Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Simplicity of Christmas

Peninsula Community Church 

The Simplicity of Christmas 

December 22, 2016 

Luke 2:8-20 – And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Wow! It is hard to believe that Christmas is just a couple of days away. Hopefully by now all of your gifts have been purchased, they have been wrapped, and are now under the tree. I also trust that the busyness of the season has not yet tired you out and that you still have some strength left to actually enjoy Christmas.

As we read the Christmas story we find that it is a complex story with a simple message. While the message is simple, the story does present some complex issues.  The virgin birth still rocks our imagination and ability to comprehend how such an act could occur and yet the virgin birth is the lynch pen in the story of God coming to earth. Not only do we have to get are minds around the virgin birth but then we have to deal with the fact that the Son of God came to earth in the form of human flesh to save us from our sin. We have a virgin who was sexually pure and yet she was impregnated by the Spirit of God as the conduit for Him to come to earth. These are not exactly simplistic issues. Like Mary we ask “How can this be?” We are amazed at these events and the theological implications they present. These and other truths of Christmas are complex issues which theologians have spent their entire lives trying to understand and explain. They debate, discuss, and argue the nuances of the various ideas and thoughts associated with these complex theological issues.

While there are certainly things in the Christmas story that are very complex, there is so much of the Christmas story that is filled with amazing simplicity. Think about the story if you will. We have a simple girl who is Mary. She lived in a simple time. Life was not very complicated for her.  She lived in the simple town of Nazareth. She made a simple pledge to marry a simple man named Joseph. They had committed to live a simple life together forever. They were not socialites. They were not wealthy. They were not people who held a high social status. They were not complicated people but they were not stupid either. While they did not have social status of any kind they were chosen by God and that is all that mattered. They understood and accepted their calling to be the mother and father of the King of the world.

When Jesus was born it was a simple birth. There was nothing unusual about the birth itself. A seemingly simple boy was born in a the simplest of places, a manger.  In fact, His birth was so simple and unassuming that most people of that day never realized what happened. Jesus was not born in a hotel room surrounded by the modern comforts of His day, He was born in a manger where cattle lived. There were no media involved. The Bethlehem Gazette was no where to be found and there were no paparazzi around the stall where He was born. There were no trumpeters or pages to announce the birth of Jesus. The people of His day missed the most amazing event of their day because they were busy paying their taxes and prepping for the feasts. Most people continued to live their life as if nothing had happened and nothing had changed. And yet that is exactly what happened. His coming to earth was so complex and yet at the same time it was so simple. It was and still is the great paradox of the day. The complex met the simple.

How simple and yet how sublime is God’s means of salvation! Who would have thought that Messiah would be born as a baby, and in such humble circumstances! Many would have and still stumble over the angel’s directions (2:12): “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger” which was a feeding trough! It smelled like a barn. It is most likely that the place was filled with noise and contrary to the Christmas carol I am guessing that the baby Jesus did cry as He was just as human as any one of us. Think about what you would have done if you were God. I know if I had been in control I would have sent the Savior to the earth as a full grown man, a mighty warrior riding on a white stallion. Or, He would have been born in the finest palace and not in a barn. He would have been wrapped in the finest purple garments and would be laying in an ivory and gold cradle. He would not be in a barn surrounded by smelly sheep and the noise. He would have been attended by servants and the newspapers of the day would have heralded His birth as the greatest news of all time. But that was not the choice of God. He chose the simple so that everyone person could receive the gift of the Savior.

To understand the simplicity of His birth, we must consider who was first invited to come and celebrate the event. The first guest to see Baby Jesus symbolized the simpleness of the message. It is noteworthy that one of the first groups to be called to the scene of the manger were the shepherds, a simple people with a simple way of life. We should note that this does not mean they were dumb or stupid, it simply means they were a group of people who did not put on airs.

In terms of occupation the shepherd’s main objective in life was to guard the sheep. They were to keep the sheep safe from wild animals and from hurting themselves. They were simple people with simple goals. In many commentaries it has been suggested that it is very probable that the very sheep these men were tending in the fields were being prepared for slaughter at Passover in Jerusalem a few months later. If that is true then how symbolic is that the shepherds who were watching the Passover lambs would be invited to Bethlehem to view the Passover Lamb of God, provided for the salvation of the world.

As we look at the Christmas story, we find that the message of Christmas really is a simple message. When we remove the mystic of the virgin birth, the questions of how God could come to earth, and we simply accept the fact that He did, we find that the message is not as complicated as we make it and it is certainly more simple than we make it. The simple message is that God brought salvation to humankind by taking on human flesh Himself and He did so without sin. He bore our sin to satisfy the call of punishment for the sin we have committed. While on one hand the story is complicated and complex but the message is simple.

How simple of a message does God bring to us today? Let me share fours ideas presented by the message of the birth of Jesus. First, God loves us and has a plan for our life. God loved us enough that He sent His most valuable possession to us to redeem us and to change our lives. The problem too often is that we believe that God could not love us because of what we may have done or not done. There is no doubt that God loves us. We find this in one of the most popular scriptures in the Bible. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17).

Man is sinful and is separated from God. The second part of this message is that everyone of us have sinned. No one is righteous. None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,

not even one (Romans 3:10-12). For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:22-25).The one who says he does not sin is a liar according to the scripture (John 1:8). This sin has separated us from God so that our fellowship with Him has been broken.

God sent His son to die for our sins. But God had a solution. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us ( Romans 5:6-8). His solution was to send His son to earth as the great redeemer to save men from His sin and for that matter save mankind from himself. No matter who you are or what you have done He died for you and there is nothing you have done that will change that.

God wants us to receive the gift of forgiveness. The simplicity of the message of Christmas is that we can receive the gift of salvation given to us by God. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Romans 10:9-10).  While our lives our so very complex the acceptance of salvation does not have to be. We confess to Him our sin, short comings and failures. We repent which means we agree to not do those things again. And we begin to live a life changed and different from what we have known before. That is why the greatest gift you can give and the greatest gift you can receive is the forgiveness of God on our behalf and then choosing to live a life that honors God and represents who He is.

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Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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What Do You Give Jesus for Christmas?

Peninsula Community Church 

What Do You Give Jesus for Christmas? 

December 18, 2016

Matthew 2:9-11 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Our story today picks up where we left off last week. The wise men moved from their encounter with Herod to find the Christ child. We do not know how long the trip was from the visit with Herod to actually encountering the Christ child but we know that it took some time. They were looking for the one sign that would lead them to the Messiah. When they saw the star that was pointing the way to Christ they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. Their reaction to the star showed the intensity of their expectation and their desire to see this child. The passage here states that their joy was exceedingly great. Their joy overwhelmed them and they expressed their joy in their worship.

As they entered the stable where the Christ child lay, they presented Him with gifts. Each gift presented showed the value and honor they were giving the Christ child. They presented Him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. For most of us, at a first read this does not mean much but each of these gifts in the economy of the day had great value. The gift of gold was given to the Christ child as a way to honor Him as the King of this world. They recognized what many did not see in their day. He was the king of the world and they chose to honor Him as such. The second gift they brought was the gift of frankincense. Frankincense was given to Him in recognition of his position as the high priest. Frankincense was used by the priest when he went into the temple to present the people before God. It was in essence one of the symbols and tools for worship. They gave Him myrrh because myrrh was used as an embalming oil. They recognized that He was to die for the world. Their gift was a prophetic statement of what was to come. The wise men had a vision for this child more than the scholars or the religious leaders of their day. They gave gifts that spoke to His royalty as King, His priesthood as the intercessor for the people, and the one who would die for our sins.

When we give gifts, especially here at the Christmas season, we try to give gifts based on who the person is and how much we love them and know about them. But what do you do when you have to buy a gift for the person who has everything and can buy what they want when they want it? As I was preparing for this message, I was thinking about this Christmas season and what gift could I give to Christ. This was a difficult thought process because certainly Christ has everything He needs and what He does not have He could create as He has the power to do so. After some thought, I realized the answer was already given to us. The greatest gift we can give to Christ is ourselves. 

The greatest gift we can give to God is to say, “Lord, I give You my life. I give You my talents. I give You my abilities. I give You my dreams. I give You my future. I give You my weaknesses. I offer myself, all of myself, to You.” Our posture should be one of outstretched hands and open palms to give Him our life and all that we are. Any other approach communicates that we are approaching God with clinched fists or clinched teeth which speaks of resistance and rejection.

Too often we hold back from God just in case. We hold back from God because the last time we fully trusted someone they wounded us, the betrayed us, and they failed to live up to their promises. So we approach God the same way. We approach Him with fear and the apprehension that He will fail us, let us down, and in the end we will be left wounded and destroyed. But I can assure you that God will never fail you or let you down.

Paul in Romans 12:1-2 perhaps defines the giving of one’s self as a gift to God better than anyone else. Paul states I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

What is the gift Paul is referring to here? It is the gift of ourselves as a living sacrifice. Our gift to God is a resistance to being conformed to this world but rather a focus on being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Rather than settling for the status quo, we begin to adjust our lives in order to follow the ways of God. Each day we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. The result is that our way of thinking, the way we act, the way we perform our duties in life begin to be transformed so that we are much more like God in what we do. Can you imagine what life would be like if we truly committed ourselves to God and refused to be conformed to the world’s image of ourselves?

Let me sum this up by saying the best gift we could give God is to live the life He has designed for us to live. It means that we walk in forgiveness and healing so that we are free to be all that He desires. I know what you are thinking because I have thought it myself. It is too hard and it is impossible for me, there is just too much to overcome. But when we give ourselves to Him, He will begin the work of healing and restoration in us. That is His plan and it is has been His plan from the beginning of time. But how do we do this?

First of all the passage before us says that we should offer ourselves to God because of His mercy. Paul presents God’s mercy as the strongest argument for giving ourselves to God. When we fully recognize all that God has done for us the only response worthy of Him is to give Him our whole being, our whole mind, soul, and spirit. We were all sinners and sin had deadly consequences but while we were yet sinners He died for us. His mercy moved Him to give Himself so that we would be forgiven of our sins in total: those we committed, those we are committing, and those we have yet to commit. It was His mercy that saved us, redeemed us, and began a process of restoration. It was His mercy that will sustain us.

Secondly, we must offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. What an oxymoron. We are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. Most sacrifices of the Old Testament were slaughtered before they were sacrificed. Paul, however, is calling for us to present ourselves as living sacrifices not as dead lifeless ones. The expression of a living sacrifice is used as the backdrop to the Old Testament sacrificial system where an animal would be sacrificed for the forgiveness of one’s sin. You see in the Old Testament man offered an animal but in the New Testament man was to offer himself. We are to be the sacrifice God receives. Because we are living sacrifices, we are to be a living sacrifice wherever we go. This means at the office, at school, in our homes, and wherever we go we should live as as a sacrifice to God.

Thirdly we must offer ourselves to God through transformation and renewal. We best demonstrate our commitment to God by refusing to conform to the world by being transformed through renewed minds. When we give ourselves to God it is reflected in how we live. Worshipping people are changed people and that is reflected in their walk, their talk, and their personality. When we give ourselves to God we live as transformed people who live Christ-centered lives and not self-centered lives.

Finally, we offer ourselves to God all of the time. Living implies life. Offering ourselves cannot be contained in a one-hour service on Sunday. A living sacrifice implies a sacrifice that is alive and continuous in action. It moves from one activity on Sunday to all of our activities: each relationship, each task, each opportunity, each problem, each success, and each failure. Even the most common of deeds become an act of worship. Real worship is the offering of our everyday life to God.

In the final analysis, the best gift we can give to the one who has it all is ourselves. It is a choice we make but that is what He desires and that is what best reflects our love for Him. Today, as we gather around the Lord’s Table we are reminded that He loved us enough that He gave Himself completely to save us and redeem us from our sin.

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Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Stealing Christmas

Peninsula Community Church

Stealing Christmas 

December 11, 2016

Matthew 2:1-4, 7-8, 16 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born… Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him… Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

I have shared before about how much I love the Christmas season. I love the festivities, the food, the surprises, the decorations, and in particular I love Christmas movies. There are so many great movies in this season. There are some that are really fun. There are some that have more serious but so many have themes that speak to the true meaning of Christmas. I love “Its a Wonderful Life” and how it portrays how our lives impact others. I love the “Christmas Carol” as it speaks to the redemptive power of forgiveness and that no one is ever so far gone that their life cannot be impacted positively by the message of Christmas. Another favorite of mine is “The Grinch that Stole Christmas.” I particularly love the one that stars Jim Carrey. The reality is Dr. Seuss had it right. No matter what you do, the Christmas Spirit cannot be stolen or killed.

Most of us are familiar with the storyline of the “Grinch that Stole Christmas.” According to the Jim Carrey version, the grinch had been an outcast of Who-ville. Because this happened at Christmas time, he despised Christmas and the people of the town. Because of his disgust, he planned and connived a way to steal Christmas in order to kill the Christmas spirit. One night he swoops into town and steals all of the presents, the ornaments, the food, and everything related to Christmas. A miraculous thing happens however, instead of weeping and crying, the people of Who-ville begin to sing. The music traveled to the mountain top where the Grinch lived and his heart begins to grow and beat with life again. While Dr. Seuss’ Grinch is a wonderful story, it is not the first story of someone trying to steal or kill the Christmas spirit. In our reading today, we find that Herod was guilty of just such an action.

In our story, the wise men are on their way to visit the new born king who was born almost two years earlier. On their journey, they stopped to ask for directions and Herod caught the ear of the wise men. He connived to have the wisemen find the baby Jesus and then return to report to Herod where this baby was, because he wanted to take Him out. The wise men were unaware of this scheme until the angel spoke to them. You see Herod’s goal was to eradicate the baby Jesus who was now a threat to his kingship.

In this story, we find the remarkable contrast between one who exalts himself as king and the true King of the universe. How desperate and diluted do you have to be to want to kill a baby because you are afraid of him? How diluted can you be to be jealous of a little child? But that was the condition of Herod’s heart and his mind. He was afraid because Jesus was the King of the Jews. Herod was the ruler. He was the king and he wanted everyone to know that. Herod was aware of the prophetic words that had been spoken about the one that was to come to save the world and he knew if he did not do something his kingship would be threatened.

The wise men refused to cooperate with Herod as they had been directed by God to travel home a different way to avoid another encounter with him. The result was that Herod was angry and he decided that all of the male children born at approximate time Jesus was born would be slaughtered so as to wipe out any hope of a new king being established. Mary and Joseph received a word from God that this was going to happen and they moved to Egypt where they were to stay until it was safe to return home. He could not kill Christmas!

It is noteworthy here that we seldom see this side of the Christmas story around the manger. This is the dark side of the story and it is a reminder there are things at work to destroy and kill the Christmas spirit in our hearts and in our lives but that is not how it has to be. In the end, we find there were two kings but there was only one winner. As we know now Herod died but Jesus lived. Herod exerted his physical power but God exerted His godly power to overcome the works of darkness. Herod could not fight against the king of the world.

The story of Herod took place some 2000 years ago but the fact is there is still a move to steal and kill the Christmas Spirit. Every year there is a Herod or a Grinch that tries to steal or kill the spirit of Christmas. The bottom line, however, is that no matter what people say or do they cannot remove Christ from Christmas. This is because He resides in our hearts and not in the decorations, the gifts, or the trappings of Christmas. There are so many things that come at us to steal the Christmas spirit. The Grinch thought that by stealing the gifts, the ornaments, the decorations, and the food that somehow he could steal their joy and expression of hope. Herod thought that by killing Jesus, Christmas would be over and done with. In the story of the Grinch, instead of losing heart we find the residents of Who-ville standing with their hands clasped and singing the songs of Christmas. The point is, you can take the decorations, destroy the gifts, and smash the ornaments but you cannot take the spirit of Christmas from our hearts.

No matter what happens Jesus is still the King and the Lord over all of heaven and over all of the kingdoms of this world. Later in the story of Jesus’ life, we find that the leaders of the Roman government and the Jewish leaders of His day all tried to destroy the message of Christ but you can kill the body but you can not destroy the message. That is what Herod thought he could do but the king of Heaven will always be victorious. He will always come out on top.

The idea of trying to kill or steal Christmas is not something new and it certainly has not gone away over the years. It is still an issue we face today. There are Christmas killers all around us. The first one is materialism. Materialism is an unhealthy focus on things and money rather than on the Christ of Christmas. When we become more focused on the trappings of Christmas than the Christ of Christmas, we have a big problem. Materialism will destroy the Christmas spirit before we know it. Materialism out of control presents itself as a ungrateful heart and an unsatisfied heart. It is a binding force because we can never do enough or have enough stuff.

The second Christmas killer is misplaced emotions. The Christmas season has the power to illicit so many emotions. There are happy and joyful emotions but there also the emotions of sadness, anger, jealously, and other such emotions that can kill the spirit of Christmas. Many of these emotions are real and they are justified because of the experiences we have faced. However, when we get sucked into the negative emotions we encounter, the Christmas spirit can be killed. Herod was sucked into an emotional issue that effected his ability to think clearly and process information appropriately. We make hard core statements and decisions such as I will never go their house again. I am not going to talk with them again and on and on it goes. The result of these decisions too often is a lost Christmas spirit. We isolate in an unhealthy way thinking that this will teach them a lesson when we are the ones that are most often hurt in the process.

The third Christmas killer is stress. Stress is a killer in more ways than one and stress can rob us of the joy that is a part of this festive season of joy, peace, and love. So many of us understand how this works. There are gifts to buy, food to prepare, cards to write, people to invite, and on and on it goes. Finances are tight and we have to buy Uncle Johnny that gift or he will never forgive us. We become stressed out before we get to enjoy the beauty of the season.

The third Christmas killer I will call busyness. This is a time of the year where we get so busy with the activities and events of Christmas that we miss the guest of honor at our activities and events. We can be so busy celebrating the season that we fail to recognize Jesus as the King of this world. After all He is the reason we celebrate. He is the King of the world. Jesus referred to this as the cares of this world. It is where we have been planted in the right soil but the activities of life begin to control the outcome of our life and we fall short of His glory. Our motives are good but the fruit is wrong. Rather than focusing on the Savior, we focus on the celebration to the point that we miss the Savior.

So what do we do? First, we must choose to worship the King. Rather than having a heart of Herod, we must have the heart of the wise men who came to worship the King. The wise men chose to worship God as the King of Kings. We too must make a choice to worship Christ, the King of this world. We must release our busyness, our anxiety, our materialistic attitude to God and focus our attention on the Savior. We must also recognize that Christmas is not the wrappings, decorations, cookies, gifts, or food; it is the birth of Christ. Nothing can destroy the spirit of Christmas if we choose to worship Him.

I love the closing to the “Grinch that Stole Christmas.” At the end of Dr Seuss’ book he makes this revolutionary statement about the people of Who-ville. And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! “It came without packages, boxes or bags!” And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. “Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” And what happened then…? Well…in Who-ville they say That the Grinch’s small heart Grew three sizes that day! And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight, He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast! And he… …HE HIMSELF…! The Grinch carved the roast beast! (Source, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” Dr. Seuss, 1957)

As we close this message today I realize that for many of us we will experience Christmas in a different way. For some, the spirit of Christmas has been stolen because we have lost sight of the meaning of Christmas. For others, we can become too focused on the trappings, the gifts, the meals, and all the other things related to Christmas that we have missed the spirit and reason for the season. For others, we become consumed with the busyness of the season that we don’t have time to really celebrate. For others, the emotions we have experienced rob the Christmas spirit from our heart. We are afraid. We feel a loss. We are angry with life.

But at the end of it all there is nothing that can rob Christmas from our hearts when we focus on Him who is the King of the World. Herod is dead but Christ is alive. Too often we try to take things out of the hands of the true king and try to deal with them in our own way, but we must never forget that He is still the King. He is the reason for the season!

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The Surprise of Christmas

Peninsula Community Church

The Surprise of Christmas

December 4, 2016

Luke 1:26-38 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered 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 called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. 

I do not know about you but I love Christmas and the mystic about the holiday. There are presents under the tree that have been carefully chosen and wrapped to maximize the surprise as the gift is opened. I am sure, like me, there have been times when you opened a gift thinking that it would be one thing only to find it was something totally different. What a surprise when you open the one gift that you have been longing for and you have no clue about the gift.

The story before us today is a story of surprise. In the story there is an event that takes a young woman in Nazareth totally by surprise. Mary, this young virgin teen, was engaged to Joseph. She was going about her daily tasks and was living life as she always had. She was preparing for her wedding day and helping around her home, just as she would have any other day. When she arose that morning she never would have guessed that she would receive a message that would shake her world and change her for the rest of her life.

Before we look at some of the specific details of the story, let me review some of the background to the story. Mary and Joseph had been engaged which was the first step in the marriage ritual for the Jewish people. There was a commitment to stay pure in terms of their sexuality. There was a commitment to begin to plan and put their household in order for their wedding day. In essence, according to Jewish law being engaged or betrothed meant they were already married but there was a process they had to follow in order to consummate the marriage on their wedding night. According to Scripture both Joseph and Mary had been faithful to their vows.

Mary was a young girl in the town of Nazareth. There was nothing special about Mary that would have given any indication that she would have been chosen by God for this amazing task. I don’t know why but God often chooses to use some of the most unknown and unrecognizable people to bring about His will. She lived in Nazareth a small town with no notoriety. Nazareth was not the kind of town that people expected to have a miracle take place. In John 1:45-46 Nathanael asked the probing question “Can anything good come out of Nazareth.” There was not much respect for the small town of Nazareth.

Can you imagine the moment this event occurred? She was minding her own business and suddenly an angel was greeting her. Gabriel met her with an amazing greeting that was about to rock her world. Speak of a surprise! How surprised do you think Mary was? The angel’s message was simply “You are favored and the Lord is with you.” The Greek word kecharitomene is an amazing word. It is made up of three parts. The root of the word is the word “grace.” We know that grace is the unmerited favor of God that is supernaturally endowed upon us. The suffix of the word is mene which indicates that Mary is the one being acted upon. Mary was not the one who brought herself into this state of grace but it was an action of God. The prefix ke indicates that the action has been completed in the past with its results continuing in full effect in the present. In other words, the work of grace has already been given and had been worked out on her behalf.

She was the recipient of great grace. In other words, she was having this encounter not because she somehow deserved it or had somehow merited the visitation. She was having this interaction for only one reason. She had been chosen by God. God saw her not as a young virgin girl but as a chosen vessel He could use to bring about His will. She was not perfect, but as we know from Scripture no one is righteous in themselves (Romans 3:11) because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). She was no exception as she was chosen not because of her works but because of the work of God.

As you might imagine she was troubled by the announcement of the angel. It is noteworthy that she was not troubled by the angel or fearful of the angel but her fear and trouble was in the announcement itself. How would you have reacted to such news? She was to be the mother of Jesus. She was chosen to be the vessel through which Jesus, the Messiah, would be born and would change the world. Spiritually, God desires to do that through us today. He has chosen us as a vessel through which He can be manifested and His name can be known. He came to live in us so we would be like Him and the world would experience Him through us. We have His favor!

The angel responded to her fear by saying to her “Do not be afraid.” That is an amazing statement when you think about it. Here is Mary being approached an angel and Mary’s response was “How can this be?” In essence, what she was saying in the modern language is “Are you kidding me? Are you serious?”  The reality is that Mary was awestruck by the calling she was given. What was she going to do? She was perplexed by the news which speaks of her humility and honesty. Then again, it’s not every day that one gets a cold call from a divine messenger.

We do get this from time to time. It can be a moment in a sermon or in a conversation. It can be during a quiet walk in the woods or in prayer that God taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hey you. Yes, you the favored one!” It forces us to question ”Me? Favored? By God? You must have mistaken me for someone else.” No matter how many times or in what form we hear, “yes it is you and you are the favored one,” we have the hardest time believing we are the ones being addressed. For some, it is because their relationship with God is grounded in fear. For others, it is because their faith is overshadowed by the problems of life and the largeness of the calling.

Mary had so many questions and concerns. After all she was a virgin and how could she become pregnant without breaking her marriage vows? What would Joseph think? What would Joseph do? It was in his power to legally divorce her. If this happened, the community could reject her and in fact they could stone her if they chose. But once again, Gabriel responds with an amazing statement. He stated that the Holy Spirit will come upon her.

Here is what Gabriel is saying. While you are fearful and concerned, the Holy Spirit will come and fill you. Yes this is an amazing task for you to accomplish. It is an amazing calling but the Holy Spirit will be there to guide you and help you all along the way. When you falter He will be there to assist you and help you. The angel states that the Lord will be with her and that the Holy Spirit will come upon her. The angel is saying He is there and she is covered. She will be protected. When you think about this we see the Trinity at work. Jesus will be in her. The Holy spirit will be upon her, and God will be along side of her. How amazing and wonderful is that.

As Mary is pondering the question of how can this be, the angel makes another amazing statement. “Nothing will be impossible.” Then he announces that her aunt Elizabeth is pregnant. She had been deemed too old to have children but with God nothing is impossible. What Gabriel was saying is, if God can take a worn out, old, barren woman who is past her prime and give her a child, a miracle can be done in you as well. There is nothing too hard for God. If God can touch Elizabeth, then He can surely pregnant a young healthy virgin. In this story there are two great miracles: the birth of Jesus and the birth of John the Baptist.

In the final part of this verse we find Mary’s response and what an awesome response it is. She says: “Let it be according to your word.” She relents and accepts God’s calling and purpose for her life. What she his saying is God I don’t understand it and I don’t know how to put all of this in perspective but I trust you and I receive your word and your calling. I accept your grace and power to see me through this.

Notice the connection between the call of Mary and the presence of God in this story. We are reminded that His name would be called Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). From the beginning of His life He is with us. The entirety of the Godhead is available to us for guidance, protection, and being guarded. When God calls you He does not make a mistake. He knows you and He knows where you live. He does not come and go; He is is with us always.

So what do we do with this story? We make it our own. We see that God can do the impossible in us. Are you expecting? Do you know that God can surprise us and call us to a miraculous walk with Him? The grace of God is seeking you today to let you know that He is in you, upon you and along side of you to reveal Himself to you. It may in the mundane that He comes but He is there.

Know this, you are highly favored because you have been called by God. He chose you because He had a plan and He knows you. His grace comes to us not because we are worthy but because of God. In every circumstance and stage of life, His grace comes. The enemy of our soul would rather you think that you are a failure and that there is not hope. But that is a lie. The enemy wants us to believe that there is no hope, that we have failed, and we are not worthy but that is not God’s calling or purpose for us.

Here is a second idea that we need to know about the grace of God. He knows where we are and He knows us, knows our problems, and He knows the depth of the pain and heartache you are experiencing. He knows your fears. He knows your doubts. He wants to come to you today and give you His grace. He wants to touch your heart. In the video we watched early in the service it is so easy to neglect and walk right by the gift of grace that God has given us. But don’t do that today. Open your heart to God’s grace. Mary did!

If you need or want the grace of God today I ask that you open your heart and do what Mary did. Her final reply was “Let it be according to your Word!” Whatever you need to do today “Lord I am asking you to do that. Give me grace to endure. Give me grace to speak truth in love.” His grace is a great grace and it is all we need today.

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Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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