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

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

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