2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall

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Sermon Ideas For Luke 1:26-38 Part 5

Imagine a day long ago in Nazareth for a girl named Mary tending a fire. With cheeks glowing from the heat, she stirred the soup that she and her mother prepared that morning. It was another day of the longing that shaped her wide, searching eyes, reddened and moistened around the edges by the smoke. Rituals of drawing water, feeding animals, baking bread, eating, and dreaming punctuated the stream of escaping seconds. As her mother gossiped with a neighbor next door, Mary sat alone, and being alone and hungry colored this day like every other day she could remember.

If the day meant anything at all, it was another day closer to marrying Joseph. She liked the cut of his chin, the softness of his eyes, and the thunderous rolling of his shoulders when he sawed wood for her uncle's table. Once she saw him from afar debating and joking with friends, and he moved like a cocksure boy. Yet, when she came near, he carried himself like a silent prince. Today was one day closer to the breaking of the silence, the laughter with the boy, the loving with the man, the sharing of many hungry days.

That is all any day means, one day closer to a dream of a house, a deal, a journey, a wedding, whatever we conjure up to answer this deep hunger that animates us, makes us restless, makes us search and grope for something unknown. That is all any day means unless an angel visits. Angels bring messages that wake us from the fitful sleep we call being awake. They annoy us like a phone call at 3:00 a.m. So we attend to angels only long enough to appease them, and we go back to sleep.

The days run together with the same lonely longing and the rituals with which we shape them. Yet, sometimes angels awaken us with such a start that today and every day thereafter will never mean the same thing. The angel brings a message, and that message usually includes a call to do something. Go and heal. Welcome a stranger. Prepare the way. Build an ark. Buy a field. Quit your job. Love your enemy. Bear God's Son.

An unsuspecting girl with flour on her ear walked into the kitchen and found an angel leaning on the pantry. "Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you... Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God" (vv. 28, 30). None of us will ever find favor with God exactly as Mary did. None of us will ever hear the call to give birth to Jesus, breast feed him, change his diapers, teach him right from wrong, and pray with him at bed time the same way.

Yet in another sense, all of us will hear that commission, and if we ponder it in our hearts, our days will never be the same. The anticipated wedding day, career break, or comfortable retirement may still whet our appetites, but they only foreshadow the kingdom in which we long to dwell, the Face into which we long to gaze. Our imaginations fall far short of defining that for which we long. We need angels to interrupt our sleep and show us.

Angels come in many forms: a child playing a game by a garden, a strong hunch that prevents disaster, a wrong number, the compassion in a stranger's eyes, a vision of a smiling visitor in white attire, a dog guarding a child—anything that seems to call us by name and say, Pay attention. God is here, terrible and beautiful, loving you, doing something wonderful, something impossible, and enlisting you to take part in the wonderful and impossible deed. Angels bring news too good to be true and too demanding to bear alone.

The angel charged Mary to conceive and bear God's Son, and by accepting this charge, she marked herself off from the rest of us forever. We remember her with statues, songs, and veneration. Many travel great distances chasing rumors of her visitations. Some posit that she was immaculately conceived, setting her apart from the first instant of her existence. The loneliness of a lowly girl becomes the loneliness of a saint.

Yet, analogously, we hear the same call: Bear Christ in you. Abandon yourself soul and body to the Lord until Christ starts growing in you. Become large with him, groaning, feeling him kick. As he grows, nurture him. Take care of yourself for Christ's sake, but don't forget that you are who you are because you abandoned yourself and invited God to make this happen in you.

When he arrives, he will need you to love his Father and accept his Father's love. Love and hold this Christ who springs from you with a life of his own. Feed him, play with him, pray for him, give your all for him as if your very soul is at stake. Contend with him when you must, and bear with his moods and with times when his mind seems miles away. When he grows up, love God's children in remembrance of him. Let him take care of you as you face death.

None of us are Mary, but Christ's life unfolds in ours. None of us will see a day like that of Gabriel's visit, but we entertain angels routinely until the days run together and we forget. Greetings favored one! We hear it but don't believe it, so we never quite notice, never quite remember. Such visits are impossible, we tell ourselves. God has better things to do than send a special message, a mission, and good news beyond belief to the likes of us. I am just a lowly girl, an auto mechanic, a manic-depressive, a single mother, a CEO selling bubble gum to the world.

Greetings favored one! Bear Christ in you. Nothing is impossible with God.

J. Marshall Jenkins