from the devil. Does he know what it means to have loved ones die? Yes, he wept at the grave of his friend, his friend, mind you, Lazarus. Does he know what it means to anticipate pain and agony? Yes! Does he know what it means to be humiliated and have dear friends abandon him, after promising never to do that? Does he know the anticipation and dread of death coming his way, through one of the greatest causes of pain the ancient world had invented? Does he know what it means to sense that God, who is the very present help in trouble, deserts him?

Why did God take on human form and become a true human while still being true God? So that you and I would know that he understands every situation you face, every joy you experience and every need that you have, including the one to live. I always say at funerals man was born to live and yet we all face death. But perhaps the greatest gifts he gives us are these.

His advent into our world through the Blessed Virgin Mary was to do something we could never, and I mean, never do for ourselves. One is to permanently remove from us all sense of guilt for all the crap we have done, all the vicious words we have spoken, and all the licentious thoughts we have harbored in our minds. That’s what he came to do for each of you, none excluded and I don’t care how evil, wicked or whatever you have gotten yourself into or out of. It is all taken away by the only, the only Savior who had the power to do that. He suffered for you, he took your guilt upon himself, he suffered the consequences of our pretenses to be something other that we are at the core of our being. And it killed him!

We think about a nice cuddly baby on this day. True, but we should see your and my God entering our world so that we could finally someday enter his world forever.

Because you see while we lay our loved ones in this earth Jesus created for us, he didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead and lives and reigns over this world, your world. That is why we no longer need wonder what is going to happen to us after we die. I read just the other day that most people in this country are not sure about how you get to heaven. Most believe they will get there, but are not sure whether faith or doing good is the right answer.

If you, any of you, harbor that uncertainty about life after death, this is the time to celebrate. Your good actions are as helpful as nothing. Only faith, the belief that Jesus has done it all for you, so that death becomes a gateway to life when he returns to rule over this whole world forever! Then we respond to his gift to us with helping others in every kind of need and situation.

Why do you think gifts are a part of this celebration? Simply to remind us all that the greatest gift you have now is life and that Jesus gives you the gift of living forever where none of the crap we go through now will even be a memory. Whoever believes and trusts Jesus already has eternal life. Are you celebrating that? Or are you concerned about what some relatives say about you or about your abilities? Are you concerned about what gifts are under the tree for you, if there are any at all? Are you concerned that your gifts will perhaps not be appreciated? How about wondering if you truly appreciate the gifts this man-child has given you?

Ok, ok, you may wish life were better for you right now. You may wish for a better life that you are experiencing right now or that faces you this evening or maybe next week.

Well, most of us believe that God really is on our side when things go well for us. You know when the job is good, when the money is rolling in, when there are no heath issues, and the family is getting along splendidly.

Let’s take the case of this woman, really a very young girl called Mary. The angel who appeared to her and told her she was going to have a baby. Ok, a great baby. But she was going to be an unwed mother. Some of you may know about that experience. Well, at her time it was one of the greatest no-no’s you could get yourself into. We see just hints of that when Jesus is called the son of Mary, not the son of Joseph. All men at that time were called after their father. I don’t think people ever forgot that she was not married when she conceived Jesus.

Now would you want God to “highly favor” you? It really doesn’t make much difference whether you think God is highly favoring you or giving you only the crumbs that fall from his celestial table or even nothing at all. Today I want you to know by your very presence here to hear of what this Jesus, your Savior has done for you, and, never forget, what he will do for you at the end of this world, you, that each of you are highly favored by God by knowing this Jesus as your God and Savior.

Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate! He came for you and he is with you now and will be with you when he raises you from death to life that will be far better than any, and I mean any kind of experience you have this day or on any day of your life. Merry Christmas!

retired pastor Walter W. Harms
Austin, TX USA
E-Mail: waltpast@aol.com