We live in an affluent area. Income leads to increased ability and that generates options. We may not be told no the way others are. I was on a news site this week and happened to read a quote from actor Matthew McConaughey – apparently he released a new book, so I listened to a video clip, he said,
“Too many options make a tyrant of us all. That’s what comes with success. The infinite yes’s. That’s where the devil’s business comes up. Saying yes to things because you can do them for the first time, but you forget to ask yourself if you want to do that, if you really believe in doing that.”
He spoke of the power of options. The seduction of it. Too many options make a tyrant of us all. The infinite yes’s are the devil’s playground.
People want power and they want it so they can do whatever they want. And they are surprised to unexpectedly find that those options destroy them.
But I would also say that we have been in a hard year, and it’s been hard because we have all felt the inability to control our lives. We have been told no more than ever. **You can’t do this, you can’t do that. “This year is not what I expected.”
Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, tells us there is hope in all situations, and shows us how to embrace the unexpected.
In Christmas we see greatness is found in laying everything down to be a servant of others. Jesus is born of a woman, veiled in flesh the incarnate deity. It is so unexpected, but God shows us how to live, how to love, how to serve. Radical self denial is the core of the incarnation, and it leads to life.
I’m excited to celebrate Christmas this year because it tells us there is hope for our situation today. We have a Savior! We can have peace and rest even in the craziness of life.
Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ. God comes to us in the flesh. Born of a woman. He comes to save us. He comes in an unexpected way, and it shows us that salvation and life are found not in increased affluence and ability, but in sacrifice and service. It’s contrary to what the world expects, and that means we can find peace, comfort, and life in the unexpected things of life.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 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. 36 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 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. (Luke 1:26-38 ESV)
Mary receives some unexpected news that will change the course of history. A savior is coming into the world, and shows us we simply need to align ourselves with him and his purpose, rather than acquire more power or money or others things.
- Unexpected Encounter
Angels were divine messengers. They are not objects of worship but messengers sent by God to convey what God is about to do. They are not sent for just anything but are sent on special events. The Angel Gabriel is sent to Mary. The Bible does not speak about angels often nor does it give us an org chart of their names. But Gabriel is also spoken of in the book of Daniel.
It says he came to her. That word is used of entering a house or building. It seems the angel came to her house through her door.
For 400 years the prophets have been quiet. Sure there was a little activity but it was largely stopped. And now the skies are burst with the shimmering of angelic host praising God for what he is doing. .
What is the big deal? What the angel announces is incredible news.
[31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
The birth of Jesus is connected to the beginning of time. In the garden of Eden, God placed Adam and Eve. They were to work the ground in perfect harmony with God. God told them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but they ate of it. Because of that God brought punishment on them. Death came. Hardship came. They fought with each other. Their access to God was also restricted.
But while God brought punishment he also brought hope. He promised a savior would come to destroy the work of Satan. He made promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob to redeem their people.
Centuries later God makes another promise to king David. He tells David he is going to have a Son and his Son will reign on his throne forever. God promises to restore what was lost in the fall. He promises there will be healing, there will be prosperity, there will be security, there will be blessing. This Son will reign in righteousness, everlasting. He will always do what is right.
Do you ever long for all the problems in the world to go away? Do you ever wish death and hardship would be taken away? Do you ever wish fighting and arguing would be removed? Do you ever wish doing evil and bad things would go away? Well, God said this righteous king of the line of David, he would do just that.
Have you longed for peace? Truth? Security? Safety, protection, righteousness? Then you long for a savior.
[For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.] (Eph 6:12 CSB)
This is who the child will be. This is what he will do. We are waiting for him to return and establish his kingdom and reign forever and ever.
Mary was waiting for this king, expecting this savior, this deliverer. She was expecting it but it comes in an unexpected way.
- Unexpected Way
The people expected the Savior who would be a king, and would lead Israel to overpower all the nations. A king might have a celebrated birth, the palace decorated, musicians singing, trumpets blasting, the world taking notice, headlines being made and tweeted and shared and plastered everywhere. This king is born to a poor peasant girl, from the do nothing small town, can’t find a place to stay so she has the baby in a stable and places him in a feeding trough to sleep. The world doesn’t notice the work of God but heaven does.
She is a virgin. She has never been with a man, never been married. The Holy Spirit come and power of most high will overshadow.
Why is this important? People and God were separated. God called people to live with him, they rejected him and his ways. They were punished and separated. So how could their relationship be restored.
Consider when someone you know does something you do not like. Do you get mad at them? What if you tell them not to take your book, they take it and lose it. You are mad at them. They did wrong so it is just to be upset at them. You can have your relationship restored by having the offense taken away. You repay the book.
“So mad I can‘t even look at you.” Can’t be in your presence. If anyone ever had a right to say that it is God. He is completely holy. How could we be in his presence.
Our obedience was taken from God when Adam disobeyed. People lost a right standing before God. We lost it and couldn’t get it back. You did that, your parents did that, your parents parents parents did that. You kids, and your kids kids kids kids, will do that. God had to do something unique. Jesus is the Son of God. He is fully human like his mother. But he is also fully God. He is born outside the normal family line. He is born righteous and therefore, by living a righteous life he can give God what he demands of us. He meets God’s requirements. And since he is human he can represent us. And he will do that. He will die for our sins and mistakes, so that we can be forgiven.
Christmas reminds us we don’t just need a pep talk. 3 ways to a better life. Six steps to a more peaceful workplace. If all we needed was a pep talk then Jesus would not have needed to come. There is a problem in the world and there is a problem in us. We need a Savior! A pep talk that doesn’t mention a savior isn’t a pep talk. It’s a misdiagnosis.
In an unexpected way God is bestowing his grace and favor and salvation to people through this child.
[Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.] (Luk 1:30 CSB)
Mary has unexpectedly found favor with God, and she is going to carry God’s Son. No doubt an incredible honor. But note this, she is an object of grace and not a dispenser of it. Mary is not all knowing or all powerful. She is not the Savior. She is blessed because of her closeness to the child who will be the savior of all.
This is the same for us. We are blessed as we come to this child. As we come to serve and worship him.
God’s grace comes to us not because of how great we are, but because of how great he is. We do not earn his favor. We receive it. We don’t do everything he commands and then go to him like we earned a paycheck by working so many hours and now we demand of him. We receive it as unworthy, as those who have not done everything right, as those who did not work the hours, as those who deserve it. It is contrary to our expectations. We have to receive God’s grace. Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is a reminder that God’s grace can be received. But you have to humble yourself, acknowledge that you are not all sufficient, and bow to serve him, acknowledge, you don’t just need a pep talk, you need a savior, and that is a humbling thing!
*Don’t demand gifts. You receive them.
This is Mary’s response. She is a model of faith for us. She teaches us how to embrace God’s plan.
- Accept the Unexpected
We need to accept or receive what Christ has done for us. Receive what he promises.
Mary is a servant. Moses. A humble surrender. Let it be to me as you have said. Your will be done. I am the clay and you are the potter.
Most people would reject that. Give me what I want, God. Here Mary submits to God’s purpose. God comes veiled in flesh. Godliness is seen in service.
Matthew McConaughey “Too many options make a tyrant of us all. That’s what comes with success. The infinite yes’s. That’s where the devil’s business comes up.”
I don’t want to give up my rights. Mary lays it down. It’s not, “I have a plan of how I will be married and that’s the way it is. She does not fall into depression that things are beyond her control. She teaches us it’s ok to be out of control. God’s plan is going to make life harder for her. She is a young girl pious for God, and she will be pregnant and unmarried. Follow God means she doesn’t get what she would prefer. Not the way she envisioned her marriage.
Friends of ours from Orlando. if you saw them on Sunday, you would think they have it all together. 4 great kids. Good jobs. Good marriage. But in getting to know them they shared about how in their late teens they didn’t want to follow the Lord. Had a very rocky relationship. Up and down, on and off. Then She found out she was pregnant and six months later were married. She talked about getting married, with no money, no job, a borrowed wedding dress, and walking through Kroger in a wedding dress six months pregnant to get some fried chicken and take back to their trailer in the trailer park. She said, “This was not how I envisioned my wedding.” Now by God’s grace they got right with the Lord and experienced an incredible change in their lives. But it was hard for her to accept this was her wedding day. They messed up and had this unexpectedly. Mary has done everything right, and this is how she will be viewed. Loss of power and unable to stop it.
V38, “May it be to me as you have said…”
God was doing a great work. It would be looked down upon by many, it would take great faith to trust God. But it would be glorious.
God often does not do things that make us seem great in the eyes of the world. Following him takes great faith. You will need to embrace the unexpected with faith.
God helps us along the way. The angel tells Mary of a miraculous birth. One she would be confounded by. And the angel helps her in her faith. “Your cousin Elizabeth is with child.” The one who was barren has conceived.
Rest in God’s plan. Mary, it will be harder than you can imagine. This child will cause you to be a refugee in a foreign land. You will see him silence enemies. You will see him crucified. But through it all be anchored in this moment of what God is doing.
She accepts what the Lord’s will for her is. Doesn’t run away. Doesn’t argue or complain. Doesn’t fall into depression. She is engaged and this is not the plan she had. God has a different way.
God’s plan for you is going to involve many successes and joys and celebrations. It is also going to have heartache, and setbacks, and hurts. And those are going to be the backdrop that God’s purposes shine on.
Accept the unaccepted. Grace in being limited. Grace is laying down what you have. A willing laying down. Grace and life in giving yourself for others.
No problem following Jesus. No problem leaving the world behind. But God often calls you to things that you never expected. Don’t mind leaving behind prosperity and fame, but had no idea you would have to
*When you know God’s goodness and when you know his power, you can be at peace and and be at rest, when you don’t know why things are happening the way they are.
The path to life is in following the Savior, accepting God’s plan for your life. It will require you to say no to certain things, to say no to the world’s plan. If you want to live like a tyrant, say yes to everything the world has, then it’s impossible to surrender to God’s ways.
We have had an incredibly difficult year. We have felt limitations in having more options. I hope the presence of the Christmas season reminds freshly how good it is to have a Savior. I also hope it reminds you of the cost of following him.