5 December 2021 - Advent 2
Luke 1:26-38 PEACE when fearful
Please note that our Carol Service will take place on the evening of 12 December at the Hayling Island Community Centre, 6:30 pm. There will be no morning service.
The services on 19 and 25 December and 2 January will take place at Hayling Library.
There will be no service on 26 December.
We are still struggling with the technical issue that is causing the sermon to not record. We hope to have it sorted out by next week, but for now, please find this week's sermon printed below the video:
God is in heaven talking with one of the angels.
God said: “Do you know what I have just done?
I have just created a 24-hour period of alternating light and darkness on Earth. Isn’t that good?”
The angel said: “That’s amazing, but what will you do now?”
And God said, “I think I’ll call it a day.”
One of my shorter jokes, and yes, believe it or not, there is a tentative connection with our reading today.
The story will be re-enacted in thousands of nativity plays in the coming weeks and it generally involves plenty of tea towels, a white sheet, taped on wings and a halo of tinsel.
So, what are we to make of angels? What is an angel, and why have they held such a fascination for us down through the centuries? Scripture reveals a number of facts regarding angels.
Angels were created by God, right at the very beginning, and before we were created.
They live for eternity and do not experience death, they do not marry, and they are wise and intelligent.
They are spiritual beings but can appear on earth and interact with people.
When they do appear, rather than the beatific, winged creatures of renaissance art, they often appear as men.
In the old testament, three angels visited Abraham and appeared as men.
Two angels practically frog-marched Lot and his family away from the city of Sodom before it’s destroyed.
In contrast, the angel that appeared to the shepherds later in the Advent story was surrounded by the brilliance of the glory of the Lord and the shepherds were absolutely terrified.
Angels must have got quite used to saying ‘do not be afraid’ when they appeared to people.
In most Bible versions, there are only two angels that are named.
Michael, who is described as an archangel (the most senior angel), and Gabriel, who is generally regarded as an archangel, but not described as such in Scripture.
The King James Bible names another angel, Lucifer who was the angel who rebelled against God and was flung out of heaven. We usually know him as Satan. An evil and powerful enemy who constantly seeks to deceive, but as Richard reminded us recently, he is already defeated and his future punishment is assured.
This passage is known as the Annunciation. It is an announcement from God that something momentous is about to take place.
Luke 1: 26 – 38
We have a young woman, Mary, visited by the angel Gabriel.
It seems as though Mary was not particularly frightened by his unexpected appearance, but troubled at what he had to say.
‘Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!’
What on earth could it mean? She was just a young woman of lowly social position and humble origins. Why would this messenger from God seek her of all people?
Gabriel seeks to reassure her, ‘do not be afraid’, then he repeats his opening words, ‘you have found favour with God’.
This implies that God knows her, He knows all about her, and he is pleased, he is delighted with what He finds.
As a consequence, He has chosen her to carry out a unique role of the utmost importance in the whole of human history.
Then Gabriel makes the startling, shocking announcement. You might say that he drops the bombshell!
You will conceive a son who you will call Jesus and he will be the Son of God.
Mary must have completely overwhelmed by this information overload, and while trying to process what she has just been told, comes out with a very practical, logical question.
How can this be when I am a virgin? It’s just not physically possible.
At this point the sceptic will say, of course it’s not physically possible. This is a myth, a legend, a fairy story, like all the other so-called miracles in the Bible. There must be a rational explanation or it’s pure fantasy, a lie.
To those of us that believe in a creator God, who made the heavens and earth and everything in it;
who has directly intervened in His world throughout history; in both ordinary and extraordinary ways;
who has a Son that healed the leper, gave sight to the blind and raised the dead to life, who was resurrected from the grave after three days, shouldn’t have much difficulty in believing that a virgin could conceive is entirely within His infinite power and will.
To underline it Gabriel would go on to say ‘for nothing will be impossible for God’.
I wonder if there is a danger that the Advent story is so familiar to us, we hear it year after year, and the older we are, the more times we have heard it!
Our culture loves to gift wrap Christmas with a ribbon and if we set aside the obvious naked commercial exploitation, the story is so often portrayed in soft focus, with plenty of glitter, candles, reindeer and fluffy sheep.
Is there a danger that we can lose a sense of awe and wonder of the power and majesty of God?
In Proverbs 1 it says ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’.
Those who oppose Him should be fearful for Hebrews 10 reminds us that ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’.
But those who revere and respect His holy name have no need for fear. 1 John tells us ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.’
In this story, God is breaking in, He is gate-crashing, into human history in a way that He had never done before or since.
In the past He had sent angels, he had spoken directly to particular people such as Abraham and Moses,
He had spoken through his prophets,
but now He is about to arrive on planet earth, in person, and in the person of His Son Jesus.
And if God’s grand plan for forgiving and restoring us does not seem crazy enough already, He enlists the help of a humble, devout, and very young woman.
After receiving all this momentous news of finding favour with God, that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit;
that her son would be the Son of God;
that his kingdom would have no end;
that just to help her believe, given the news that her elderly relative Elizabeth, who was thought of as unable to bear children, was expecting, what was her response?
She could have said, ‘there must a terrible mistake, it’s not me, it must be someone else’.
She could have very reluctantly and begrudgingly conceded, and felt that she had little choice in the matter.
She did neither of those things.
She said; ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’.
Humble, gracious acceptance. It says an awful lot about the character of Mary.
We have the great benefit of hindsight, we know the rest of the story.
Mary didn’t know that it would lead to great blessings as Jesus grew to be a man;
She didn’t know that at one time she would doubt his great mission in life, even doubt his sanity.
She didn’t know that he would be accused, beaten, and nailed to a cross like a common criminal.
Although not explicitly stated in the gospels, it seems reasonable to assume that Mary saw her Son restored to life at the resurrection.
But, she said yes to God, and there is the crucial point, ‘let it be to me’ – she willingly and humbly said yes to God.
Did God delight in her response?
Did God perhaps smile at that point? I would like to think so.
So, what does this account say to us?
What lesson might we draw from this extraordinary event that would alter the whole course of human history?
If God (or his messenger) spoke to us, what would our response be?
It has to be said that the chances of us being invited to bear a son are fairly slim, especially for us men.
But don’t laugh to quickly. Remember;
‘for nothing will be impossible for God’.
More seriously, God has already spoken to each and every one of us.
Here are just a few examples:
He has invited, or more correctly, commanded us, to love one another.
We have been told that we must be born again.
We have been told to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
We have been told to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’
Do we say ‘it’s not me, it must be for someone else?’
Or do we echo the words of Mary and say ‘I am the servant of the Lord.’
Dare we, willingly and in humility, say yes to God?
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