The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 20, 2020
In one of the old Peanuts comic strip, Lucy is lecturing about how Christmas is a time to practice kindness and forgiveness. Charlie Brown asks, “Why do it just at Christmas? Why not have the Christmas spirit all year long?” Lucy scowls at Charlie and spits out, “What are you, some kind of religious fanatic?”
Some Christians practice their faith only now and then – say, at Easter and Christmas. We might like to focus on their faults, but we’d do better to wonder whether we take time off from practicing our faith!
This gets personal with me when I consider how much I cherish my portion of time and how I can only give Jesus Lordship over my life if I give Him Lordship over my time. I struggle with His governing my time and feeling free to disrupt my schedules. For I love to plan my work and then work my plan; and that means I hate interruptions, even if they come from Him!
So I need to become more like Mary.
When God, by means of the angel Gabriel, interrupted Mary as she was going about her daily chores and no doubt daydreaming about her future with Joseph and the family they might have, she must have been disconcerted as well as stunned. Gabriel’s message must have thrown her for a loop and made her nervous that the nice, normal life she’d planned on might be in jeopardy. She was at the very least “perplexed”, as the Bible puts it.
When Gabriel sensed her confusion and tried to explain things a bit, he only succeeded in compounding her bafflement. For he told her that the Holy Spirit would supernaturally cause her to conceive a child without the involvement of any man. More bewildering still, Gabriel told her that her baby would be the long-awaited Messiah of Israel and the very Son of the Most High! A part of Mary may have wanted to shout Alleluia; but another, to howl in protest. For what God was proposing looked as if it would destroy her chance for the life she’d always envisioned for herself, and cause her all kinds of trouble and pain. For she and Joseph were engaged; and in those days an engagement bound a couple together by a legal contract which gave them all the obligations, if not yet all the privileges, of marriage. They’d not seal the deal sexually until their wedding day – but, other than that, they were already as good as married; and any sexual breach of the compact would count as an act of adultery. Thus, while the angel could call her “favored” all he wanted, Mary knew that, if she became pregnant, she’d become very “un-favored” in her community. People would slander her behind her back, insult her to her face and perhaps shun her altogether.
How hope and dread must have fought for supremacy within Mary’s soul! Half of her would have rejoiced at the prospect of bringing the Messiah into the world, and the other would have shuddered at the prospect of all that humiliation and ostracism.
Somehow her faith and her humility won the day, and she submitted to God’s plan despite the dangers and distress it would bring her. She surrendered to God’s wishes, and offered herself to God as “the servant of the Lord” who was choosing to let it be with her according to His will.
As God was back then, so God is now. He still seeks those who, more than now and then, accept His plans and join them, whatever the costs for doing so, in the trustful expectation that great rewards result from faithful compliance with His will.
Corrie Ten Boom had just given a talk at a church, and was enjoying the warm expressions of appreciation from the people who crowded around her afterward. She noticed in the back a man in a grey overcoat who looked vaguely familiar. She couldn’t help but keep glancing his way. Finally, with a sickening wrench in her stomach, she recognized him as a vicious guard from the Ravensbruck concentration camp in which she’d suffered and her beloved sister Betsy had died. Unbeknownst to Corrie, this man who had once given her nightmares had just given his life to Christ and now wanted to make amends for his reprehensible behavior. He meant to express repentance and to seek forgiveness. So, when the two of them finally had the chance to talk in private, he identified himself, confessed his misdeeds and put out his hand in plaintive hope of her grace. She could only stare at it, however, frozen in inner conflict.
As she struggled with the decision before her, she recalled how once she’d said to Jesus, “Here am I, Lord, your servant. Let it be with me according to your will.” Aware that, while she could not deny this man’s evil actions back then, she also could not deny his humble sincerity now, she felt God nudge her to do the hard thing to fulfill His kind plan. So she prayed, “Jesus, help me! I can’t speak. All I can do is, if only mechanically, stretch out my hand to him. You’ll have to supply the feeling.” And she reached out to him. As she reached her hand out, a jolt of energy raced down her arm, and surged into her hand filling it with a radiating warmth. And she heard herself cry out with genuine fervor, “I forgive you, brother, with all my heart!” For a minute they locked eyes, only to suddenly burst out into the laughter of joy.
Jesus then and Jesus now gives us grace to grow past our wounded-ness and to become agents of reconciliation and healing. Let us always, and not just now and then, be the servants of the Lord who embrace their part in His plans to show how great is His love!