Myah Hope was given the news that she was pregnant. Like most mothers to be, she dreamed of what giving birth to a child and raising them would be like. But when she was 19 weeks pregnant, she was told that something was wrong with her baby's head. The doctor said that she had no brain. She was told that she could safely continue the pregnancy and allow her to die naturally, or induce labor and terminate the pregnancy. She chose to carry her baby to term for one simple reason: love. In her eyes there was no decision to be made. She had nothing but love and high hopes for her. She named her Faith Hope and cherished every moment of the pregnancy! She savored every kick and turn inside my growing belly. For five months they hoped and prayed. Then to everyone's surprise, she was blessed with 3 months and 4 days with Faith before she went to Heaven. She writes, “She was the sweetest little girl... so beautiful and so full of life. I feel so privileged to be her mother. The doctors said that Faith's condition was ‘incompatible with life,’ that she would likely not survive for more than a few seconds or minutes after birth, and that she could never achieve consciousness. They didn't understand how she was thriving for all those weeks... how she was smiling, cooing, crying, eating, breathing on her own, resisting infection, and responding to her surroundings. ‘With men this is impossible; with God all things are possible.’”
In our Scripture today, we have the story of a young girl who is engaged to be married and an angel comes and tells her she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. This is nothing short of a miracle but with God all things are possible. Each of us has been given the seed of faith as well. When God first became real to you, you had from that point on the same privilege and responsibility to bring the miracle of Christ in you to full term fruition. Christ died and rose again not that you would believe in him, but that he could live His life through you. That's the whole purpose of Christianity. It's not about believing in Jesus, but the life of Jesus being manifested through you. Christ in you is the hope of the world.
If you are ever going to carry this miracle of God, this God-seed of Jesus’ life germinating in you, to full term, then it begins with having courage. The first step: do not be afraid. God is on your side. You have found favor with God. I can relate to Mary. Mary was from the wrong kind of background. Her cousin, Elizabeth, came from a family of privilege, but Mary came from a backwater kind of family - working class folks. She would soon find herself in the wrong circumstance. In the culture of this day, women had no rights. A woman who was not married and pregnant was a capital criminal, subject to the penalty of death by stoning. Can you imagine Mary’s feelings when an angel showed up and said, "Mary, you have favor with God. God is on your side." This is incredible…this invitation to a friendship with God, this acceptance, this grace from God. Since God is on our side, don't be afraid to take on the responsibility of the miracle that God wants to do through you. We think Mary was somewhere between 12 and 14 years old. This unplanned pregnancy was a shock for a teenager.
You don't have to be a teenager to understand that life changes when you take on the responsibility of having a child. When children come, everything changes in life. Before you have kids, you are free to do whatever you want. Everything changes in your life when you have children. But once we had those kids, I wouldn't trade that responsibility for anything. Because you know you have favor with God and God is on your side, you do not have to be afraid to take responsibility for the miracle God wants to birth through you.
I want to tell you what else taking responsibility for your miracle is going to do: it's going to change your whole identity. You can imagine what this would mean for Mary’s identity. It would be an unconventional identity from this time forward. She told Joseph that the Holy Spirit did it . . . and then in a dream, God confirmed that to Joseph. But do you think Joseph ever had doubts and suspicions through his life? I think sometimes Joseph went to bed thinking, "Was that God who said that to me? Or was that the pepperoni on my pizza?" In Mary’s culture, the identity she would have to live with was that of a capital criminal, a woman who had a baby outside of being married. Your reputation changes.
How long can you hide a pregnancy? Mike Slaughter tells of attending the University of Cincinnati. Jesus was in my life, but I'm an introvert and I was quiet about it. Not that I was intentionally trying to hide it, I was just quiet about it. I was a social work major because social workers are advocates for unconventional causes. In this class, we each had the assignment to give a speech defending an unconventional cause. I thought, "Okay, what am I going to talk about?" People were talking about everything from legalizing marijuana to legalizing prostitution. I thought, "I know what I'll do. I'll share my testimony. I'll share how Jesus Christ has changed my life.” During the other presentations, I saw fighting and arguing in class like, "how can you possibly believe that?" People chose sides during all of those presentations, but when we left the classroom it was okay. So I thought, "It'll be cool." I stood up and began to share how Jesus Christ had changed my life. You would have thought I was a terrorist. A Jewish female friend of mine looked at me and said, "You're not serious. You're a Jesus freak?" And she put me in the same category as Hitler. If you're the real deal in Jesus Christ, you can only hide it so long. From that day forward, your lifestyle, your values and your priorities are going to stand in stark contrast to the culture around you.
If you're going to carry this miracle full term, you've got to make sure you're pregnant. Verse 31: "Don't be afraid, Mary, for you will conceive." There are a lot of people in the church who believe in Jesus and are trying to live by Christian principles, but they have never conceived the Holy Spirit. This is a real important part. Even though Mary was 12 to 14 years of age, she was smart enough to know you can't get pregnant by yourself. In verse 34 she said, "How can this be for I am a virgin?" You can’t get pregnant by yourself. If you're trying to do this Christianity thing on your own, that's called 'religion.' Religion is when you, in your own energy or efforts, are trying to live your life by Christian principles. That is powerless and futile. In verses 34-35, the angel said to Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come on you. And the power of the most high God will overshadow you." The Christian life is not about trying to live Christian principles. The Christian life is about being invaded with the very presence of God. Jesus died and rose that he could live his life through you. This is called the new birth. This is why I say you want to make sure you're pregnant. People ask, "How do you receive the Holy Spirit?" In the first sermon we have recorded in the book of Acts, Peter talked about how to receive the Holy Spirit. He said, "First you have to repent." Repent means I have to go 180 degrees in the opposite direction of the way I’m going now. All my life, I'm out there; I'm large and in charge. I'm lost. The first thing I have to do is turn from being my own master and begin walking toward God. "Then be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins." Baptism means to be buried, to die to self, so that you can be resurrected to Christ. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Most Christians stop right here. It's one thing to have the Holy Spirit and it's an altogether different thing to be filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit.
In the house we’re leasing in Rogers, AR they have two gas lit fireplaces. I tried to turn it on but the pilot light wasn’t lit. So I got it lit and now that pilot light is on all the time,. But just because the pilot light is on doesn't mean the fireplace is on. For most of the people in the church – just because their pilot light is on doesn't mean the furnace is on. All summer long the pilot light is on in that fireplace, even though the fireplace isn't on. Over Thanksgiving, it got pretty cold up there, in the 30’s so we lit turned on the fireplace. You have to light that fire. When you receive the Spirit, that's the pilot light being lit, but that doesn't mean your fireplace is working. Listen to what Paul said in 2 Timothy, "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands." Everyone here who's ever repented and been baptized for the forgiveness of their sin has received Jesus. But it does not mean that the Spirit within you has been fanned into a flame. If you are ever going to carry this miracle of Jesus to full term fruition, you've got to "fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands." For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
To be filled with the Holy Spirit doesn't come through passive belief, but active surrender. Look at verse 38. Mary had a decision to make. She wasn't a passive recipient. It wasn't like the angel said, "Mary, this is going to happen to you whether you like it or not." No, Mary had a decision to make and here is her statement of active surrender. Verse 38: "I am the Lord's servant." Have you ever said this to God? It doesn't matter about me or what I want. It doesn't matter that from this day forward I'm going to be considered a capital criminal. Joseph bailed her out when he married her, but at this point she didn't know if Joseph would marry her. It doesn't even matter if he doesn't marry me and I suffer the ultimate consequence of execution under their law, "for I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me according to your word." There is no more rationalization when you come to that place where you say, "Regardless, here I am. I am your servant. I'm not going to argue with you about any area." As long as you are rationalizing with God and making excuses in any area (relationships, finances, even the simple issue of tithing), you cannot be filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit. Every day I say to the Lord in my prayer, "Okay, whatever you want me to do. If it means my life, if you want to use my life, I am your servant." It's not about me; it's about the life of Jesus growing in me that comes to fruition for the well being of the world. You've got to make sure you're pregnant; fan into flame the gift of God within you. A lot of you have that pilot light lit, but that doesn't mean the fireplace is on.
It's not enough just to conceive. You don't conceive for the purpose of being pregnant. I know Christians who've been pregnant for twenty-some years! Women who've had children, can you imagine if you were in the 168th month of pregnancy? The longer you're pregnant, the more uncomfortable it becomes. That's why many people are uncomfortable when they hear the word of God, because all they've ever been is pregnant. The reason you conceive is not to be pregnant, but to give birth to the miracle of God. He said you will conceive and give birth. To give birth, you've got to go into labor. That's the hard part.
I remember when we had training in natural childbirth and we learned the Lamaze breathing technique – blow in short, quick breaths. I think most Christians get stuck at the blow part. Like it's all blow coming out of their mouth; it's all words. Then I remember when it comes to the most intense part of labor, you are supposed to push. They told Giovanna to push and she blew out the short, quick breath. And the nurse said, "I didn't say blow, I said push." Giovanna said, "It hurts!" You can never give healthy birth apart from sacrifice, pain and discipline. That's why so many Christians have been eternally pregnant. They've never come to that place of push. It's still all blow.
You have a new priority when you're pregnant. It's no longer about your life. Many of you changed your diet when you were pregnant. Some of you quit smoking while you were pregnant. Even if you didn't know Jesus, you knew at that point it wasn't about you. You were responsible for the life in you. Up until that point, it was always about you. But now, everything is for this life that is coming and will live beyond me. This is how you get delivery, when you come to that place when you realize that it's no longer about you. In this verse, it says, "And his name will be Jesus and he will be great and his kingdom will reign forever." There will be no end to the reign of his kingdom. It's no longer about you, but it's the birth of this great one named Jesus. Christ in you, who is the hope of the world. Now every day you live to sacrifice and serve and care for the world that God loves.
We're growing a little tired of doing good things, maybe, and it doesn't feel as good. Since when does labor and delivery feel good? When God first appeared to you, he gave you the same responsibility and privilege to carry this miracle full term. Through the Holy Spirit can't you hear the voice of Jesus say on his birthday, all I want for Christmas is for you to carry this miracle full term? Amen.