Monday, December 19, 2011

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38, for the 4th Sunday in Advent, "Finding Favor"

Sermon Outline: 
1.      This last week before Christmas, our telling of the Christmas story begins with the visit of Gabriel to Mary. “O favored one, the Lord is with you!” “You have found favor with God.” Mary is troubled. Taking notice of me? What did it mean for Mary to find favor with God?
2.      For us, in everyday life, “finding favor” can sometimes mean “working hard to impress someone.” A new worker trying to prove his worth to his boss—advancement. College student trying to impress and pass with a tough professor. Politicians rising in the ranks among their fellows.
3.      But this isn’t what “finding favor” in God’s eyes meant for Mary. Indeed she was chosen by God for her purity and virginity, as a fitting vessel for God’s service, and for the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy that the Savior would be born from a virgin. But she’s not credited by the angel for greatness of life. No mention of her deserving it—only that God had shown favor to her. What did this “finding favor” with God mean for her? It meant that she was the chosen vessel or instrument for God’s plan of salvation to unfold, through the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior. She was greatly blessed to believe in the promise of the Word and be honored in this service of the Lord. Unique and unrepeatable in human history. In fact she praised God afterwards by saying “He has looked on the humble estate of His servant”. She speaks of God’s mercy to the poor and humble, and how He exalts or raises their estate.
4.      Mary found favor through Jesus, her Son. “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, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” He was the blessing, God’s favor being extended to the world of sinful humanity. The way Mary found favor—through the birth of Jesus, is also how we find favor with God. God coming into the world to reconcile us with Himself.
5.      While of course no one else will ever be a vessel for God’s service in the precise way that Mary was, each of us can be vessels of God’s service in various smaller ways. Mary’s unique calling as mother of Jesus. We all have callings or vocations where God has placed us for His service. Mothers and fathers, children, employees and employers in all sorts of diverse professions, citizens and rulers, pastors, teachers, and church leaders, listeners to God’s Word, students, friends and neighbors. God has important work in each station. Live under His reign in each area of life.
6.      Not just one small segment of our life where God reigns: i.e. some small area of my “church life”, let’s call it, where God is in charge. But the rest of my life is my own. I’m in charge there, and I follow my own rules or the ways of the world there. But God doesn’t seek out one small little corner of our life to occupy, but our whole life together is under His rule and reign. There is no aspect of our business or work life, our family life, our social life, or wherever, that God is absent or unimportant. We are always to be mindful of who we are—as Mary remembered: “I am the servant of the Lord.”
7.      God’s calling on her life transformed it all. So also God’s calling on our life is pervasive and whole. We can’t be divided between two masters--be they God and money or God and anything else.
8.      What does it mean to live and carry out our duties in the kingdom of God, under Christ’s reign? To confess faithfully that Jesus is the Son of God, our Forever-King, and to perform our service and duties faithfully as giving an account to Him. “To live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” As our “forever-king” He will live and reign to all eternity. Our king will never change. A news pundit recently joked that “in other countries they were complaining that they couldn’t and didn’t elect their leaders, but in America they were complaining because they could and did.” (Uncle Jay) By contrast, we don’t “elect Jesus” as our King. Mary didn’t choose Him; we didn’t choose Him or make Him our King and Lord, but rather He is King and Lord of all by His divine right and because of His humble obedience to God the Father, in suffering on the cross, dying, and rising again to win for God His kingdom of believers, who worship His holy name. Unlike politicians that we might elect, there is nothing to be disappointed in by His reign--there is no corruption, no self-serving, no injustice or scandal. There is only the endless increase of His rule and peace, and the establishment of His throne on justice and righteousness. (Isaiah 9:7).
9.      In Jesus Christ, God entered the world to establish His reign of justice, mercy, and peace, and to rule in our hearts forever. Mary acknowledged God’s reign in her life when she spoke the faithful words, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She was submitting to God’s gracious reign in her life, and to have her life led by His direction. How often do we speak those words? “Let it be done to me...according to your word.” Will we let Christ reign in our life? Let Him drive out sin from our hearts? Thy will be done, not my will be done? To trust in His promises and commit our future to His leading.
10.  When we acknowledge Jesus’ reign in our lives, and say “Let it be done to me…according to your Word,” we might face crosses and difficulties, challenges of faith. But we can face them all with confidence, knowing that we are under the reign of our good and gracious king, whose throne is established on righteousness and justice, and before Him goes out steadfast love and faithfulness. Before such a king, we can be confident and trusting. We fear no “change of power” or injustice or defeat. For we know that He is our Forever-King, and of His kingdom there will be no end. All Glory to the King of Kings! All Glory to the King who comes to be born in a manger! Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What was the angel Gabriel’s comforting response to Mary, when she was startled and troubled by his unexpected greeting? Luke 1:30. How does this compare to other angels bearing good news to humans about Christ? Luke 1:13; 2:10; Matt. 28:5

  1. What did it mean that she had “found favor” with God? How was God’s favor shown to her? Cf. Acts 7:45-46; Heb. 4:16; Gen. 6:8. Favor is found in God’s eyes/sight. The favor of God is extended to us as well through the birth and the life of Jesus, our Savior. It is through Jesus that we are found innocent in God’s eyes. Luke 2:14

  1. Mary’s virgin conception by the power of the Holy Spirit was in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, a prophecy made 7 centuries earlier, to the Jews. How would the fulfilling of this prophecy mean that “God is with us” (Emmanuel)? How was it also a fulfillment of the prophecy to David, made about 1,000 B.C. (before Christ) that God would make his house and kingdom sure forever before God? 2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16

  1. What would be the characteristics of Jesus’ rule as the King on the throne of David? Isaiah 9:6-7; Psalm 9:7-8; 89:14. What peace and hope does this give us, in contrast to the rule of earthly kings and authorities? What disappointment are we spared from because of the fact that Jesus is our “Forever-King?”

  1. How did Mary submit to Jesus’ reign in her life? How do we likewise submit to God, and find His reign and favor extended over all of our life?

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