The Birth of Jesus Foretold~ Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
There is an old story about a man who is visiting the Grand Canyon. He is so enamored by the beautiful view that he steps too close, loses his balance, and slips over the edge. Just before falling a thousand feet, he grabs on to a tree root sticking out from the side. “Help me!” he hollers. “Is there anyone up there? Help me! Save me! Is there anyone up there?” A voice answers, “I am the Lord. I can save you. Do you believe in me? Do you really want me to help you?” “O, yes, Lord, I believe in you, more than you’ll ever know! Please help me!!” “OK,” the Lord says. “I’ll save you. Now, let go.” “What?!” “Just let go of that root you’re holding on to, and I’ll save you. You have to trust me.” The man pauses a moment, and then shouts out, “Is there anyone else up there?!”
This morning, I wonder what you do when you find yourself in a difficult situation? How many times have you found yourself calling out to God, “God, save me! God, help me! God, give me patience! God, answer my prayers! God, tell me what to do!”
My friends, our lives are filled with challenges—challenges of choosing right from wrong, challenges of making good decisions, challenges of letting go of our need to control things. I have found that challenges can do two things. They can build us up, giving us confidence and a stronger faith, or they can break us down, filling us with fear and doubt.
My friends, life is full of adventures and encounters, it’s full of accidents and experiences, and they all remind us over and over again that we are dependent on God as our source of life and hope and strength. The Bible contains a clear definition of faith. In the book of Hebrews, it says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Simply put, the biblical definition of faith is “trusting in something you cannot explicitly prove.”
In today’s scripture reading, we heard the story of Mary and the conversations she had with the angel Gabriel when she found out that God had chosen her to bring Jesus into the world. Now luckily, Mary didn’t have a big ego. Instead, she had total faith and confidence in God’s guidance over her life, even when circumstances seemed unbelievable. And because of that, Mary teaches us a lot about faith and humility.
The truth is we all encounter situations that test our faith—circumstances in which the normal reaction would be anxiety and uneasiness. But if we remember what Mary said, when the angel Gabriel gave her such surprising news, she said, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Then she said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Can you imagine? Her whole life was about to change. All the plans and dreams and ideas that she had changed in that very instant, all because of this God who she had never seen or talked to. But deep in Mary’s heart, she had faith and she believed. Friends, there are many situations in our lives when we see things that we can’t explain, or experience things that don’t make sense, but our faith tells us and assures us that they are real. They teach us that faith is a whole lot more than what we can see or explain. It is an amazing gift that we only receive when we put our doubts and our need to control away and we truly trust in God to guide us.
As individuals, we are blessed with the gifts that God has placed within each one of us. We are blessed to be a part of this church family. And here’s the part that doesn’t make sense to the secular world, we are especially blessed when we are challenged to deepen our faith and to put our trust in God when we are afraid and when we face difficult times, just like Mary in today’s scripture.
I’m sure she was afraid and wondered if she was doing the right thing. I’m sure she was concerned about what other people would think of her and what the repercussions would be. But she put her fear aside and trusted in God. Though it was far from easy, her faith allowed her to see with new eyes what the world could not see.
Friends, as a congregation of God’s people, we are blessed by opportunities to see and feel God working in our midst every time we baptize a little baby, every time we gather around the communion table, every time we bury a loved one, and every time we face challenges as a church family and make difficult decisions. Because each time we face challenges, we face the temptation to doubt our ability. After all, we’re only a small church, right? We face the temptation to make no decisions in fear of the conflict that a decision might bring, and we face the temptation to do things the way that we have always done them instead of believing and having faith that God will bring us safely through when we try something new. But here’s the important part that we need to remember: believing in God and having faith means living a life of gratitude as we share God’s love with the world.
Living by faith means all the things that we have talked about over the last few weeks. It means giving grace and telling the truth, making mistakes and saying we are sorry, having fun and giving lots of hugs. It means valuing ALL families and showing love. But living by faith is also the piece that truly defines who we are as a community. Because any secular gathering of people—the Elks or the Masons, the Scouts or AA, the PTO or the American Legion—they can all say that, in their own way, they give grace and they tell the truth, they make mistakes and they say their sorry, they have fun and they give hugs, they value all families and they show love.
As a community here in Oldtown, it is our faith that is the foundation of who we are. It’s our faith that guides us and shows us the way, and it’s our faith that defines who and whose we are. Sure, those other things are important too, but it is our faith that has gotten us this far. It’s because of faith that our founders started this church in 1712, and it’s because of three hundred and seven years of faith since then that we are still here!
Friends, over the years, this church has faced struggles and conflicts. It has had difficulties of all kinds. It’s had good leaders and not so good leaders. Parishioners have come, and parishioners have gone. The pews have been full, and the pews have been empty. People have worked together, and people have fought with one another. There have been years when the budget was surpassed, and there have been years with devastating shortfalls. Our building has been cared for, and our building has been let go. But one thing has never wavered: this church has always stood firm in its faith. No matter what situation it has found itself in, the church has done its best to pass that faith on to future generations. Because if, as a community, we don’t have faith, then we might as well close our doors.
Friends, it’s easy to think that we are in control. It’s easy to think that we know what is best for us and for those around us, but our faith tells us something very different. Our faith tells us to listen and to watch for God’s guidance. Sometimes God takes us where we want to go, but most of the time God has a very different plan for us. If just we let go and allow God to guide us, we are usually blessed to see and experience things beyond our wildest dreams.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, will you have the courage to live out your faith, knowing that God is guiding you and supporting you and working through you? Or will you allow your fear and doubt and anxiety to take over? The choice is yours. You can focus on the storms that rage around you, being afraid of what could happen, or you can choose to focus on Jesus standing firmly in your faith. But folks whatever you chose to do during the week, I want you to know that “In this house, we live by faith!”
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!