Text: Luke 1:26-38
1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
1:27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
1:28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
1:29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
1:30 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
1:31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
1:32 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 ancestor David.
1:33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
1:34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
1:35 The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God.
1:36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.
1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God."
1:38 Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
Ramp: Last week I ate some delicious home baked gluten free bread. I put some raspberry jam on it after toasting the bread. It tasted fantastic. My wife had cooked the bread in a little bread oven. She had bought it the day before at the Kroger grocery store. It tasted great.
An American businessman was in a small town in Israel when he came across a Jewish bakery. He first smelled it from a block away. His mouth was already watering by the time he came to the bakery door. He loved fresh baked bread. Put some butter on top of it. Watch the butter spread like sunshine on the bread. So he could hardly wait to get his hands on some of that fresh baked bread he smelled. He could tell it was his favorite kind: Irish sourdough bread. But when the pushed on the door to enter the door did not move. With and a tinge of anger, he noticed the "Closed" sign on the door. He had just missed the deadline and with a sense of great disappointment he kept on walking down the street. A few blocks he later he heard a loud whistle. It was a policeman, standing with one hand behind his back, motioning him to come hither. The surprised man walked to the policeman who took his hand from behind his back and presented him with a loaf of fresh baked bread. The policeman had seen the man standing at the bakery door and could tell he was disappointed it was closed so the policeman talked to the baker and brought a free loaf of bread as a sign of good will for the American tourist. The American businessman sure did enjoy that bread.
Which of those two stories tells about a miracle? In both stories a man gets to eat some delicious bread. But the second story seems more miraculous because of the dramatic delivery mechanism. What makes that story seem miraculous is not the outcome but the process by which that outcome appeared. In the story of the American businessman there is wonderment involved, a sense of something happening that transcends the boundaries of the normal world most of us live in. In short, there is a feeling of the miraculous. What differentiates what we perceive as miraculous from other forms of acquisition, then, is not the results but the process by which the results are achieved. (Spangler, David (2008-10-01). Everyday Miracles: the inner art of manifestation (Kindle Locations 247-250). Lorian Press. Kindle Edition. )
Your birth was full of mystery. If you have given birth or witnessed the birth of a baby you may have felt like this birth was somehow a miracle. A birth gets us in touch with the sacred. Yet there is something about the birth of Jesus that goes beyond even the natural feeling of miraculous that we experience at the the birth of any child.
The miraculous nature of Jesus' birth goes back to the very announcement of her pregnancy. The Angel Gabriel announces that Mary will give birth to a Messiah who will sit upon the Throne of David. Mary wonders how she will give birth when she has never slept with a man. Gabriel tells Mary even her cousin Elizabeth in her old age has conceived a son, "For nothing will be impossible with God." (Luke 1:37)
According to our text today, the Angel Gabriel appeared to a virgin named Mary. She was a young Jewish girl whose fiancee was from the royal lineage of the House of David. Mary allowed God to work a miracle in and through her even though she had 3 strikes against her in the eyes of her culture as a poor, pregnant, unmarried woman. Mary had some things going for her. She was engaged to a man from the royal House of David. She was looking to God. She was open to miracles in her own life. She was open to the "revelation of the mystery." Mary responded to God in faith.
What are the strikes against you? Do people say you are too young or too old? To pretty or too ugly? Too rich or too poor? You can hinder miracles in your life by focusing on the wrong things. You can facilitate miracles in your life by focusing on God.
Members of this congregation are good at looking to God. You are among the most generous people I have ever known. Remember the church with an end of the year if you are able. Rest assured whatever you give to this congregation will be multiplied many times over in vital ministry. If you spent as much time as I do in the church office building, you too would be astounded at all the ministry and outreach that goes on here. The loving energy that passes through this building and out into the world is palpable. And this is but one hub for the ministries that each of you carries out in the fullness of your life at home - listening to a child, caring for a parent, praying for a friend; and at work - dealing with difficult situations, meeting deadlines, being a peaceful presence for your colleagues.
Your life is a gift to God that is expressed in many ways, one of which is in and through a faith community called St. John's. Let me take this opportunity to THANK YOU for your generosity to me, the church staff, this community, this city and the world. You are inspiring people. You are gifted for ministry. You are committed. And you are generous. Do not hesitate to express your generosity with an additional gift to St. John's at this time of year. You may think of it as your Christmas gift to Jesus. No doubt you will a Christmas gift to every other important person in your life. Consider also giving a special gift to St. John's above and beyond your pledge.
Speaking of pledges, if you have not pledged for 2012, cards are in the pew racks and in the church office. If you've never pledged, it is a wonderful spiritual discipline that will help you grow in your faith. If you've never done it, perhaps you may start by pledging a dime a day to support Christ's ministry through this congregation next year. The attitude of commitment to Christ and the desire to be a part of this successful enterprise matters more than the amount of money pledged for those who are new to this spiritual discipline.
Christ's birth may not be acknowledged in the secular world but it will most certainly be acknowledged in our hearts, in our lives, and in the worship and ongoing ministry of St. John's Presbyterian Church. If God has blessed you in such a way that you are able to do so, write an additional check to St. John's today in honor of the baby who was born in a manger long ago and who is reborn in our hearts during this holy season. Think of this additional check as a way of acknowledging the true reason for the season, the birth of Christ our Lord.
Closing: The biggest miracle you may experience is the miracle of learning to view life in a different way: As a gift from God to you. Just because you purchase your daily bread from a local grocery store does not mean it not a miracle. God gave you the money to buy the bread. Use of some of God's bread money to you to feed the world. Get excited by the possibility that God wants to work miracles in and through you. Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her. God's Christmas wish for you is that you will believe that nothing is impossible with God and allow the Holy Spirit to work miracles in and through you.
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Burnham preached this sermon at St. John's Presbyterian Church on December 18, 2011 - Advent 4B, 5020 West Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77035, Phone 713-723-6262 | sjpresby.blogspot.com