Grace, Norfolk NE, Trinity, Urbana, IL
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin"s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 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." "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon 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. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God." "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.
You Can make a difference! That's what I've titled this sermon. You Can make a difference! Sounds like something out of some self-help or motivational course of one way or another, something designed to give you more self-assurance or confidence that you can accomplish things. You Can make a difference! Nice sounding words, aren't they?
You Can make a difference! This is one of the first ideas being introduced into the mind of a seemingly insignificant young virgin living in the out-of-the-way village of Nazareth in Galilee. The text, of course, is one that we more closely associate with Christmas, because it tells about the beginnings of Jesus Christ on this earth. It is the account of the angel's visit to Mary telling her that she was the chosen one to give humanity to God the Son and give birth to Him who would save the world from sin.
You can make a difference! Wow! What a difference Mary did make! What God was able to accomplish through her! But lets look for just a moment at this young woman. Listen again to the beginning lines of the text: In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. Nothing in this description of Mary is at all unique or outstanding. She lives in a town of Nazareth. There was nothing special about Nazareth. Nazareth was in a region called Galilee. Nothing special about Galilee, either. Neither the town nor the region were significant when it came to the birth or coming of important people. Galilee was populated by people who were generally not of pure Jewish blood - people who were a mixture of Jews and Gentiles and so were shunned by both groups. This woman was a virgin engaged to be married to a man named Joseph who was a descendant of King David. Nothing spectacular about that. There were probably any number of women in Galilee or better yet Israel engaged or married to men descended from David. And both the names Mary as well as Joseph were quite common in those days. In fact, there are six Marys listed in the New Testament, so that each time one is mentioned the name usually has to be qualified as to which Mary is meant. So, there you have it: God's angel was sent to the lowly, common town of Nazareth, in the lowly common region of Galilee, to a lowly young woman with a very common name of Mary, engaged to a lowly common carpenter with the common name of Joseph. This angel comes to this woman and says, You can make a difference!
What Gabriel said to Mary is also very true of you: You can make a difference! And since we've already shown that when Gabriel visited Mary, she was a very common, ordinary person, and since we know what kind of incredible difference she did make by what God did through her, you cannot appeal to, "who me? I'm nobody." God doesn't call people into service in His kingdom because of their special abilities or their own notoriety. It does not matter to God what people can do, how talented they are, how clever they are, how smart they are. What matters is that people recognize what God can do in and through them, and how the power of God can work through them. Very often, however, we don't look for what the Lord would accomplish through us.
The text goes on. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God." Don't be afraid? Mary had lots to be afraid of! First of all, its not every day that an angel of the Lord shows up to deliver a message from God. That would be enough to make anyone off balance. Then, what the angel told Mary was going to happen also could make her greatly afraid. There were a whole lot of good reasons why Mary did not want to become an unwed mother, or at least to conceive a baby obviously without any involvement from her husband-to-be, Joseph. Unlike today's society, where Hollywood and the dominant media culture promotes promiscuity and sex outside of marriage as the enlightened way to live, in Mary's day it was considered strictly immoral and was punishable by stoning. It put Mary in a very dangerous position. Even though the angel told Mary not to be afraid, Mary indeed had very good reasons to be afraid!
This word for being afraid, for fear here in this text is the Greek word "Phobos". Perhaps you'll recognize that it has the same sound as the beginning of our English word Phobia. Phobos - Phobia. A Phobia is a fear of one thing or another. But its more than a simple fear - its an absolutely paralyzing fear. Those with phobias get to the point where they cannot function when certain conditions are present. Someone who is afraid of heights cannot be comfortable sitting close to the front rail of the balcony, and may not like being in the balcony at all. Someone who is afraid of closed in spaces cannot function when it seems things are closing in on them. Someone that is afraid of flying cannot go anywhere that involves air travel. And on and on it goes. Fear of something that paralyzes a person is called a phobia.
Perhaps phobos - or phobias - explain what goes on with us Christians and our seeming inability to function as God would call us, to make a difference. Peter, in 1 Peter 2:5 encourages us in our service to God by telling us that we are all living stones in the building that is the church. Christ is the key stone of that building, and the foundation is formed by the apostles and the prophets who gave us Gods' Word. As a "living stone" in that building known as the body of Christ, each one of us is expected to do our part. You know, when the various parts of a building begin to deteriorate, they begin to cause all kinds of problems. Remember the July 4 weekend? One of our two air conditioners in here failed, and it was miserable in here! And, of course, we've had lots of work done recently on our flat narthex roof because of water damage. When one part of the building fails, it can cause problems in quite a lot of the rest of it.
We, as living stones in the church of God, are called to make a difference - to do our part. If we don't, maybe it is because we have phobias - fears of one kind or another. Many people are that way when it comes to Evangelism. Evangelism is really nothing more than sharing your faith. Today we have all sorts of fear concerning that. We are afraid that others might be offended. We are afraid that others might think we are religious kooks along the order of David Koresh of Waco or some other extremist. We are afraid that we might be told off. And so instead of walking through doors that the Lord opens to us to witness of our faith, we become paralyzed with fear. Whenever troubles and problems of this life afflict the lives of others, as your lives touch theirs God assures you that You can make a difference! You can make a difference as you listen to the share in the troubles of neighbors, co-workers, friends and others you come into contact with. You can make a difference as you listen to them pour out their lament, as you care, as you witness to how God's love, your faith, the hope in Jesus Christ makes a difference in your life and carries you through the bad times in your life. And there's no end to troubles people have, are there? Divorce, family breakups, fights, financial troubles, illness, death -- there are any number of problems and there are ways you are in a unique position to make a difference that no one else can. But we're afraid, aren't we? We're afraid to mention our faith. In America today, religion is fine as long as you keep it to yourself! Christians today are to be more invisible than the old saying about children: We are expected to be neither seen nor heard Ð just fade into the background, don't bother anyone and they won't bother us.
Fear can paralyze us. Fear of ridicule, fear of what others will think of us. The angel didn't let Mary become paralyzed with fear. He said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found Favor with God." The angel Gabriel then proceeded to tell her that she was going to bring the long-awaited Messiah into the world. Basically, Mary's obedience was called for, but God's power was going to accomplish the whole thing. That's the way God does things. He does not call on us to do things because we are so clever or because we are so wonderful or because we are so resourceful, but He calls on us to let His power work through us. And as we let His power work through us to accomplish things, He blesses us beyond our wildest imaginations. Mary's life was blessed abundantly because she simply submitted to God's will to bear the Christ child. Now, she had her share of troubles. How many of you would enjoy standing at the base of a cross and watching your son hanging there with few if any clothes on in a humiliating painful death that he did not deserve? Jesus did that so that He could pay for all our sinfulness, for all our fearful times that we let fear and greed and selfishness get in the way of serving Him. That's why He was conceived within the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. That's why He lived His perfect life on this earth. He died so that He could take our punishment for the sins we commit each and every day, and offer us His free forgiveness. Mary was no doubt blessed many times over by her willingness to serve as God called on her to give human flesh and blood to God the Son Jesus Christ. And God promises blessings without number for each of us, His living stones, as we connect to the power of God and let God's power MAKE A DIFFERENCE in the world for Him.
You Can make a difference.
If you cannot speak like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus, You can say He died for all.
If you cannot rouse the wicked, with the Judgment's dread alarms,
You can lead the little children, to the Savior's waiting arms.
God didn't call Mary because she was a famous woman living in a lavish palace who was known, loved and respected by everyone in Israel. In fact, there many of you who may be more well-known than was Mary on the day the angel visited her. God calls each of us to serve according to how He has blessed us. We clearly see how God called Mary. Do you know how God is calling you? When God called Mary, she answered, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." When God calls you, how will you answer?
Let none hear you idly saying, "There is nothing I can do,"
While the souls of men are dying and the Master calls to you.
Take the task He gives you gladly, Let His work Your pleasure be
Answer quickly when He calls you, "Here am I, Send me, Send me!"
Because... You can make a difference! Amen
(© All rights reserved by Rev. Jeffrey D. McPike. This sermon may be copied for reading by others, but if it is put to any other use, please contact Rev. Jeffrey McPike. Thank You.)
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