(Slide 1) Let’s begin by orienting ourselves on the map of this Vision Series. Our church has a mission statement that has three broad categories. We say that as a church our mission is to worship God, to grow together as disciples, and to make Christ known. Each of these three categories is broken into three more specific categories. For worship, our church has a vision for God honouring worship, biblical Christ-centred preaching, and prayer. Under discipleship, we’ve reflected on enfolding each other in loving relationships, making our church a safe place for people, and nurturing and training people of all ages.
Today, marks a momentous day in the life of this series, we’ve graduated to the third category: making Christ known. (Slide 2) We’ll be reflecting on how we reach out to people and how we minister locally and globally. But today, let’s reflect on the first statement, “We steward our gifts such as time, money and talents in service to God and community. As you may have noticed, we’ve shifted from the Book of Acts, to the Book of Luke. We thought it would only be appropriate to have stories about Jesus for the section where we ponder what it means to “Make Christ Known.” Plus, Advent is just a week away, so it just made sense to start with the stories of when Christ first became known.
(Slide 3) Before we can hear how this story speaks to us today, we need to acknowledge the huge gap between the world of the Bible and our world. A lot of things have taken place that separate us from the world of the Bible. Its been two thousand years since the newest Bible stories were written. Think of the technological changes which have been introduced, like Robotic vacuums. Think of the differences in government, Justin Trudeau is certainly not Caesar Augustus. Think of our different climate, the disciples probably never made a snow angel. All these big and little things create a gap between the world of the Bible and our world. But, I think what accounts for the biggest gap is the simple fact that these stories are in the Bible. The world of the Bible can often seem as though it plays by different rules. Its not terribly surprising to read about an angel who shows up in the Bible. When we meet Gabriel in the Bible, we think, “Of course, this is a Bible story." But we would be hugely surprised if an angel walked into our homes. The other night I was home alone and I accidentally stepped on one of Davey’s toys that made sounded like some heavenly creature was walking behind me. I was nervous before I realized I was hearing a toy. But Bible people shouldn’t get freaked out if an angel shows up, because they’re in the Bible. That point of view is one that Luke takes a lot of care to dismantle. He wants us to remember that the stories he’s telling didn’t take place in some alternate universe where supernatural stuff is taken for granted. After all, Mary was disturbed that an angel appeared in her room.
Luke wants us to know that the world he’s writing about took place in real history. That’s why he starts out his book by saying: (Slide 4) “In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest who…” Luke is reminding his audience that all the stuff he’s talking about didn’t take place in some alternate universe that plays by different rules. He’s saying, all this happened when Herod was King. Herod the Great, who was a politician that Luke’s readers would have remembered as being a lout. Herod wanted to be a legitimate Jew so he wouldn’t eat pork, but Herod also occasionally murdered his sons. The emperor Augustus once said that he would rather be Herod’s pig than his son. Luke says this was the time of Herod because he wants to remind his readers that this story takes place in a specific time in this world we know where political rulers rise and fall, and people still go on marrying and having babies. That’s how Mary is introduced to us, not as anyone overly special, but simply (Slide 5) “a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” This is all pretty mundane. Sure, it was a significant time in the life of Mary and Joseph, they were about to be married, but a lot of people are about to be married. I was about to be married once. Luke wants to remind us that this story takes place in the world we know, this world where people get married, disdain their politicians, and just try to make the best of it given the circumstances.
The fact that Mary lives in the same world that we do explains why Mary was troubled when she saw the Angel Gabriel. Like us, Mary had faith in God, but was nonetheless disturbed that an angel would walk into her living room. On top of that, this angel came with a message that upset everything normal we’ve talked about so far, like marriage, kids and politics. Mary expected she would get married to Joseph and then have kids, like you do. But Gabriel said it would be the other way around. The child comes first. Gabriel says: (Slide 6) “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” This seemed backwards to Mary. She thought she’d be married first, so she asks “how can this be?” (Slide 7) Gabriel tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Remember, this story takes place in our world, the world where we take certain things for granted. We don’t anticipate that our faith in God will change the way children are born or the way the government is run. But this story is about God turning our ordinary world upside down.
This was the time of King Herod, one of the underlings of Emperor Augustus. They didn’t like being ruled by Rome, they didn’t respect Rome’s politicians. People like Mary and Joseph were making the best of it. Gabriel’s message upset all that. Every word Gabriel speaks anticipating Jesus is politically upsetting. (Slide 8) “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of of his father David.” Jesus is the Son of the Most High, the Son of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s ancient promise to King David, when God promised to restore one of David’s offspring to the throne. God says, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” This is what Psalm 2 and Psalm 89 speak of when they look forward to the day that God will reestablish His Kingdom through the heir of King David. Gabriel announces that the reign of Jesus will endure forever, of His kingdom will be no end.
Gabriel is inviting Mary trust God, and offer herself for this Kingdom that God is establishing. Mary didn’t expect this, but she’s now been invited to offer herself for the new hope that is being born. Mary is invited to take part in God’s will being done on Earth as it is in heaven. Her decision at that moment will impact her kids, her family, her politics, her entire life. God is inciting a revolution, Mary is invited to trust.
Trust isn’t always our default response. Its easy to disbelieve. Its easy to be jaded and cynical. Its easy to resist change for the sake of familiar. Mary probably was only 13 or 14 when Gabriel came and talked to her. Maybe she didn’t have time to develop the hard crust of cynicism. Maybe that’s why she was able to respond with trust, unlike her Uncle Zechariah, who was cynical. Earlier, Gabriel had told her uncle a similar message. Gabriel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and Zechariah essentially responded, “Are you kidding me? My wife and I are too old for that sort of thing.” Zechariah knew how this world worked, and it didn’t involve a barren couple giving birth in their old age. He didn’t trust, and so he didn’t offer himself with cheerful readiness. But for Mary, the laws of reality weren’t so firm. Trust was easier and so she gave herself to his vision. She didn’t know what he was signing on for, she didn’t fully grasp the implications for her family, let alone world politics and religion. She didn’t know that this royal child she was to carry would receive a crown of thorns and would be exalted on a cross. She didn’t know that the governor Pontius Pilate would call her child “King of the Jews,” shortly before his execution. She didn’t know how her son would die for the life of the world. She didn’t know that in this way her son would be raised from the dead and exalted above every name, every ruler and nation. All she knew was that this angel had invited her to trust his message from God. God was turning normal upside down, and Mary chose to trust and believe. She responded to Gabriel with trust, (Slide 9) saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary wasn’t cynical, she believed. So she extravagantly offered herself in service to God.
We say that “we steward our gifts such as time, money and talents in service to God and to community.” If we are cynical, this will be a difficult statement to live into. If we don’t believe God acts in our world in the same way we read about in the Bible, we will have a hard time trusting God here and now. If we think the gap between the Bible and our world is too big, it’ll be hard to trust ourselves to this God, and it will be hard to offer our lives as a gift to God. But if we actually trust that God might turn normal upside down through our small actions, we become willing to give extravagantly.
The first gift that Mary offered was trust. The stronger we trust that God himself is calling us to participate in his plan, the fuller our response will be. If we trust God is calling us, we will offer our bodies, our minds, our souls, our finances, our assets, our talents, we will offer life itself. Our vision statement about “offering our gifts in service to God and to community” is only possible if we can hear from God together, and trust. For Mary, discernment was made easy by the fact that Gabriel was pretty direct when he said that God was calling her to carry His Son. What about when we’re less sure about how God is calling us? How can we trust God and offer ourselves as a servant of the Lord when we’re not sure what he’s asking? That’s where we develop a posture of listening. We won’t know how to offer ourselves if we don’t listen to God and to each other.
(Slide 10) Our vision statement says, “We steward our gifts such as time, money and talents in service to God and community.” To me, this statement takes the focus off the individual, and asks how we as a community are going respond with trust, and give our gifts in service to God and community. We have an incredible array of talent in this congregation, we have certain financial resources, we have a beautiful building, we have relationships throughout the Bulkley Valley, God has gifted us in all sorts of ways. If the angel Gabriel visited us as a church, what would he ask us to birth? This is a pregnant time for our church. Pregnancy isn’t always comfortable, but what if during this time of gestation our church is being prepared to give birth to something… Something that God will use to transform the normal order of things. What if God wants to turn upside down the things we take for granted as just the way things are? What if God will use us together to give birth to the impossible. What would it take for us to trust that, “For God, all things are possible,” and offer ourselves accordingly. Because when we can trust that statement, there’s no gift we give that’s too big. Then we can experience the joy of giving our gifts such as time, money and talents in service to God and community.