************ Sermon on Luke 1:18,34 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on December 10, 2006

Luke 1:26-38
Luke 1:18,34
"Two Questions at Christmas"

Dear loved ones,

As you well know, we are getting closer to my birthday. Every year there is a celebration in my honor and I think that this year the celebration will be repeated. During this time there are many people shopping for gifts, there are many radio announcements, TV commercials, and in every part of the world everyone is talking that my birthday is getting closer and closer.
It is really very nice to know, that at least once a year, some people think of me. As you know, the celebration of my birthday began many years ago. At first people seemed to understand and be thankful for all that I did for them, but in these times, no one seems to know the reason for the celebration. Family and friends get together and have a lot of fun, but they don't know the reason for the day.
I remember that last year there was a great feast in my honor. The dinner table was full of delicious foods, pastries, fruits, assorted nuts and chocolates. The decorations were exquisite and there were many, many beautifully wrapped gifts. But, do you want to know something? I wasn't invited. I was the guest of honor and they didn't remember to send me an invitation. The party was for me, but when that great day came, I was left outside, they closed the door in my face .... and I wanted to be with them and share their table.
In truth, that didn't surprise me because in the last few years all close their doors to me. Since I wasn't invited, I decided to enter the party without making any noise. I went in and stood in a corner. They were all drinking; there were some who were drunk and telling jokes and laughing at everything. They were having a grand time. To top it all, this big fat man all dressed in red wearing a long white beard entered the room yelling Ho-Ho-Ho! He seemed drunk. He sat on the sofa and all the children ran to him, saying: "Santa, Santa, Santa" .. as if the party were in his honor!
At 12 Midnight all the people began to hug each other; I extended my arms waiting for someone to hug me and ... do you know ... no one hugged me. Suddenly they all began to share gifts. They opened them one by one with great expectation. When all had been opened, I looked to see if, maybe, there was one for me. How would you feel if on your birthday everybody shared gifts and you did not get one? I then understood that I was unwanted at that party and quietly left.
Every year it gets worse. People only remember to eat and drink, the gifts, the parties and nobody remembers me. I would like this Christmas that you allow me to enter into your life. I would like that you recognize the fact that almost two thousand years ago I came to this world to give my life for you, on the cross, to save you. Today, I only want that you believe this with all your heart.
I want to share something with you. Someday, I will have my own celebration, a grandiose party that no one has ever imagined, a spectacular party. I'm still making the final arrangements. Today I am sending out many invitations and there is an invitation for you. I want to know if you wish to attend. Only those on the guest list will be invited to the party. Those who don't answer the invite, will be left outside. Be prepared, because when all is ready you will be part of my great party.

See you soon. I Love you! Jesus

This Christmas letter from Jesus sure hits the nail on the head, doesn't it?! Are you one of those who remembers Jesus this Christmas? Are you one of those who will be at His party? Your answer depends on how you respond to God's great promises.

I Two Annunciations and Two Responses
A If you put the announcement of the upcoming birth of John the Baptist next to the announcement of the upcoming birth of Jesus you will see that the two annunciation stories are almost completely the same:
-the appearance of Gabriel, an angel of the Lord
-a response of fear on the part of both Zechariah and Mary
-a divine message promising a miraculous birth as well as the name and accomplishments of the child to be born
-a response by both Zechariah and Mary
-the giving of a sign to reassure both Zechariah and Mary

However, the two annunciations are not completely the same. At the conclusion of the annunciation Zechariah is left speechless because God took away his ability to talk for 9 months (Lk 1:19-22). Mary, on the other hand, is able to sing a song of praise to God (Lk 1:46-56).

B Why this difference? This difference is explained when you look at the response of Zechariah and the response of Mary to God's message through Gabriel.

The angel says to Zechariah, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John ..." (Lk 1:13). In response, Zechariah says, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years" (Lk 1:18).

Zechariah has been faithful all his life, blameless in his walk with the Lord (Lk 1:6). Now, when God's angel finally appears to him with a promise, Zechariah's faith falters. He forgot the stories he grew up on the stories of how God opened barren wombs in the Old Testament, the stories of old women who had given birth. He forgot these stories so he wondered, "How can this be? We are too old."

We read that the angel replied, "I am Gabriel." Complete authority stands behind this simple statement. "Gabriel" means "Man of God." Gabriel knew all about Zechariah and Elizabeth, including how old they were. And, Gabriel has a message from God Himself: "I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news" (Lk 1:19).

Because Zechariah did not receive the voice of the angel, he was disciplined. "And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time" (Lk 1:20).

Those who know the Old Testament should immediately recognize that Zechariah's response is similar to the response of Abraham and Sarah. In fact, the whole situation is similar. In both cases there is a barren woman. In both cases there is an elderly couple who have given up the hope of ever having a child by natural means. In both cases the Lord makes the extravagant and unbelievable promise of a child.

We would like to believe that Abraham believed God at once without any doubt, but this is not the case:
(Gen 17:17) Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?"
Abraham falls down laughing because he finds God's word nearly impossible to believe. His reaction is not so incredible; after all, Sarah is well past the age of bearing children (Gen 17:17). You would think that if he had the faith to leave country and friends and family and inheritance to go to a country God would show him, that he would also have the faith to believe God's word about a son. What we learn from Abraham is that his faith had room to grow. However, Abraham's response does not display total disbelief in the covenant promise. He does fall facedown, a posture that indicates submission, trust, and worship (Gen 17:17).

When Sarah hears the Lord's promise she laughs the laugh of unbelief and disbelief (Gen 18:9-15). Scripture says,
(Gen 18:12) So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"

Abraham and Sarah erred by focusing on the obstacles to the promise. Instead, they should have focused on God's sovereignty over all obstacles.

Like Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah focused on the obstacles to the promise:
(Lk 1:18) "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
Zechariah focused on the obstacles and doubted what God said to him.

C Now, I want you to consider Mary's response. God comes to her with the troubling promise of a child. I say troubling because she is unmarried. So Mary asks, "How will this be since I am a virgin?" Notice, Mary asks for more information. She wants to be assured that nothing immoral or godless will be taking place. She wants to know if she should change or advance her marriage to Joseph. The angel tells her she will conceive by the power of the Spirit (Lk 1:35). Mary's response to all this:
(Luke 1:38) "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

Notice, Mary doesn't question God's ways. Mary doesn't question the impossibility of what has been promised a holy conception and birth while she remained a virgin. Mary doesn't raise objections. She accepts what is said. She believes what is said no matter how incredible it seems. As Elizabeth put it a few verses later:
(Luke 1:45) Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"
Mary believed the impossible.

This tells us something about Mary's faith. But it tells us even more about Mary's God. Mary's God is more than strong enough, more than powerful enough, more than wise enough, and more than awesome enough to make a virgin conceive, to open the womb of a barren woman, and to bless an old couple with a child.

Mary's faith is the kind of faith Zechariah should have had. Mary's faith is the kind of faith Abraham and Sarah should have had. Mary's faith is the kind of faith we should have.

II Faith in God's Promises
A God promised old Zechariah and Elizabeth a son. God promised old Abraham and Sarah a son. God promised the virgin Mary a son. What God promises is impossible from a human point-of-view. God's promises are almost unbelievable.

God has many promises like this, my brothers and sisters. He promises life after death and life everlasting. He promises the resurrection of the body. He promises a new heaven and new earth. He promises grace for people who have done nothing to deserve it. He promises things that are beyond human ability. He promises things that stretch our faith to the limit, things that seem impossible to carry out. So, we might wonder and ask with Zechariah, "How can I be sure of this?" Instead, we need to respond with the assurance and faith of Mary.

Do you know what unbelief does? Unbelief puts our circumstances between us and God. That was Zechariah's problem. Do you know what faith does? Faith puts God between us and our circumstances. That was Mary's way of dealing with the unexpected and the impossible.

John Powell writes about a sign he posted on the mirror of his bedroom.
Topic: Submission
Subtopic: To Divine Will
Index: 3234
Date: 12/1997.2349
Title: Part of God's Plan

I have a sign in the mirror of my room. I see it every morning in my groggy condition, when I first wake up. The sign say, "WHAT HAVE YOU GOT GOING TODAY, GOD? I'D LIKE TO BE A PART OF IT. THANKS FOR LOVING ME."
I have to find my place in God's plans, rather than make my own little plans and then ask God to support them: "Come on, God, give me an A in this course. Come on, God, do this for me." Instead, I pray, "What have you got going today, God? You love this world. You loved this world into life. You created this world. We're all yours. What's my part in the drama? What part do you want me to play? I will play any part you say. Want me to be a success? I'll be a success for you. Want me to be a failure? I'll fail for you. Whatever you want."

-- John Powell, "Prayer as Surrender," Preaching Today, Tape No. 108.
Mary knew her place in God's plan and accepted it. Zechariah and Abraham and Sarah, on the other hand, wanted God to fit into their plans. How many times aren't we like Zechariah and Abraham and Sarah?

B Do you know what Mary's faith tells us? Mary's faith tells us that our God is an awesome God. As Mary was told by the angel, "nothing is impossible with God" (Lk 1:37). He can make an old couple like Abraham and Sarah conceive and carry on the covenant line. He can make an elderly couple like Zechariah and Elizabeth have a son. He can make a virgin conceive and bear a child. There is nothing He cannot do to carry out His plan for our salvation. There is no one who can stop Him or His purposes. There is nothing that is beyond Him.

Over and over again Scripture testifies to the greatness of God. To Abraham and Sarah, God could say, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14). And, Jesus could say, "What is impossible with men is possible with God" (Lk 18:27). The prophet Jeremiah came to the same conclusion when he said to the Lord, "Nothing is too hard for you" (Jer 32:17). And the Lord replied to Jeremiah, "I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" (Jer 32:27).

C How many times, like Zechariah, haven't we all questioned the ways and promises of Almighty God? How many times, like Abraham and Sarah, haven't we all felt like laughing at God? Is it because we don't want our faith to be challenged? Is it because we want to stay in our comfort zone? Is it because our faith is small? Unfortunately, the only way to grow is by being challenged. We need to be ready to be challenged and stretched in our faith. We need to expect to be challenged even as Zechariah was challenged, evan as Abraham and Sarah were challenged. After all, none of them were willing to accept that old people could have a baby. Mary, on the other hand, accepted a virgin birth without a second thought.

We need to realize that God reserves for Himself the right to break into our lives without question or explanation. He did that with Zechariah and Elizabeth; He did that with Abraham and Sarah; He did that with Mary; and, He does that with you and me too. Usually God breaks into our lives with His Word. So we need to be constantly reading and studying the Word. We need to be reading about God and His mighty acts and His mighty promises. We need to be reading about the twists and turns in God's plan for our salvation over and over again we see that God does the unexpected and shows Himself Almighty. We need to be reading and studying the Word so our faith can be challenged and stretched and made into something better and more glorious.

But God uses other means too. Sometimes God breaks into our lives with a shattering phone call, a disturbing letter, a friend who admonishes us, a boss who hires us, a church member who prays for us. In all of this He does the unexpected and shows Himself Almighty.

When God confronts us with His twists and turns, when God confronts us with the wonders and miracles of salvation, when God confronts us with His mighty power, do we respond like Zechariah and Abraham and Sarah or do we respond like Mary? That's the question before us on this second Sunday of Advent.

The power of God was at work in the life of Mary, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Abraham and Sarah. The same power was at work in the life and ministry of Christ. That power was at work again at the cross and the grave. And, that power was at work when Jesus ascended into heaven and sent down His Spirit.

If you have problems believing what God did at Christmas, you will also have problems with Good Friday and Easter Sunday. If you cannot believe God can make a virgin conceive, then you also cannot believe that God could raise Jesus from the grave. And, you certainly cannot believe that God will someday raise you from the grave.

So, when you are faced with the mighty works of God do you respond in doubt like Zechariah or do you respond with faith like Mary?
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