Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Annunciation to St. Mary

Sermon / Homily on Luke 1:26-38

Submitting to the Relentless God

by Ken Gehrels

Bible Reading: Luke 1: 26-38

Hands out - pushing away; rejecting.
Hands up - ready to receive; welcoming.
Try it.
As you do, the different postures almost set you up for a different attitude.

Hands out - No! Wait.
Hands up - Ok! Come on.

Ever notice how some people seem to instinctively put their hands out.
They're the skeptics of the bunch.
Won't believe it unless they see it for themselves.
If it isn't logical, if they don't understand it, they don't have time for it.
They tend to stand back.
They tend to resist.

Unlike "hands up" people.
They'll receive what you say.
They'll go along with what is told them.
Not necessarily gullible. But open. Receptive.

We've been spending time this summer considering the Relentless nature of God.

Relentlessly pursuing us. Relentlessly shaping our lives. Relentlessly hanging on to us.

Relentless in preparing salvation. Relentless to eternity.

The Relentless God is also an enormously large God.

When He invades our lives, it is not always possible to fully scope it, to contain it, or even sometimes to understand it.

What God is concerned about is our response -

Hands out?
or Hands up?

There are some men and women ordained as Christian leaders who approach their work with a hands out attitude -

Reading the miracle accounts in Scripture, which seem to supersede typical natural patterns, they don't understand how they can be possible.

How could it be that a few loaves and some fish feed thousands?
How could it be that a dead man could live again?
And they push away.
They interpret things allegorically.
Or simply read past them.

There are other Christians who read the accounts and say - "What they say, that's what happened. That's what I believe."

They receive it as presented. Far more receptive than some of their leaders.

When you open the Bible to Luke 1, you are confronted by exactly the same situation. A few weeks ago we focused on the priest Zechariah. Schooled in the matters of faith. Anointed into holy temple service. Literate in the Scriptures.

But when a real life angel appears to him, the priest backs away. He holds out his hands. He's not sure. He resists.

The one who is supposed to be the spiritual leader of God's chosen people is left dumb - in more ways than one.

The chapter continues by moving the spotlight to the village of Nazareth. Here we meet someone with a "hands up" posture. A simple girl. But receptive. Beautiful in her faith. Willing.

Read the account with me, please - LUKE 1:26-38

The Bible doesn't say, but if Mary followed the typical pattern of her day, she'd have probably been around 14 or 15 years old. A young teenager. She would have been living at home, learning all the needed skills for life from her mother. She would not have received much formal training, not even much religious instruction. That was reserved for the men.

I trust that we can appreciate that she had questions in her untrained mind.

"Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you."
Why her? What has she done to deserve this?
Why not the local rabbi or his wife..... or Mary's mom? Why her?

She doesn't run away. She doesn't resist in unbelief.

It's just so very overwhelming for this young girl, inexperienced in life and without much religious teaching to guide her through this moment.

Her attitude is rather different than that of Zechariah, the religious authority, the trained one, the leader.
He, too, asks questions. But his are more defiant in nature. He knows how things work.
The message of the angel makes no sense. It defies the laws of nature. He holds his hands out.
And God's messenger has to come down hard on him.

Mary's only question is one of direction - "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
Other translations read, "....since I am not married?"

Mary was betrothed, something far more binding than what we understand by "engaged" here in Canada. To be betrothed was a legal commitment. If your beloved died during this period, you'd be referred to as a widow. But you didn't yet live together. And you didn't sleep together. That waited until marriage.

That was the law - no committing adultery.
Mary knew that.
Her desire was to remain pure.
So - confusion swirled as to what the angel meant.

And that was OK with the angel, who speaks words of reassurance to this young woman with the hands held out and the heart open wide.

And the open-handed Mary responds -
- last verse of our reading -
"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

One thing Mary would get -
- what would come would be very difficult.
A baby outside of the regular route of marriage and a husband.
Questions.
Probably pointed fingers and whispering.
Rejection. Maybe even by Joseph.
Not sure.
But maybe.

And yet - there's her answer:
"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

Have you ever wondered why God chose to go to the north country of Israel, to a non-descript home, to a plain young teenager?

Why did the Creator choose her to be the mother of His Son?
Nothing spectacular about her.
Nothing outstanding.
Nothing seemingly brilliant.
Except....
Except that her hands, so to speak, are open.
And that,
I think
is the answer to the question.

Why would God choose her?
Precisely because she has nothing to point back to herself. No impressive resume. Just a willing heart and open hands.

Actually, as you leaf through the Bible, you'll come across page after page where exactly the same thing happens.
Ordinary people are plucked from the crowd to do extraordinary things for God.
And, even when God chooses people that seem to have something going for them, from a human point of view, sometimes God chops them down to size.

Moses, raised as a prince among the Egyptians, has to flee and live 40 years in the desert before God sends him back to lead Israel to freedom.

Gideon, prince among his people, has to send all but 300 of his army home before God uses him to defeat 10's of thousands of enemy soldiers.

Paul, great mind and trained theologian, is thrown roughly off his high horse, blinded, and sent packing into the desert and then back to his home. For three years he's left in oblivion - just him and God. Only then is he ready to serve.

The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:
Where is the one who is wise?.... Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?...
For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength....
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

Mary consents.
Nothing complicated.
No need to fully understand, or see the whole program, or to get a handle on it.
Just a simple, total trust on her part that if God's announcing it to be this way, He must know what's going on.

And if He knows, it'll work out just fine.
End of story.

Zechariah - hands held up in protest - had life figured out. He knew what would work and what wouldn't.
He had his beliefs and his ways of doing things. His systems. And this didn't fit.
And so he is forced to live out the words of Psalm 46.10, "Be still and know that I am God."
Like the other big name characters, Zechariah has to be brought low before he can be of service to God.

Zechariah had to learn that if his way of life and God didn't fit, then it was the way of life that would have to change.
Not God or God's sovereign ways.

A lesson somewhere in there for us too, wouldn't you say?
Zechariah.....
and then there's Mary -
Unsure of what will come, but sure of who will bring it.

Her simplicity is juxtaposed to Zechariah's stubborn disbelief
Mary, Mary -
Thank you for deep, deep words:
"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

As Cecil Murphy puts it in his study, The Relentless God,
from which this sermon series draws its inspiration
We're only the flashlights that direct others to look heavenward.

Murphy writes, "No matter how powerful the divine invasion of our lives, and no matter
how mightily the spirit uses any individual, it doesn't happen for our prestige. Our answer is
always to be - Here am I, the servant of the Lord."

Mary is the vehicle for Christ's entrance to the world.
A willing vessel.
Hands, life, her very body - open.

And one other thing - perhaps something that speaks directly to our free enterprise way of North American thinking -

Can you tell me how often Mary takes advantage of her position as the Mother of Jesus?
How often does she use it to move to the front of the line, or gain some recognition?

Do you know the answer?
Never once does she do it.
There are no acts of carpe deim for Mary's personal gain!

"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
Those are the words of someone who has been found by the Holy and Relentless Pursuer, and rejoices to be used in what ever way the Saviour has chosen for them.

What a marvelous inspiration for us all!

And a reminder - that all our talents, all our understanding, all our opportunities are given into our lives by the Spirit of Christ. They are not something that we earn or deserve for our personal gain.

Part of the reason that our Saviour pursues us, relentlessly, is not only to enable us to belong to His eternal family, but also to be an active, serving member of His team here on earth.

What do we have that God didn't give us?

If we win a promotion to office manager, have perfect pitch in one ear, or become known as the best cook in the community, doesn't that give us the opportunity to say, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord."
[Cecil Murphy The Relentless God p.47]

Here's the thought for today -
Could it be that the greatest pleasure Christ finds in our lives is not first of all in
outstanding achievements and our moving forward and upward in life, but a solid, open,
receptive humility that says:
I have nothing, and can never be anything except by God's grace.

Could it be?

O Lord, Divine Pursuer, and Gracious God -
Protect us from being inflated by our own success or achievement.
Remind us that it's not our own doing.
But that it's all about you!
Lord Jesus Christ,
We are your servants.
Do with us, this week, as you desire.
Amen.

Source: A Sermon delivered at the Calvin Christian Reformed Church of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries, Bible Analyses on Annunciation to St. Mary

Malankara World Special on St. Mary

Malankara World Special on Shunoyo of St. Mary

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