For Advent, I am preaching from a manuscript. As is often the case with manuscripts, the finished product is different than delivery than on paper. For me, that means that it was shortened up, a few repetitive things were removed, and a few paragraphs were repositioned. One or two were not spoken. This manuscript is rough, but it works. Happy reading.
HOW CAN THIS BE?
Advent in the Christian year is a season of anticipation. A season of waiting. A season of longing if you will.
We tend to forget Advent and run straight to Christmas. Christmas songs. Christmas bells. Christmas feasts for the whole month of December. Which is sad, because I have come to believe that the waiting and anticipation makes the season of twelve days that we call Christmas all the sweeter. Advent acknowledges our doubts, our questions, our need for a Savior. Christmas brings that Savior into our presence.
This year as I was preparing for this month’s series of messages, I encountered two resources that influenced this Advent’s messages. The first resource, as you will see on the cover of your bulletin is this book “The Five Questions of Advent”. I have always been intrigued, as you have heard before, by the questions in the songs of Advent and Christmas. The blues note, if you will, of Advent season, comes out with the questions. How does one deal with understanding God’s will when his deliverance seems slow in coming, or when it doesn’t come to us neatly wrapped, easily accepted, and quickly opened, like a gift under the tree.
This theme draws us into the mystery of Advent from the questions of the people around the Advent stories that are recorded in Scripture.
Zecheriah asks, “How will I know?”
Mary asks, “How can this be?”
Elizabeth asks “Why has this happened to me?”
The crowd asks of John the Baptist, “What will this child become?”
The Magi ask “Where is the Child?”
The second half of the inspiration comes from Gregg Hemmen, the pastor of First Baptist at Rapid City. While we were at a meeting together, he had the devotion, and he shared that one of the things that his seminary professor told him is that he could do a lot worse than writing a letter back to a character in Scripture if he could not think of anything else to do.
So, today I write a letter to Mary. About when she had an angelic visitor like Zecherariah last week. A visitor she had questions for as well.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in your position. I am a man from a wealthy country that in many ways has fairly loose moral standards. You are a young lady in a nation with strict rules about behavior and sexuality. Rules that you lived by. Trying to be a good girl. Trying to do the right thing.
Scripture doesn’t record your age, but we are pretty sure you are a teenager. A young woman who has just proven herself capable of having children, and who is therefore engaged to the hard-working construction man Joseph.
The Bible says You lived in Nazareth, and Scripture does not record that you have any desire of getting out of your small little town that had a population about the size of Edgemont as best, nestled in a valley that would be about the length of the freedom trail here in Hot Springs.
Somehow you got some time by yourself, and as you did, the Bible says that you had an angel visit you. He told you not to fear. Then he told you that you were “favored”. The Scripture says that you were “troubled” with this greeting. For a while I wondered, why would you be anxious about someone saying you were “favored”. Then I remembered how people talk to me when they want me to do something.
“Hey there! I have an opportunity for you!”
“Good morning Rev. Walker. Do I have some good news for you!” (actually anytime someone calls me “reverend” I get a little uncomfortable).
Yeah, that kind of thing makes me troubled and wondering what kind of greeting it is too.
Then the angel says that you are going to be pregnant. And, because you are going to be pregnant with the Messiah, the Son of God, the one whose kingdom is never going to end.
The Scripture says you kind of got stuck on the first part of the message. And I do not blame you.
You were like, “How can this be, because I am a virgin?”
Yeah, I am sure you heard all the other stuff, but it sounds like you were like. Hey there! Hold on a second. Go back to the beginning of that little speech you made Gabe. I know kids don’t come to the house from the stork delivering them. I know you don’t get pregnant by kissing. I know you have to have sex to have children. And, I have never had sex. How can I have a kid?
This statement, “How can this be?” is intriguing to me.
I mean, I know you, it is a statement seeking to understand something that defies the laws of nature in relationship to human reproduction. I get that.
But there is something else that is going on here. It is like, “How can this be?” in a sense of “How the heck can this happen and how am I going to deal with all of this?”
I can hear it now. I can hear a teenage girl saying something like?
I am going to be pregnant? How in the heck am I going to tell my parents. I mean, I might be able to wear a extra loose robe for a couple of months, but sooner or later they are going to find out. How can this be that I am pregnant?
I am going to be pregnant? How can this be? I am going to be married to a fellow named Joseph here pretty soon. He is going to figure out that the kid is not his, ya know? How can this be?
None of my friends are going to believe that I am pregnant and still a virgin. They are going to be “yeah, right!”
Mary, I know if my girls came home 10 years from now and says “I’m pregnant! It’s a miracle! Just like Mary, God did it again!” I would not believe them.
I think you rightly understood that this virginal conception was going to change your life.
Your life would never be the same.
You would go to your relative Elizabeth’s home. God would speak to Joseph, and you would head to Bethlehem where Jesus would be born. You would go to Egypt because Herod was trying to kill Jesus. You would return to Nazareth years later to raise Jesus. You would endure a lifetime of whispers and gasps.
You would have this divine redeemer growing inside you. You would have shepherds and wise men from far away countries seek your young child out. Prophets and prophetesses would say that seeing your son Jesus would make your life complete, and tell you they could die having seen the Lord’s deliverer.
You asked, “How can this be?”
The angel described the method from which you would become pregnant. In vitro from the Holy Spirit so to speak. A miraculous conception from God, not from the normal joining of male and female.
He described the destiny of this little miracle. He was the Messiah. Son of God. God in the flesh.
Your response was perfect. “I am your servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.”
And so God’s plan of salvation was placed in the hands, or actually the womb, of a teenage girl.
“How can this be?,” you asked.
God’s plans are not our plans. That is for sure.
Even though today we have television shows about Teen Moms, in your time an unmarried teenage woman was simply a tragedy to most. It would shame you and your family. It would cost you a marriage. It could ruin your life.
But you allowed God to work through a situation just like this to bring what others might think was tragedy and turn it into triumph. You were willing to go the hard road in order to be faithful. You were willing to wait and suffer in order that the whole world might experience the joy of knowing the Savior of the world.
You teach us to trust you through what we don’t understand and can’t explain. Your example teaches us that if we are willing to tenaciously trust through the most vulnerable of circumstances, and to be willing to give our hopes, dreams and expectations to you through obedience and faithfulness, then we may not experience an easy life, but we will have a life of beauty and grace blessed and used by God to do amazing things.
You were willing to give up your whole life’s plan in order to be enfolded in God’s Work of bringing deliverance to earth in the person of Jesus. I need to be willing to give up my dreams, hopes, and plans to be faithful to him too.
Then I like you, may begin by saying “How can it be?” Wondering how God can work through such difficult circumstances. And in the end I will again cry “How can it be?”, in awe of how God weaved me into his plans not only to bless me, but to bless my family, community, nation and world through what you have done in me.