__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ December 4, 2011 - Pastor Dale
Luke 1:26-31; 2: 1- 12
It is difficult for us to avoid a “religiously romantic” view of the Christmas story; something we call ‘the spirit of Christmas’ – a kind of warm fuzzy feeling associated with this season of the year. This is not limited to those professing the Christian faith. It seems we cannot help but hope that something special will yet take place and that changes can happen in our lives during this special season.
But for the actual players in that first Advent of Christ I get the feeling that their experience was less romantic and much more challenging. To those who look deeper than the surface, the story of the birth of Jesus can be a study of contrasts. After Mary yields herself to the word and will of God (as expressed in that marvellous statement – “Be it unto me according to your word.”) everything becomes chaotic and she finds herself in the middle of a mess. It seems obvious that Mary had to remind herself that there was a miracle in her mess.
And that is the theme of this first message of Advent: ‘The Miracle in the Mess’.
The details of the story of Advent are recorded for us to identify with in our own personal journey of faith. It is absolutely right that we conclude, like Mary, God has a purpose for us — something unique and special. But often the mess surrounding the miracle obscures it from our view. We want to consider that issue this morning.
Just like baby Jesus, most of our miracles don't come full-grown, they have to be carefully guarded and nurtured. There are two issues I would like us to consider. First, how do we discover our emerging miracle, and secondly, how do we develop it? Discovery may involve assigning value to a gift or experience in our lives that we have disregarded up to this point. Discovery is hearing that you are “pregnant” and deciding to keep the “child” and celebrate its coming. I use the word ‘child’ figuratively of whatever it is that God is birthing in you right now. And what I can tell you about that process is that when the mess presses in upon you the temptation to abort the process will become very real.
Discovering the gift alone is not enough. Mary had to raise her child to adulthood in order to realize the fullness of God’s purpose. The same is true of us. God's miracle may be in our house, but if we aren't able to identify it as such, and develop it, the gift never brings the full blessing God intended to either the world or ourselves.
So what is that dream, desire, passion and that deep internal voice you have never been able to silence? What is that soul defining reality that, regardless of how far it is pushed down – how deeply buried beneath the mess, it always returns and takes its place at the centre of your consciousness? Perhaps it’s a ministry, a book to be authored, a piece of music to be scored, a business to be established; perhaps a cup of cold water to be given to a prophet. Whatever it is we need to see it as something God is birthing and bringing to open manifestation. Spiritual pregnancies come with their own set of complications, and I would suggest that they are even more difficult to handle than natural births. The true message of Christmas can help us deal with the contradiction of our inner reality and our external circumstances.
To read Luke chapter 2 is to see that Mary and Joseph had to deal with elements of mess. Their child was born in a manger and cradled in a feeding trough for animals. Justin Martyr believed that the place of Jesus' birth was actually a cave full of horses, donkeys, and other animals along with their food. Based on this fact alone it is important to establish that when speaking of the mess I am not referring to what is being formed in us, rather I am referring to the external circumstances, events and details of the process we pass through during the formation of that “God-thing” within us.
Concerning Mary and Joseph there were at least three aspects to the mess they found themselves in.
First, Mary and Joseph were in a matrimonial mess. Mary became pregnant during their betrothal period. Under the Old Testament covenant, a girl could have been stoned to death for such a thing. Joseph was so confused about the situation that he was considering a quiet annulment until an angel appeared to him in a dream. We, in our culture, have no idea what kind of a mess this represented in their culture. Betrothal in that culture meant entering into actual covenant agreement before God; it was far more meaningful than engagement is in our culture. They, along with the Christ, Mary bore, would never live free of the judgement of shame and humiliation that society would try to put upon them.
In like manner, many people experience difficulties in their marriages or other relationships at pivotal points in their “journey of birthing”. That new and wonderful thing that God is forming in you loses its romantic glow as more and more it makes complicated demands upon your time, your strength, your finances, etc... All of these realities generate increased pressure upon the relationship. However, they do not in themselves foreshadow the destruction of the relationship unless we allow them to. In fact when viewed properly they speak of new and better things to come. The enemy would have us believe that because of relationship issues in our history we are forever disqualified from God birthing anything through us in the present. Hear the message of Advent – no relational mess is greater than the miracle that God’s redemptive grace is forming in you right now. I can tell you that some of the most used men and women of God throughout history have been some of the most relationally broken men and women in history. I do not pretend to understand it; but I must appeal to you with deep conviction – do not allow a broken relationship in your past to keep you from what God has for you in the present.
Second, Joseph and Mary had a monetary mess. Had Joseph lived in Jerusalem I think his occupation would have afforded him a significant living. That same occupation in a setting as insignificant as Nazareth would be far less lucrative. You do not have to look beyond the circumstances of the birth of Christ to understand the economic status of the family. One cannot help wondering if a room might have been available if they had had more money.
Joseph and Mary were neither the first nor the last that had to persevere in their faith and walk through a monetary mess in the discovery of their miracle. Almost all who find themselves “pregnant” with Devine purpose will face this test of “monetary mess”. What we have to determine at some point in this journey is that the miracle will never be subject to economic realities and those who wait for the perfect economic environment will never realize the miracle in the mess.
Thirdly Mary and Joseph faced a military/political mess. In the year 37BC, King Herod (also known as Herod the Great) successfully invaded Palestine with the help of Rome. He would rule as king for the next 32 years. Through him, Rome had essentially colonized Israel. History pretty much concludes that as a leader Herod was unmatched in personal paranoia executing many of his family members including at least three of his sons. And of course, just before his death he ordered the slaying of all the children two years and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. I can tell you that in the Christmas story Herod is a picture or type of Satan himself, and as such he worked through the political and military venues of his time to establish his will.
Far from this political/military mess having the power to trump the miracle that God was producing it actually played into the God-plan. It was a political decision to call for a census at that time and that fact put Mary right in the place for the prophecies to be fulfilled concerning where Christ was to be born.
When we take these three elements of mess from the Christmas story and bring them down to our place in history it’s as if we have come full circle. The only difference is the mess we are facing is of global magnitude.
When we look at human relationships across the globe we see mess; endless brokenness. To understand the global economy (in any measure) is to realize we are in a mess; global economic collapse. And when we look at global political/military realities we have to know we are in a mess. But true to the message of that first Advent we can spend our days lamenting the mess or we can believe that our God of miracles is at work in the mess and that salvation and deliverance will continue to manifest in the human story.
Coming back to the theme of this message consider this question: What is the key to discovering and nurturing God’s miracle in the mess? There are many details in the story that form the full answer to that question. We have time to consider only one of those details. We find it in the greeting of Gabriel to Mary. LK.1:28 – And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” And later in the conversation he said, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favour with God.”
Do not underestimate the power of favour especially the favour of God. In the original language of the text the word is ‘charis’, the same word that is translated ‘grace’ in other New Testament texts. Obviously the favour of God is the grace of God and the grace of God is the favour of God. The New Testament makes it clear that there are two fundamental aspects to the grace of God. Firstit empowers the soul to envision, to dream, to see potential and possibility. Secondly it imparts Devine ability to walk out in life what the soul has envisioned.
This is exactly what happened with Mary. Her pregnancy was not self-generated; it was the result of imparted grace and favour. And her ability to nurture and raise the Holy Son of God (just think on that assignment for a moment) was equally the result of imparted grace and favour.
Notice that the angel said, “You have found favour....” The word ‘found’ is an interesting word. I know for sure that it carries at least these two aspects of meaning: 1) to discover as the result of deliberately searching or seeking; 2) to have something delivered to you when you were not seeking, searching or looking for it. I would suggest that Mary experienced both of these realities. The story bears out the truth that Mary was a seeker of God – one who diligently searched after the ways of her God. Equally, the story bears out the truth that what was delivered unto her was completely outside of her expectation as a God-seeker.
Bring these truths to our own life and to the hour in which we live and suddenly it becomes clear that God has always had – what I will call – ‘a community of Marys’ in the earth; those who seek God and search out His ways. Secondly, to and within that community God continues to manifest Himself in ways that go far beyond any expectations within that seeking community.
We are coming to the end of a year in which we have seen and experienced some messes. In fact, if you recall, the Spirit warned us at the beginning of this year now ending that it was going to be a year of testing from national governments to our relationships. In many respects from health issues to economic issues to relationship issues it has been a messy year. But take heart and be encouraged for right in the presence of the mess there has been a strong and consistent impartation of grace and favour. This has been nothing short of miraculous in nature.
And so as you look at the problems surrounding you, your family or your church, don't be overwhelmed. Sift through the rubbish and debris around you until you spot it! Spot what? Spot the miracle! It‘s hidden there somewhere. The miracle is in your mess. Christmas guarantees it.