************ Sermon on Luke 1:38 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 28, 1999
"I Am the Lord's Servant"
"I've got good news and bad news." When someone tells you that, you are not sure which you wish to hear first. On this first Sunday of Advent we hear an angel of the Lord telling Mary good news and bad news.
I Mary at Risk
A First, what the angel says to Mary is good news. It is the best news. It is exciting news:
(Lk 1:30-33) "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. (31) You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. (32) He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, (33) and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."From childhood on, every Jewish girl is brought up to hope she will someday give birth to the Messiah. To Mary is given the news that she has been chosen by the Lord for this special task. Truly, as the angel puts it, she is "highly favored" and "the Lord is with" her.
B That's the good news. Now for the bad news. "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin." The angel answered,
(Lk 1:35) "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."This is bad news? What is so bad about the virgin birth? Don't forget, Mary is a single woman. To be pregnant and to give birth out of wedlock in that culture and at that time held terrifying consequences for single women. Yes, she is engaged to be married to Joseph, but his reaction to her pregnancy can be expected to be quite strong. In fact, Matthew's Gospel tells us that Joseph did decide to divorce Mary (Mt 1:19).
The virgin birth. Mary knows what this means. She knows people will have a difficult time believing her claim to be pregnant by and through the Spirit of God. She knows Joseph will probably leave her. She knows her friends, neighbors, and family will probably brand her as an adulteress. She knows she faces persecution, snickers, laughter, mockery. As the Law commanded the death penalty for pre-marital sex, Mary even faces the awful prospect of death by stoning (cf Deut 22:13ff).
The virgin birth. Mary knows what this means. She knows she faces life without a husband. She knows she will be pregnant and helpless, with no visible means of support. Back then there was no AFDC, no government subsidized housing, no food stamps, and no welfare for single mothers.
The virgin birth. Being the mother of the Messiah. Mary knows what this means. Looking ahead in Luke's Gospel we see the prophet Simeon. Simeon warns Mary about the cost, about the hurt, about the pain. "And a sword will pierce your own soul too," he says to Mary (Lk 2:35).
II Mary Serves the Lord
A Mary knows full well what the virgin conception and birth could cost her. Yet, what is her response, what does she say?
(Lk 1:38) "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said."Mary has weighed the cost and decided that it is worth it.
Why? Is she a glory hound, someone who wants to be immortalized throughout history as the mother of the Messiah? This can't be the reason because Mary is far too modest to be after publicity. Don't forget, it bothers her that the angel greets her in such an exalted fashion (vs 29). Does Mary have a martyr's complex? Is she a masochist who loves hardship, pain, and suffering? This too is not the picture of Mary presented by Scripture. After all, who can forget the picture of the grieving mother standing before the cross? What we are to see here, congregation, is a Mary who responds to the Word of God as a true and obedient disciple.
B Before we look at Mary's response, though, Luke wants to direct our attention elsewhere. Listen to what else the angel says:
(Lk 1:36-37) "Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. (37) For nothing is impossible with God."By these words, Luke wants to direct our attention to Abraham and Sarah. First, we think of the similarity of the situation of Abraham and Sarah with the situation of Zechariah and Elizabeth. We note that both are an aged couple. Both women are barren. Both couples have given up any hope for children. To both of them God appears and gives the promise of an impossible child. Second, we think of the similarity of God's Word to Sarah with God's Word to Mary. To Sarah, God says, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14). To Mary, God says, "For nothing is impossible with God."
Why this comparison? Why does Luke want us to think of Abraham and Sarah? Luke wants us to consider the difference in reaction. When Sarah hears about the humanly impossible conception of Isaac, she laughs in ridicule, since she knows she is too old to have a child. God has to challenge and admonish her. Mary's reaction is just the opposite of Sarah's – not a cynical laugh but a total and joyful acceptance. No unbelief in Mary; no, not at all.
(Lk 1:38) "I am the Lord's servant ... may it be to me as you have said."
Here is the point of this comparison: is your faith like Sarah's or is it like Mary's? When confronted with humanly impossible situations do you, like Mary, put your faith and trust in God? Or, like Sarah, do you dismiss the situation as being impossible?
There are many times when our faith is tested like Mary's and Sarah's. Parents, for instance, struggle about a child. Do they have the faith to give their child over to God or do they give up? A couple's marriage is failing. Do they have the faith to give it over to God or do they give up? A loved one is sick, grievously sick. Do we have the faith to let God do what most glorifies His name, or do we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with despair?
C "I am the Lord's servant." The Greek word translated as "servant" is "doule" (doo'-lay), meaning "a female slave." In that time and place this was quite a thing to say. A slave, you see, was reckoned to be less than human. By law, the slave was classified as a piece of merchandise, a piece of moveable property. He or she had no rights and could own no property. Even his own family did not belong to him. The rights of a master over a slave were absolute and no one could hinder or prevent a master from doing with a slave what he wanted.
"I am the Lord's servant." Before God, Mary adopts the status and attitude of a slave.
The Greek word for "Lord" is "kurios" (koo'-ree-os), meaning "supremacy, supreme in authority." What a good description of and for God. God is almighty, supreme, and worthy of authority.
"I am the Lord's servant." Mary adopts the status and attitude of a slave before the almighty God.
"I am the Lord's servant." What exactly does this mean? A slave's calling in life is to serve the master. He has no other purpose. He has to devote 100% of his time, gifts, talents, and abilities to the master's service. Together with service there must be obedience. A good slave serves the master by being obedient, fully and completely obedient at all times.
"I am the Lord's servant." Mary is stating here that she is dedicating herself to the Lord's service. She is expressing her willingness to follow the Lord's leading and to live before Him a life of obedience.
D "I am the Lord's servant." That's not all that Mary says. To this she adds, "May it be to me as you have said." Is this resignation on Mary's part? Is she being fatalistic and dumbly going along with God's will for her life? Is she like a sheep or a cow that dumbly allows itself to be led to the slaughter? Not at all. As I already said, Mary is simply responding to the Word of the Lord as a true and obedient disciple. Mary knows it is her calling in life to serve the Lord. She knows she must be obedient to the Lord's will and follow His leading.
(Lk 1:38) "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said."
III We are to Serve the Lord
A "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." On this first Sunday of Advent, the Lord wants to hear these words from every one of us. He wants every person here to commit themselves to His service. He wants every person here to follow His leading and to live before Him a life of obedience.
Boys and girls, Jesus wants you to serve Him and love Him. Young people, Jesus wants you to serve and love Him too. And parents, as you bring up your children and youth, you are to impress upon them the claims of Christ. In fact, that is what you promise to do when your child is baptized.
B But now a warning. To serve the Lord, congregation, does involve risk. Obedience is always costly. I know of a woman struggling about giving her life to Christ. When I talked with her she said, "I want to be a real Christian. I know I have to give myself fully to the Lord. And, this means I will have to do things I dislike doing now." Yes, congregation, to follow the Lord, to be His servant, is never easy. It will cost us money, time, and maybe even life.
Title: William Borden's Consecration
In 1904 William Borden, heir to the Borden Dairy Estate, graduated from a Chicago high school. His graduation present was a trip around the world. Traveling through Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Borden was really stricken by all the poverty and hunger he saw. Writing home, he said, "I'm going to give my life to prepare for the mission field."
When he made this decision, he wrote in the back of his Bible two words: No Reserves.
His parents tried to talk him out of it, but to no avail. He graduated from Yale University. Turning down high-paying job offers, he enrolled at Princeton Seminary.
At this time, he entered two more words in his Bible: No Retreats.
Completing studies at Princeton Seminary, Borden sailed for China to work with Muslims, stopping first in Egypt for some preparation. While there he was stricken with cerebral meningitis and died within a month.
Most people said, "What a waste." Even Borden's parents thought this until they paged through his Bible. In his Bible, underneath the words No Reserves and No Retreats, he had written the words, No Regrets.
No Reserves. No Retreats. No Regrets. That was Mary's attitude as she dedicated herself to the Lord's service. That ought to be our attitude too. Yes, we know it will cost us. But, like Mary, we decide the cost is worth it.
C To be involved in the Lord's service we must willingly take the role of a "doule", a slave or a servant. Unlike Mary, the disciples of Jesus had a hard time learning this, and so do we. Even the most godly sometimes rebel when called upon to do something they feel is risky or beneath their dignity.
Subtopic: Joy In
Title: Given The Task Of Cleaning Boots
Samuel L. Brengle, a brilliant orator and highly successful pastor, was so burdened by the plight of the inner city poor that he resigned his church and joined the Salvation Army in London. Soon after being inducted, he was given the task of cleaning a pile of muddy boots. This was too much! Inwardly he rebelled. But then he thought about how Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. He asked the Lord for a servant spirit, cleaned the boots, and went on to a fruitful ministry among the disadvantaged.
"I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."
In this season of Advent God wants to hear that and He wants to see that in each and every one of us.
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