Christmas Through the Eyes of a Woman
Luke 1:26-56; 2:19, 33-35
December 5, 2010 | Brian Bill
All of our daughters were home last weekend and we had a blast buying a tree and putting up all the decorations. Unlike last year, our tree is still standing a week later and we’ve avoided any pre-Christmas catastrophes…so far. As we continue in our sermon series called, “Christmas Eyes,” today we’re going to look at Christmas through the eyes of a woman. I’m uniquely qualified to do this, growing up in a family with five women and now being blessed with four delightful daughters and a wonderful wife.
While I’ve watched my share of “chick-flicks” and have been to the American Girl store several times, my one true solace which I hold on to with dogged determination is my trusted friend…no, not Charlie our dog…but the remote for the TV.
The girls took a picture piled on top of each other. My sister-in-law Jeanine added this caption after one of our daughters posted the pic on Facebook: “Are you fighting over the remote?” I can’t believe she would even ask a question like that.
That reminds me of the store clerk who noticed a TV remote in a woman’s purse as she was searching for her wallet to pay for the things in her shopping cart. The curious clerk asked, “So, do you always carry your TV remote?” The customer replied, “No, but my husband refused to come shopping with me, and I figured this was the most evil thing I could do to him legally.”
Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 1. Can I just say that we’re about to launch into something that is very dangerous? Because this seasonal story is so familiar to so many of us, we’re in danger of becoming complacent about Christmas. It’s really the one time of the year that we are most susceptible to falling into a rut. Instead of allowing Advent to astonish us, some of us are already immunized to the stunning reality of God coming in human flesh. It’s my prayer that we’ll get past all the Christmas clutter this season and discover what really happened 2,000 years ago when the babe in Bethlehem burst onto the scene. Marcel Proust has some great words in this regard: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” It’s my hope that we will have new eyes to see the Nativity as we take a somewhat different approach each week.
I’m convinced that if we’re going to have a Merry Christmas we’re going to have to understand Mary’s Christmas. All that happened to Mary shook her up and put her in a place of shattered dreams, open criticism, whispers about her morality and questions from the man she loved. Mary may have wanted to find the remote so she could change the channel to HGTV. Some of you wish you could change the channel as well because you don’t like what’s been showing up on the screen of your life…
- Many of you are living with major disappointment
- Some of you are in the middle of a relational rupture
- Perhaps your marriage has blown up
- A number of you are processing some devastating health news
- My guess is that some of you have no idea how you’re going to afford Christmas
- Many of you wonder if your prodigal child will ever turn around
- A handful of you can’t stand your job but feel trapped
- Some of you just feel really sad
- A few of you can’t sleep at night
- Others are overwhelmed by life
- Perhaps someone close to you has died
- For some of you, your anger is eating you up
- Maybe you feel like you’ll never be loved
Unfortunately most of the images of Mary in the world of art depict her as so serene and almost distant with a halo on her head. Having said that, Boticelli’s painting called “The Annunciation” comes close to capturing Gabriel’s pleading and Mary’s shock as she tries to comprehend the news.
But we need to remember that Mary was a teen who was rocked by an angelic encounter. Not old enough to get a driver’s license, she probably faced everything that a normal teenager would have faced in that culture. One pastor describes a Christmas pageant at his church in which a teenage girl from his youth group was playing Mary: “She was holding baby Jesus with all the affection she would hold a chemistry book, treated Joseph with disdain and was chewing gum. Her parents were horrified, but I think she got it exactly right. Mary is not a perfect saint. She is perfectly human. Unless we can see ourselves in Mary, we miss a major part of Christmas.”
Let’s take a look at some ways that Mary reacted to these unfolding events in her life.
Turn to Luke 1:28: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” This is the word sometimes translated as “Hail” and means something like “hello” but is actually a bit stronger. In Hebrew, it’s the word “Shalom.” Let me point out that the emphasis is on the Lord being with Mary, not on any merit that she has on her own. Verse 29 tells us “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” The word troubled means “to be thoroughly confused.” Mary was mixed up because she did not think of herself as one who was highly favored. She, more than anyone, knew all about her shortcomings.
While it was a common occurrence for people to be terrified when angels would appear, I think Mary is also afraid because she is contemplating the implications of what has been revealed to her. Listen again to these words in verse 30: “But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”
It’s natural when we’re troubled and afraid to also become uncertain about everything. In verse 34 that Mary is confused about how things are going to proceed: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” This is a perfectly natural question. Mary is engaged but not formally married. She has saved herself for her husband. How then can she become pregnant and have a son?
While we can’t always control our immediate reactions, we can control our ultimate response
Can I share something with you that I’ve found very helpful when dealing with discouragement and disappointment? Parents, this is very helpful to pass along to your children. While we can’t always control our immediate reactions, we can control our ultimate response. Some of us think we can’t help but be angry or upset or bitter or sad or frustrated or whatever. Life has dealt us a bad deal and we can’t seem to change the channel. Listen. Your initial reaction to something does not have to determine your ultimate response. Or we could say it like this: I can’t always control my reaction but my response is my responsibility.
Let me be quick to say that we can’t just change our response through positive thinking, or will-power or even watching the Badgers win the Rose Bowl. When we’re in situations like this, we need a fresh reminder of God’s presence and His power. Verse 37 is really a summary, a benediction, the bottom line, if you will, of all that God through Gabriel has been saying to Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God.” This literally means, “For no word from God shall be void of power.” God can and will do anything and everything that He determines. I like the Philips paraphrase: “For no promise of God can fail to be fulfilled.”
Stay with me here. Mary’s ability to respond correctly has everything to do with this reminder. Without it, I’m not sure if she would have, or could have, responded correctly. Let’s say it together: “For nothing is impossible with God.” No matter what is going on in your life, God wants to do the “glorious impossible.”
This reminds me of the words given to Sarah when she was told that she and Abraham were going to have a baby in their old age. Listen to Genesis 18:14: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” While the words are similar, Sarah and Mary had different responses. Sarah responded wrongly while Mary responded rightly. Sarah laughed cynically while Mary lowered herself as a servant and surrendered to the Savior.
What about you? How do you respond in the face of trials and difficulties? Do you become cynical toward God or do you submit to Him? Remember this: I can’t always control my reaction but my response is my responsibility. Let’s see now how Mary responded. But first, let’s again declare this powerful passage together: “For nothing is impossible with God.”
1. Offered herself as a servant.
Imagine Gabriel kneeling before you, pleading for you to remember that in spite of your initial reaction, nothing is impossible with God. Will you respond like Mary did? Check out verse 38: “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.” She’s essentially saying, “Whatever the Lord has for me is what I want! Here I am. Do what you will.” Chuck Colson tells of the time he asked his daughter what she wanted for Christmas. She replied, “Whatever my daddy chooses for me is fine.”
It’s time to surrender and affirm that you are but a bondservant of the Lord. What He wants is what is best for you anyway. Tell God that you’re available. Offer yourself to Him for His purposes and His plan, regardless of how difficult it may be.
I can’t always control my reaction but my response is my responsibility. Let’s recite the promise again: “For nothing is impossible with God.”
2. Moved quickly.
After settling the servanthood issue, Mary wastes no time in doing what she needs to do next. Check out verse 39: “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea.” Here’s the principle: When we know, we must go! No spiritual slackers allowed!
I wonder how many of you this morning are just kind of going through the motions. Sure, it’s almost Christmas, but it’s no big deal to you. Maybe you’ve just been living your life without much thought about the future. It’s time for some of you to get out of your recliner or off the couch and hurry to do what the Holy One wants you to do.
I can’t always control my reaction but my response is my responsibility. Let’s proclaim the promise again: “For nothing is impossible with God.”
3. Sought a mentor.
Don’t miss the fact that Mary spent time with an older relative when she was in need. Elizabeth affirmed her and encouraged her – she certainly understood because her pregnancy was supernatural as well. This gave Mary time to process and to pray. Elizabeth’s influence is summarized in Luke 1: 45: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
As I look around I see older men and women who have been through the struggles of raising children. I see all this wisdom, much learned through the school of hard knocks and I long for this to be shared with young parents. Wiser women, can I encourage you to seek ways to connect with young moms? Older men, will you go after younger men? And to those who are younger; don’t just sit back and wait for the wiser ones to suddenly find you. Seek a mentoring relationship.
If you’re in an impossible situation, seek out a relationship with someone wiser than you. I can’t always control my reaction but my response is my responsibility. Let’s say our verse again together: “For nothing is impossible with God.”
4. Gave glory to God.
It’s important to give glory to God, no matter what you’re going through. In fact, there is nothing that you are going through that makes it impossible to give glory to God somehow. We don’t have time to study Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 but I hope you do so on your own. Let’s just listen to the opening stanza: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary was a young teenager who offered herself as a servant, moved quickly, sought out a mentor and gave glory to God.
I can’t always control my reaction but my response is my responsibility. Why can we do this? Here’s why: “For nothing is impossible with God.”
5. Carefully reflected.
As we look at Christmas through Mary’s eyes, I see that Mary took the time to think and reflect on all that was happening. This is a good reminder for us before we get too caught up in the Christmas chaos. Notice the different words that are used in chapter two:
- Treasured (Luke 2:19a). “But Mary treasured up all these things…” To treasure means “to preserve, to keep safe or to keep close” and to “turn over.” The New Living Translation uses the word “stored.” The tense indicates that she kept on doing this.
- Pondered (Luke 2:19b). “…and pondered them in her heart.” This is a compound word that suggests the idea that she ‘threw’ these things ‘together’ in her mind. We’re going to have to slow down to do this.
- Marveled (Luke 2:33). “The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.” The word “marvel” means to admire and wonder.
I can’t always control my reaction but my response is my responsibility. Let’s say our verse again together. You should have it memorized by now: “For nothing is impossible with God.”
If you’ve been a Christ-follower for awhile, you know that the Christian life is not easy. We’ve done a disservice to new disciples when we tell them that their life with Christ will always be happy and clear sailing.
I’m struck by what Simeon told Mary in Luke 2:34. It must have taken her breath away. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be spoken against…” Christmas splits people into two camps. Jesus is either a rock that you build your life upon (that’s the sense of rising) or he’s the rock that you stumble over (that’s the meaning of falling). You can’t stay neutral about Jesus. You are either for Him or against Him. You’re moving closer to Him, or further away. You either have the Son or you don’t.
There’s more for Mary to hear, even though she probably wanted to hit the mute button on the remote. Listen to what Simeon said in Luke 2:35: “…And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” This happened when Jesus stayed behind in the Temple when he was twelve, when Mary was rebuked at a wedding reception and the sword sliced deeply into her own soul when she saw her son hanging from a cross.
And so we move from reactions to responses to reality. Let’s wrap up by focusing on what we can receive from this message.
Receiving the Impossible
1. God often calls us to do more than we think we can do but He never calls us to do more than He can do.
If you’re faced with something that seems too hard for you, remember what the angel said to Mary in Luke 1:37: “For nothing is impossible with God.” What impossible situation do you need to give to Him?
2. God uses ordinary people who are available and obedient.
Mary was ordinary, available and obedient. Have you surrendered to the Savior and will you do what He tells you to do? Why don’t you determine to invite three people to the Christmas outreach in two weeks? It’s only when you obey that you will find out you are better prepared for what the Lord has in mind than you thought you were.
3. God often shatters our dreams so He can give us new ones.
Are you still holding on to a dream that God wants you to let go of? Sometimes the future you think you are preparing for is not what the Lord has in mind for you. God loves to call us in unexpected ways to accomplish His will in this world. In what ways is He calling you right now?
4. Always do what God tells you to do even if it doesn’t make sense.
Some of us want detailed explanations before we’ll obey. God wants us to obey no matter what. Are you in a dilemma right now? You will never go wrong when you do what is right. Always do what He wants even if it seems unbelievable and impossible. Maybe God is asking you to give an extraordinary amount this year that doesn’t make much sense to your budget.
5. You are a sinner and need a Savior.
You can receive the gift of His Son right now. John 1:12: “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
If you’re ready to receive the best Christmas present ever, you could pray this prayer with me. But first you must give up the remote:
Lord Jesus, I know I’m a sinner and I’ve been selfish about wanting my plans more than yours. I want to turn from the way I’ve been living. Thank you that you are Immanuel and I now need you to be my Savior. You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. I desire to live under your lordship for the rest of my life. Take my dreams and help me to live out your desires for I want your purpose for my life, not my own. Thank you for not only being born but for dying in my place and rising again so that I can be born again. I now receive the gift of salvation and forgiveness by asking you to come into my life. Make me into the person you want me to be. I want to act on what I know to be true and enable me to adore you for the rest of my life. Help me to not just react but to respond so that I fit into your plans. In the name of Immanuel, I ask this. Amen.”
Communion moves us from the cradle of Christmas to the cross of Christ. It also points us ahead to the crown He will be wearing when He returns. I really like how Billy Graham summarizes Christmas: ”The very purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was that he might offer up his life as a sacrifice for the sins of men. He came to die. This is the heart of Christmas.”
Remember this: I can’t always control my reaction but my response is my responsibility. “For nothing is impossible with God.”