Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Seeing the Invisible

Colossians 1:15-20; Galatians 4:4-7; John 1:1-5, 10-14
January 1, 2012
© 2011 Norman Stolpe

I. I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve prayed through the Psalms once a month for over 40 years to stretch, stimulate and structure my prayer life. On Tuesday I started with Psalm 27 as I have for about 500 months now (I’m sure I’ve missed a few). With all that repetitive familiarity, verse 4 stopped me dead still. “One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.” God has answered that prayer by giving me a whole career with the community of God’s people, inquiring of God and enjoying God. Candy could tell you of several occasions this week that showed this did not make me an especially spiritual person. But God graciously still lets me inquire into Scripture and soak up the beauty of the Lord.

A. Psalms 42 and 63 speak exquisitely of thirsting for God.

1. Claiming to be spiritual (even or especially if not religious) is very popular. However, Christian spirituality does not focus on who we are. Rather, Christian spirituality is about us focusing on Jesus, which does shape and change us, of course.

2. Quenching this thirst is not restricted to pastors. I’m thankful that my pastoral career allows me great opportunities to gaze at God, if I take the time with the right intention.

3. I know some of you have been given deeply satisfying ways of seeing God. Would anyone be willing to tell us about either how you experience the yearning for God or how God invites you to see the invisible?

B. I have watched some of the Public TV programs on how the Newtonian physics in which we live our daily lives doesn’t apply in the vast reaches of space or the interior of atoms, at extremely high or low temperatures. The models and formulas physicists use to explain this seem counterintuitive. Perhaps in a similar way, as finite, physical creatures to grasp the infinite, spiritual God we are unable to envision God, who is after all, invisible.

1. When the Roman Empire conquered a new territory, with political prudence, they did not require people to give up their gods. They simply said, give us an idol of your gods and we will put them in the Pantheon alongside of our gods and the gods of others who have come into the empire.

2. But when they conquered Judea, the Romans ran into a problem. The Jews said, “We don’t have a visual representation of our God, because our God is invisible. Not only that, all those idols are actually fakes, our God is the only true God for all people.” From this arose a whole constellation of attitudes that made Judea a constantly troublesome province on the far frontier of the Roman Empire.

3. The emergence of Christianity out of these Jewish roots was even more difficult for the Roman Empire. The God of the Christians was the man Jesus, who was executed for sedition against the Roman Empire.

II. The passages we read from Galatians and Colossians point us to Jesus as God’s answer to our craving to see God. By looking at Jesus in the Gospels, in prayer and in the Church, our yearning to see God is satisfied. John’s Gospel opens with a hymn that celebrates the invisible, spiritual God become visible flesh in Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

A. Colossians 1:18 calls Jesus the head of his body, the Church. We have a tendency to see the Church in institutional and organizational terms, but the New Testament presents the Church much more organically.

1. Jesus gave the Church baptism and communion to convey the spiritual reality of his redemption and presence to us through tangible elements.

2. When I think of the Church as the Body of Christ, I like to think of it as a mosaic portrait of Jesus. Each one of us is a chip of stone, ceramic or glass that makes up this portrait. None of us are a very accurate or complete picture, but together we represent Jesus.

3. This is not just an abstract idea. We live it every day with each other. Can you share some experience you’ve had with people in the Church by which you saw Jesus, and thus saw God?

B. We have a natural tendency to think of prayer of telling God what we want. If we push ourselves a bit, we acknowledge that thanks and praise are more important. I’ve quoted Dimitri of Rostov (1651-1709) Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894) before with an approach to prayer that may be as difficult to grasp as non-Newtonian physics. “To pray means to stand before God with the mind in the heart, to gaze unswervingly at God, and to converse with God in reverent fear and hope, unceasingly day and night until the end of life.” Have any of you had this kind of experience?

C. Prayer that is about looking at the invisible God is predicated on a rich and growing saturation with the Gospels. Not that the Gospels are better or more important than the rest of Scripture, but we see Jesus in the Gospels.

III. By looking at Jesus in the Gospels, in prayer and in the Church, our yearning to see God is satisfied. John’s Gospel opens with a hymn that celebrates the invisible, spiritual God become visible flesh in Jesus. The Scriptures we have read today tell us what to look for when we see Jesus in the Gospels: God in the flesh who is not only our creator and redeemer but creator and redeemer of everything.

A. Galatians 4:4 is about as close to the Christmas story as the New Testament Epistles come. Jesus, as God’s Son was born of a woman – a flesh and blood human who made the same journey from birth to death that we all take.

1. Colossians is also an early hymn that celebrates Jesus as the visible, tangible image of the image of God, in whom all the fullness of God dwells.

2. John gives us an eloquent if inscrutable hymn of the Word of God become flesh to camp out with us, as God camped with the Israelites in the Tabernacle on the journey through the wilderness – temporary but not illusory.

3. He himself is the light of life, by which the invisible God is illuminated, allowing us a way to see God when we see Jesus. In this light we see the glory of God when we see Jesus. As Psalm 36:9 says, “In your light, we see light.”

B. The language of Galatians 4:4 is subtle and because of the way we think of the sequence of parents and children we miss the point that God sent the Son who was not made when he was born of a woman but already was. When Colossians 1:15 speaks of him as the “firstborn of creation,” it is specifically not intending to say the Son was the first creature created, rather that as the creator, he has the right of inheritance to all creation.

1. John clearly echoes the creation language of Genesis one, “in the beginning.” Remember that in Genesis God said, “Let there be …” and it was so. John is presenting Jesus as that creative Word. This Word is not a symbol or idea, this Word is creative authority and power. John Calvin translates Word as “God’s Speech.”

2. Colossians 1:17 extends this creative power and authority to sustaining all that is created. Here is no clockmaker God of the Deists who wound up the universe and let it go. The creation is continuous.

C. Colossians presents Jesus as the redeeming God who does not let either humanity or creation languish endlessly in brokenness. Rather, through Jesus God was pleased to reconcile with all things, making peace through the blood of Christ’s cross.

1. Galatians expresses this redemption as our being adopted as God’s children and heirs. We have gotten so used to addressing God as “Father” that we have lost the radical impact of what Jesus started and passed on to the Church. I regret that the gender issues of our time also distract us from the power of addressing God as “Father.” It’s not about God being male or female, but about God being familiar and accessible. Because of Jesus, we can speak to God comfortably, intimately.

2. John says that those who believe in the Word have the power to become the children of God. This is not some magical or mystical power, rather it is the right and authority to become the children of God. This kind of believing is not simply agreeing with a theological description of Jesus, this is the experience of looking at Jesus and seeing God.

IV. By looking at Jesus in the Gospels, in prayer and in the Church, our yearning to see God is satisfied.

A. Has any Gospel episode given you an especially clear view of God as you looked at Jesus?

B. Especially on New Year’s Day, I thought I could only introduce one new song. I would have liked to have used CH 158, Her Baby Newly Breathing, and I suggest you look at the wonderful poetry. It would have been easier to sing than 171 God’s Love Made Visible, but that fit the theme so well and is so much fun, I hope you will give it a good try and maybe get Jaime to use it again next year.

Joseph’s Side of the Story

Matthew 1:18-25
December 25, 2011
© 2011 Norman Stolpe

I. The last two Sundays I’ve shown you Giotto’s 1304 frescos in the Scrovegni Chapel that illustrate the Scripture passages we were looking at. Though not based specifically on Matthew 1:18-25, the Nativity fresco points us in today’s direction. With our more casual format today, I hope this can become more of a conversation than a sermon.
A. Where is Joseph? What do you think Giotto thought Joseph was thinking?
B. Now look at this icon. Where is Joseph? Any different than the Giotto?
1. Who is talking to Joseph? About what?
2. Why is Mary looking at Joseph and not baby Jesus?
3. What are the manger and the baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes?
4. Any other thoughts or questions about the paintings?
5. What about the angels? Would they be frightening?
C. Compare the description in Ezekiel 1 with these angels and the illustration from Madeline L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door.
II. Matthew and Luke each tell the story of Jesus’ birth from two different perspectives for two different purposes. If we try to coordinate them too much we distort the stories and miss the point of each. For example, in Luke the shepherds do not see a star and in Matthew the magi do not come to the manger.
A. Luke focuses on Mary’s experience and emphasizes her spiritual sensitivity.
1. The themes of Jesus as Son of Man and Son of God Luke interweaves through the whole Gospel start here.
2. Mary’s virginity is only mentioned in her conversation with Gabriel, not the other six episodes of the story.
3. Luke gives lots of attention to the Holy Spirit in the Gospel pointing ahead to Pentecost as the lynchpin of his second book, Acts. In the conception of Jesus and in Acts the Holy Spirit is the agent of God’s power.
4. Mary’s response to becoming pregnant is totally joy and faith with no hint of shame or doubt.
B. Matthew focuses on Joseph’s experience and emphasizes his righteous and merciful character. He struggles with wanting to do right without hurting Mary.
1. Matthew starts his presentation of Jesus as Davidic King and Messiah with Joseph’s genealogy. He is writing after the resurrection and is already setting the stage for its significance for salvation.
2. Mary’s virginity is at the core of the story, and Joseph’s response makes no sense without it.
3. Addressing a largely Jewish audience, Matthew presents the Holy Spirit in a Jewish way as the source of God’s revelation, which is how he presents Jesus.
4. Joseph is the one concerned about responding to Mary’s premarital pregnancy. Some have suggested that he might have felt unworthy to be responsible for raising the Messiah, but I think it is a lot more likely that he was concerned about being blamed Mary’s pregnancy or for protecting Mary’s reputation.
C. By looking at the birth of Jesus through Joseph’s eyes, our shocking impossibilities become God’s glorious transformations.
1. Your observations about the differences between how Luke and Matthew tell the story of Jesus’ birth.
2. What do you see as you try to look through Joseph’s eyes?
III. Without trying to merge Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts of the birth of Jesus, looking at them side by side raises some interesting thoughts.
A. Mary seems not to have told Joseph, or maybe anyone, about Gabriel’s announcement before she visited Elizabeth. Since she went to Elizabeth immediately and did not know the timing of this birth, she may have been reluctant to say anything until she knew more.
B. Mary’s pregnancy probably became known when she returned to Nazareth and was three months along and it would have been obvious.
1. For Mary to be “found to be with child” does not imply either that she was hiding her pregnancy or that it was exposed by an investigation.
2. Mary seems not to be the one who told Joseph she was pregnant. That seems strange to us, but in an arranged-marriage culture for an engaged couple to have minimal social contact would not be unusual.
C. God seems to have let Joseph struggle through to determine his course of action before sending the vision revealing that this pregnancy is from the Holy Spirit. It reminds me of God waiting until Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac before showing him the ram. It seems to be a test of faith and character, not for God to see what Joseph is made of but so Joseph will be sure of his faith.
D. By looking at the birth of Jesus through Joseph’s eyes, our shocking impossibilities become God’s glorious transformations.
1. When you look at the unfolding of the story through Joseph’s eyes, what do you see?
2. Has God ever changed your direction after you had decided what the right thing to do was?
IV. By looking at the birth of Jesus through Joseph’s eyes, our shocking impossibilities become God’s glorious transformations.
A. In your own experience, what shocking impossibilities have become God’s glorious transformations?
B. As you look through Joseph’s eyes today, can you see God’s glorious transformations for your current shocking impossibilities?

Glorious Impossible, II

Isaiah 11:1-11; Luke 1:39-56
December 18, 2011
© 2011 Norman Stolpe

I. I want to thank Jaime and the choir for reprising The Magnificat from the choir cantata. Not only did they graciously fulfill my request, they did double duty by singing at both services today. And my special thanks to the soloists whose contribution helps us all appreciate the exquisite beauty of this passage in Luke’s Gospel that puts the birth of Jesus into powerful context.

A. The Magnificat combines elegant poetry with profound theology. It has inspired some of the most enchanting music ever composed. That many commentators have questioned how a young peasant woman from a backwater like Nazareth could compose such verse is not surprising. How would she have the artistic skill, depth and maturity for such poetry? How could she have the knowledge of Scripture and theological sophistication? Also, Luke was written around 60-70 AD when Mary would have been in her late 70s or even 80s. We can tell that Luke interviewed Mary and others to get information for his Gospel, but how would an elderly Mary remember so exactly something from her distant youth?

1. One suggestion is that Mary did not compose The Magnificat but Luke wrote it based on Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. He found a way to express the emotions Mary remembered and reported to Luke. A variation on this is that The Magnificat had become a hymn in the early Church, and Luke selected it to communicate Mary’s response.

2. An alternative, opposing answer arises from the prominent role of the Holy Spirit in Luke’s whole account of the birth of Jesus. As Gabriel told Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Could not the same God who enabled aged Zechariah and Elizabeth to have a child and Mary to conceive as a virgin have inspired Mary to a spontaneous, poetic response to Elizabeth’s blessing? And for that matter, enable her to remember it more than 60 years later?

B. In my study I found another alternative that is more satisfying to me because I believe it reflects how the Holy Spirit works with Scripture in our lives and affirms what we already know about Mary’s character and spirituality.

1. Start with the presupposition that Mary loved the Scriptures and took every opportunity to learn and meditate on them. Also the song of Hannah from 2 Samuel 2:1-10 was well known and may have been set to music and sung by Jewish women, perhaps especially when approaching marriage. Hannah’s song is obviously the basis for The Magnificat.

2. Luke makes clear that what Gabriel told Mary about Elizabeth’s pregnancy prompted her to go at once to visit her. The Hill Country of Judea is 60-70 miles south of Nazareth, so it took Mary several days to walk there. I imagine Hannah’s song came bubbling up as she thought about what Gabriel had told her, and she began singing it. As she walked along, the Holy Spirit brought other pieces of Scripture to her mind and Mary wove them into her improvisation on Hannah’s song. So when she greets Elizabeth she has a song all her own ready.

3. As I mentioned last week, the role of the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus is not sexual but spiritual. Gabriel tells Mary “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Though the text doesn’t say this, knowing that Mary seems to go directly from Gabriel to visit Elizabeth, I imagine this overshadowing taking place during those days as Mary walked to the Hill Country of Judea. Is it possible that Jesus was conceived as Mary walked, meditating on Scripture, enlightened by the Holy Spirit? Might Mary be just a couple of days into her pregnancy when John recognizes Jesus in her?

4. That Mary would remember and sing her song throughout her life is not surprising. Neither is it unrealistic to think that the early Church might have sung it often as a hymn.

II. We are so used to examining Scripture in dissected segments that we forget they were written to be read aloud continuously. I encourage you to find some time in what’s left of Advent or in Christmas to read all of Luke 1-2 in one sitting, even out loud. You have until January 6 and will find that Luke links each episode with those that precede and follow.

A. To fully appreciate The Magnificat, we need to hear it as conversation between Mary and Elizabeth.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

B. Though Mary doesn’t specifically mention the Holy Spirit in The Magnificat, the Holy Spirit is so active in Elizabeth and the unborn John as to be obvious in Mary too.

1. The Holy Spirit enables John the Baptizer, who is still 3 months from birth, to recognize Jesus who has just barely been conceived in Mary. He leaps for joy! Those of you who have given birth know something of the movements of a child within. I suggest imagining not just a sudden, ordinary movement but John jumping up and down vigorously and repeatedly as an excitged young child would.

2. No wonder Elizabeth exclaims with a loud cry! Filled with the Holy Spirit, she blurts out her blessing on Mary and Jesus in disjointed, spontaneous bursts.

3. Since the Hail Mary Roman Catholics use in the Rosary is drawn from Gabriel’s words as well as Elizabeth’s blessing and Mary’s Magnificat, Protestants avoid getting too involved with this story. Without getting distracted by the debate between the Catholic and Protestant wings of the Church, I do think a few observations are helpful.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

a) The grace and blessing on Mary is that the Lord is with her to bring Jesus, the savior to humanity.

b) The phrase that Protestants object to, “mother of God” is a translation of the Greek theotokos, with literally means “God bearer.” Long before the Reformation that word was chosen over christotokos with means “Christ bearer.” The point was not to suggest divinity for Mary but to affirm that the human Jesus was fully God.

c) Theologically, Protestants have more trouble with praying to Mary. I’m not going to sort all that out in a sermon, but I would suggest that it touches something deeply human: to have God close by in the daily journey of life and when we come face to face with death. I do think The Magnificat does address this deep longing.

III. When the Holy Spirit shows you that things are not what they are supposed to be, the Holy Spirit also gives you the power to act in Jesus’ name for God’s great reversal.

A. If Protestants avoid The Magnificat because of its connection to the Rosary, we all may avoid the radical power of its core content. We’re happy to stay with the beautiful poetry and music, but quite uncomfortable with the substance. I can’t imagine any politicians of any party summarizing their platform by saying, “I will scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. I will bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. I will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty.”

B. I’m not at all suggesting The Magnificat as a political agenda for this next election cycle. But I do believe it defines the point of Jesus’ birth as good news for the weak, lowly, broken and suffering. If you can hear good news and not a threat in the core substance of The Magnificat, that is the Holy Spirit speaking.

C. For Mary this great reversal ss God keeping the covenant with Abraham and his descendants forever. It is what Isaiah and the other prophets keep calling for. As we read in Isaiah 11:1-10, this is the work of the Spirit of God: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of council and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.

IV. Bill Goettler is co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New Haven, Connecticut. He tells about Danny who walks the streets looking for handout. Bill confesses he doesn’t like Danny or being encountered by Danny. Yet, he usually digs into his pocket and gives Danny a few dollars. It’s not the money, it’s Danny’s question that bothers Bill. “Is this the way it’s supposed to be?” Sometimes Danny does odd jobs instead of panhandling. He’ll sell newspapers in front of the bagel shop or wash windows for the hardware store. Everyone in town knows Danny. He greets them cheerily by name. Whether a simple hello or some semblance of a conversation, Danny always ends with his question, “Is this the way it’s supposed to be?” During Advent, Bill hears Danny’s one question sermon as an echo of John the Baptizer’s, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make God’s paths straight.” (Drawn from “Living by the Word,” The Christian Century, November 29, 2011, p. 20)

A. The Magnificat answers Danny’s question. “No, this is not the way it’s supposed to be. And God is doing something about it! Jesus is bringing the great reversal of God’s Kingdom. If it seems lost under all the glitz and chaos, not to worry. You can start living with Jesus now, you don’t have to wait until all the rough places are smooth. You can be part of the preparation crew. Of course, Jesus will start working on your rough places, and maybe put you in rough places to live in his name.”

B. Sara Miles is Director of Ministry for Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, CA. She asks, “What does it mean to live as if Jesus is real? As if you and other around you are filled with the power of Jesus sent to do his work? How do we practically carry out the acts of Jesus in his name?”

C. Does living God’s great reversal in the name of Jesus seem impossible? Not because of politics or the economy or the environment or secular society. No, it seems impossible because you know you are one of the lowly and hungry, desperate for God’s mercy. As with Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, The Magnificat affirms that what for us is impossible, for God is glorious. As Madeline L’Engle describes Mary’s visitation with Elizabeth.

Mary, overwhelmed by all that had happened, hurried off to the hill country to see her cousin Elizabeth. Sometimes it is very important to have an older friend who is not a parent, someone who can be both loving and objective. Elizabeth was old enough to be Mary’s mother, but she too, was pregnant; and when she saw Mary, the unborn baby in her womb leaped for joy. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she, too, accepted this Glorious impossible without reservation or doubt. How marvelous! The unborn child in Elizabeth’s womb recognized the baby Mary had just begun to carry and leaped for joy! With us it is impossible. With God, nothing is impossible. The stars in the sky above Mary and Elizabeth were brilliant; and the power that created all the galaxies, all the stars in their courses, had come to the wombs of these women: one old, one young.

The Glorious Impossible, I

Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 1:26-38
December 11, 2011
© 2011 Norman Stolpe

I. Madeline L’Engle reflects on The Glorious Impossible of the life of Jesus illustrated by Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. Of the Annunciation she writes:

An angel came to Mary. In Scripture, whenever an angel appears to anyone, the angel’s first words usually are, “FEAR NOT!” – which gives us an idea of what angels must have looked like.Mary was already engaged to Joseph. The wedding would be soon. This was strange and startling news indeed. Mary looked the angel in the face, asking with incredible courage, “But how can this be?”And the angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. And the Holy Thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.”What an amazing, what an impossible message the angel brought to a young girl! But Mary looks at the angel and said, “Be it unto me according to your word.”And so the life of Jesus began as it would end, with the impossible. Possible things are easy to believe. The Glorious Impossibles are what bring joy to our hearts, hope to our lives, songs to our lips.II. Gabriel’s declaration that Mary has found favor with God carries a profound paradox. The language is clear that Mary is blessed because God is giving favor to her, not that she has pursued or won it. God has freely given Mary grace!

A. Though she does not ask for a sign to confirm his words, Gabriel tells Mary that her aged relative Elizabeth had conceived the child for which she prayed for many, many years. And as we shall see next week, Mary models her response of praise after the song of Hannah who had also prayed desperately for a child in 1 Samuel. But Mary has not been praying for a child. She might have anticipated that children would come after marrying Joseph, but she was neither asking for nor expecting a child at this point. This was entirely of God’s doing.

B. Luke 3:23-38 includes four women of dubious reputation in Jesus’ genealogy emphasizing that Jesus came to redeem sinners. While nothing in the New Testament suggests that Mary was sinless, and though God’s favor was totally a gift of grace, God’s choice of Mary to be the mother of the promised Messiah was deliberately appropriate.

1. Mary’s protestation that her virginity precludes having a baby indicates the quality of her character. She wouldn’t cheat on Joseph or with Joseph, and anything else was so obviously impossible she couldn’t imagine it.

2. Mary’s response to Gabriel reveals a remarkable spiritual sensitivity. As awesome as Gabriel may have appeared, Mary does not pass out or scream in terror but engages him in serious conversation. She recognizes Gabriel as an authentic messenger from God and accepts his word as trustworthy. Though many have speculated about the public shame Mary’s pregnancy may have brought on her, nothing in what she says belies any dread of embarrassment.

3. Most telling of all is Mary’s acceptance of this calling, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” You may have heard many speculations about what would have happened to our salvation had Mary refused to bear Jesus. God knowingly chose wisely. God did not have to manage and manipulate Mary like a marionette. Nor did God have to be a fortune teller looking into a crystal ball to know what Mary would do. No! God knew Mary – knew her character, her spiritual sensitivity, her willingness to follow God.

C. The Holy Spirit overshadows those who, like Mary, are ready to receive God’s glorious impossible.

III. As I have prepared for today’s message and next week’s, I have been struck with the prominence of the Holy Spirit in Luke’s whole Christmas narrative. In my prayer and meditation on these passages, I believe God has been telling me to remind us to pay special attention to the Holy Spirit through Advent and Christmas and for this point in the life of First Christian Church of Duncanville.

A. Luke gives the Holy Spirit prominence throughout the Gospel and from the very beginning.

1. Luke 1:15 says that John the Baptizer will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. Next week we will see how three months before he is born John recognized Jesus who had just barely been conceived in Mary.

2. Next Sunday we will look at Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1:41. When John leapt in her womb, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and pronounced an amazing blessing on Mary.

3. You may remember that when Gabriel told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth were going to have the child they had prayed for, Zechariah doubted and could not speak until John the Baptizer was born. But in Luke 1:67, when Zechariah confirms that the baby’s name is John, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied God’s purpose for John in the great redemptive plan.

4. When Jesus was just forty days old, Mary and Joseph took him to the Jerusalem Temple to be dedicated to God as a first born son. Luke 2:25-26 reports that the Holy Spirit had shown the old man Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Messiah. By the Holy Spirit Simeon was guided to recognize the infant Jesus as the fulfillment of this promise, and by the Holy Spirit he blessed the Holy Family.

B. Pagan mythologies include many stories of gods lusting for human women and fathering superhuman children. While some of those children perform heroic, superhuman acts, they almost all come to tragic ends. None of them are the fullness of God incarnate as humans to redeem us from our desperate brokenness. The language of the Holy Spirit’s conceiving Jesus in Mary is not sexual but spiritual. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (v. 35) This overshadowing calls to mind clouds of God’s glory.

1. Exodus 40:34-35 “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”

2. Matthew 17:5-7 “While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

C. The Holy Spirit overshadows those who, like Mary, are ready to receive God’s glorious impossible.

1. When Gabriel finished answering Mary’s question, “How can this be?” he told her, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” (v. 37)

a) Not an angel visit

b) Not a baby for aged Elizabeth

c) Not a virgin conception

d) Not God coming as a human person

e) Not God’s eternal Kingdom of peace and righteousness

2. As Isaiah 9:7 says, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” God is not passive but passionate! What for us seems impossible, for God is glorious!

IV. Kathleen Hirsch who teaches as Boston College got a glimpse of the glorious impossible from her three year-old-son. (“Glimpse of the Holy,” Christian Century, November 29, 2011)

I was potting jam when my son disappeared from the kitchen. I heard the metallic tinkle of ornaments on the Christmas tree. Then he was standing beside me, a solemn three-year-old holding a stuffed red heart he had taken from the tree. “Mommy,” he announced. “Pretend that I am Gabriel. Kneel down Mommy.” I obliged. Gabriel and I were face to face, inches in front of the stove. “Mary,” he addressed me. “You shall have a son. And this.” He extended the plush red heart toward my face. “This is your holy.” Here he paused for emphasis. “You must carry your holy with you always, Mommy – even around your neck – so that Jesus will know that he is holy too.” I looked at the heart offering, velvet and gold, resting in my hand. What to do with the hot coals of a prophet?Slowly I got to my feet. For a moment my son had seen heaven and had offered me a glimpse. Not long out of diapers, he had lanced the literal with the intuition of a sage. Truth’s vital core, the beckoning center of everything, is its holiness. Without the holy, live – even simplified, even with terrific gingerbread and jam – is dust. My world didn’t leave much room for wonder. My son was far better attuned to the ways in which the sacred speaks. Who deserves such moments? Certainly not I. Sometimes visions crash through from another realm, and we are changed. These experiences enable us to see the holy in our midst. This is what the incarnation is all about.

A. Kathleen Hirsch’s experience ask all of us, “How can we see the holy in our midst?” Mary shows us that the Holy Spirit overshadows those who are ready to receive God’s glorious impossible.

1. First is cultivating our spiritual sensitivity so that we recognize the Holy Spirit surrounding us and stirring within and among us.

2. Second is open enthusiasm to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Not a grudging obedience but a joyful following.

B. Through Mary’s encounter with Gabriel the Holy Spirit asks each of us, “Can you believe for God’s glorious impossible?”

1. Advent and Christmas season2. 2012

a) World

b) First Christian Church, Duncanville

c) Your personal journey