Scripture: Luke 1:26-33; 39-56
Theme: Finding Favor with God
Title: Mary - Outside of the Box
Grace and peace from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This morning in your worship folder you will find a box with nine small dots in it. This is a little exercise or puzzle that you can take a few minutes and try to solve. The goal is to connect all the dots using only four straight lines without lifting your pen or pencil. Now, remember you can only use four lines and you must connect all the dots without lifting your pen or pencil.
When you first look at it you may think that it's not a big deal. Anyone can connect all these dots pretty easily. But then you start trying to do it and after a few minutes you might find yourself not only confused but a little uptight and stressed. What seemed at first to be rather simple has resulted in being a little more difficult that it first appears.
It really is easy once you know how to do it. But isn't that true of all things? After you know the answer then you can look back and say - "Oh, that really is easy." The interesting thing that this little puzzle is suppose to teach us is that in order to solve some problems you have to think outside of the box. The majority of people who attempt to solve this little puzzle try to do so by making sure that they stay inside the box and of course that is impossible to do. You cannot connect all of the dots using only four straight lines without going outside of the box.
When I first tried to figure out this puzzle that is what caused me to stumble. My friend had given me the puzzle and asked me to figure it out. After about 15 minutes and a lot of paper I finally asked for help. In a matter of seconds he showed me the answer. At first I objected. I told him that he had cheated. He went outside of the box. He then shared that in the instructions nothing is said about going outside of the box.
"You have to go outside of the box and see the big picture". "Don't be limited by the lines that someone drew around the dots." "Focus on finding the answer not looking at the limitations that you think might exist."
My friend was right. I was confined to the box. Box thinking had limited my ability to be able to solve the puzzle. I couldn't see the big picture and as a result I couldn't find the answer and was only getting stressed out.
Sometimes all we need to do is to see the bigger picture. All we need to see is that the picture not only includes the space within the box but the space that is included outside of the box as well. Sometimes our only problem is that we think too small. We limit our vision to narrowly and we assume that we have to work within a certain confined area when that is not true. We need to realize at times all we need to do is to cross some imaginary lines and then we can find the answers we need.
There are people that all their lives they put up little boxes and expect to find all their happiness inside those boxes. There are even some that try to draw a box around their current life and tell everyone that they are already happy. And then there are those people in our lives that do their best to get us to live inside a box of their creation. They tell us that if only we do things a certain way or look at life a certain way we are guaranteed to find happiness living inside their certain life box.
However, when we look at some of the greatest stories in the Bible we immediately discover people who not only refused to live inside of a box they threw the box away. We find people who by faith learned to draw outside of the lines and who lived outside of the box that other people had predesigned for them. This would include people like Noah, Abraham, Moses and Ruth along with very many more. Each of them lived a life of progressive holiness and a life that was definitely outside of the box.
+Noah lives way out of the box as he builds this great big boat on dry land all because God told him to do it. Even though he could not see the rain nor did he hear the rain for decades he choose to follow the God who lives outside of mankind's box.
+Abraham leaves his family to go and follow the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY to the Promise Land. He and Sarah have a child way that by any person's standards would be way out of the normal box. They chose to reject mankind's limited box for God's wonderful and glorious picture of life.
+Moses' whole life was an out of the box life. He listened as the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY spoke out of a burning bush. Moses parted the Red Sea by the power of God and he spent 40 days up on the mountain talking to the LORD and writing down the Ten Commandments and the Code of Holiness. Now, that is certainly living outside of the box or normal life.
+Ruth lives out of the box as she moves to Israel with Naomi knowing full well that Moabite women were seen as a curse at that time. Moabite women could be molested and no one would have cared. However, Ruth stays, follows the leadings of the LORD and becomes a part of Jesus' heritage. That's an out of the box life full of courage, strength and integrity.
This morning St. Luke shares with us the story of a young woman who was able to cross the lines and live an out of the box life through faith, courage and spiritual integrity. A young woman who Bible scholars tell us was somewhere between the ages of 13 - 14 years of age. She was a young woman whom the angel said was one of God's Favored Ones. She was of course the Virgin Mary, the mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Normally we don't think of an 8th grader, a middle school girl being the young lady who brought Jesus (God in Flesh) into our world. It is easier for us to think of Mary as a young woman between the ages of 21 - 25 years old who for some reason had not yet married a man. But according to the customs and traditions of that day the average girl living in the Middle East was married soon after they turned 14 and usually began having children as early as 15 or 16 years of age. Now, all of that may bother us this morning but it didn't bother the Lord God Almighty and therefore it should not bother us.
In verses 28 and 30 we see that this young middle school aged woman is referred to as one of God's favored ones. Now, how in the world did some 13 - 14 year old young lady get to be so close to the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY that the angel could refer to her as a person in whom God considered to be one of His favored ones? How did one so young get to carry such a high title?
Only a few other people in the Bible are said to be people whom God highly favored. Some of those include the likes of Abel, Hannah, Moses and David to name a few. Now, how in the world did this young lady get to hold that title?
I. I believe she was favored because she had the right attitude (v. 38, 46)
There are very few things that can set a person apart more than their attitude. Some years ago, Zig Ziglar declared, “It is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.” He believed that a person's attitude was one of the main catalyst that could either help make us or it can break us in this life. A good attitude towards life he believed would enable a person to have a higher chance to find success and happiness. A bad attitude would lead to the direct opposite.
Mary's attitude was amazing. Her attitude towards life and towards following the direction of the LORD was one of the things that set her apart from not only people her own age but people of all ages as well. Twice in this passage we see Mary referring to herself as the "handmaiden" of the LORD. By referring to herself in this fashion Mary reveals to us her heart and her intense spirit of humility and meekness.
Bible scholars tell us that Mary was from very humble beginnings. Her parents were neither rich nor was her prospective husband rich or from a political family. Mary did not have a great deal of worldly possessions nor does tradition tell us that Mary was a beautiful young lady. To the world Mary was merely the engaged young woman of a local carpenter/stone mason. And while it is true that she held ancestral roots tying her to the Levitical priesthood those roots were quite thin and held no great gravitas. However, the LORD does not see as man sees. In the eyes of the LORD this young lady was one of His favored ones.
Mary was favored because she possessed the right attitude - an attitude of humility and meekness. Later on Jesus would call individuals like her blessed. He would include them in a group he called the "poor in spirit" not meaning that they lack spiritual integrity but just the opposite. Individuals like his mother Mary were people who did their best to live out a life of integrity, purity and humility. The LORD GOD ALMIGHTY favored Mary because she was such a person. She knew her place and that was being a handmaiden of the LORD. Mary was always at the LORD's disposal and was willing to do anything for the LORD regardless of the cost to her physically, emotionally, socially or spiritually.
Mary kept nothing back from the LORD nor was there a part of her life she had not surrendered to the LORD. In her relationship with the LORD the words honesty, openness, commitment and consecration were the norm.
Mary teaches us this morning the proper attitude that we are to possess this Advent/Christmas Season. In fact, she teaches us and models for us the attitude that we should possess 365/24/7. Mary teaches us that we are to have humble hearts, a spirit of submissiveness and a life of meekness. Listen to these verses that further support this view:
"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited." - Romans 12:16
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." - 1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV
"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8 NIV
Years ago I had the privilege of working as a bank teller at the Jackson County State Bank in Kansas City, Missouri while I was going to Seminary. One of the ladies at the bank that I worked with was a woman by the name of Martha. Martha had the same spirit as Mary. She was a fantastic teller and mom but also she dripped with humility and meekness.
One day while I was working with her I noticed that she did something every time the name of Jesus was spoken. Whenever the name of Jesus was used Martha would stop for a second or two and cross herself. Martha had been raised Roman Catholic and in her training one of the things that she had been taught to do was to always uplift and praise the name of Jesus no matter where you heard it or in whatever context you heard the name of Jesus. So, one of the ways that Martha always made sure she uplifted the name of Jesus was that when she heard the name of Jesus she would pause and cross herself giving a praise to the LORD.
Now, we may think that her actions were a little odd. But rather than being odd they were inspirational. For Catholics making the sign of the cross is a way of testifying about God and for God. By making the sing of the cross they are professing the deepest mysteries of the Christian Faith: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are signifying the saving work of Jesus on the Cross and are marking themselves as disciples of Christ having repented of their sins, been baptized and infilled with God's Holy Spirit. My friend Martha was doing her best to be both humble and meek while at the same time praising and uplifting the name of Jesus.
II. I believe Mary was favored because for her attitude of faith
Perhaps Mary's faith is her most striking characteristic. For it was going to take great faith for Mary to fulfill the task that the LORD was calling for her to do. If there was ever a young person that was asked to draw outside of the lines of life it was Mary.
The angel told Mary that she would be found with child through the Holy Spirit. The child that she would be carrying would be God's Only Son - Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
At the time she would be the only one who would know the true nature of the child and the true father of the child. Of course later on in a dream all of this is revealed to Joseph her engaged husband to be but until that time and even after that time Mary's life was one outside of the box. She had to have faith in her beliefs, her willingness to surrender herself to the LORD and in the Lord God Almighty Himself.
In verse 38 you read Mary's answer - "Let it be to me according to your word."
Let it be according to your word meant that for the rest of her life people would be pointing, sneering and hurling accusations. They would be accusing her of unmentionable things regarding her marriage, her pregnancy and the background of her son Jesus. They would call her names and her son names that should never be heard by anyone much less than the mother of Jesus - God in Flesh. Mary's home town of Nazareth was a small town and like all small towns gossip got around pretty quick. It wouldn't take long for Mary to show and for tongues to start to wag.
All of us know stories similar to this one. Stories of young girls getting pregnant and the tongues of people all around them starting to wag. Especially when those stories surround people whose family are leaders in the community or in the church. It seems that people love to cast accusations in those situations.
Mary gave up a great deal to bear the LORD Jesus Christ. According to tradition in those days the wedding ceremony required that the bride sit in front of her father's house on the wedding day waiting for her groom to come to take her away to their new home. She was to have her hair loosened and she was to be adored in white symbolizing her purity and innocence. After the wedding she and her husband were to sit and receive gifts and blessings from family and friends for a bright future.
But there would be no glorious wedding ceremony for Mary. There would be no community blessing and presentation of gifts. No woman found with a child before the official marriage was allowed to enjoy such a ceremony. According to custom if she were not stoned for fornication or adultery she would have to be married in a very quite ceremony and her family and the young man's family would be looked upon with shame. Over time some in the community may forgive and forget but for many each time the couple or woman was seen tongues would wag.
In all of this Mary's faith stands fast. Her faith in God, in herself and in the future God has for her and her child stands fast. It stands fast even though later would it mean that she would have to ride all the way to Bethlehem during her last month of pregnancy. I think it is fair to say that Joseph worried about her and the baby's safety is why he choose to take them with him ( and to fulfill prophecy).
Her faith would hold as she has to give birth in a common stable and then is visited by a bunch of smelly shepherds. Her faith would hold as her family has to seek refuge in Egypt after King Herod has put out a death warrant on her son. Her faith would hold as she had to watch her son Jesus die on a Roman cross for all mankind.
From the angel to the Bethlehem trip to the wise men and all the other points in her life Mary lived pretty much out of the box. For her to connect all the dots meant that she had to look at a very much bigger picture than most people. Mary's life was made up of a person who did her best to obey God, to listen to God and to live for God.
Mary understood the path of faith.
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10 NIV
"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." - Hebrews 11:1 NIV
There were many times in her life that all Mary could do was to put all her faith and hope in the LORD God Almighty because she could not see the outcome of all the things that she, Joseph nor Jesus would have to endure. Out of her faith Mary knew that God would make a way. She knew that God would make a way even when others could not see a way. Is it little wonder that she asked Jesus to supply the miracle at the wedding of Cana? Mary not only had an attitude of humility she also had an attitude of faith. Mary not only believed that God could do the impossible she knew God could do the impossible. She knew that for her to experience the victory that God had for her in this life that she had to have great faith.
So, too do we need that same kind of faith today. Faith that believes that God still wants to do miracles in and through His people. Faith that not only believes it but will go before the LORD and say - Lord, whatever you want to do in and through me I am willing, ready and able.
III. I believe Mary was favored because of her agape love for God
If there was ever a person who knew how to live out the commandment - Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, thy soul and thy strength" it was this young lady Mary. Mary gave her body to the LORD, she gave her reputation to the LORD and she gave her future to the LORD.
Some people may say that Mary didn't actually know what she was doing. That she was totally aware of what she was saying. That when the angel appeared to her it was in a moment of awe and wonder that she quickly accepted the Lord's deal. Had she had time to reflect and think then she may have said "No, Lord pick someone else." Had she had time she would have refused God's assignment for her life.
St. Luke provides for us a little hint in this area. It has to do with that little word "handmaiden". For us Gentiles we may not see the full ramifications of that word but for a Jewish woman saying that word meant a great deal.
It meant more than just humility and meekness. It meant more than just serving someone, waiting on their every need. Any Jewish woman who had heard the stories of Hagar, Bilhah and Zilpah knew full well what that word meant.
A handmaiden was more than just a maid or a servant. A handmaiden was totally at the whim of the person who owned them. Hagar had no rights when it came to obeying Sarah and having a child with Abraham. The same was true of Bilhah and Zilpah when it came to Leah and Rachel and Jacob. None of these women controlled their own destinies. They were under the control of their master and mistress.
It is one thing to be someone handmaiden because that is your lot in life. You have been born into a life of slavery or out of some misfortune you find yourself a slave. It is quite another thing for a woman to volunteer to be a handmaiden for the LORD. It is quite a different thing for a woman or a man to tell the LORD from now on I am your slave - body, soul and mind.
It takes a heart filled with agape love to do such a thing. To turn their whole life over to the LORD to be used in whatever manner the LORD chooses.
2 Timothy 2:21 tells us:
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
In Jeremiah 18 we have the famous story of the Potter and the Clay. The clay is to be under the complete control of the potter. In Israel's case they had been clay but they had been rebellious clay. They had been clay that resisted the touch of the Lord.
In Mary's case and in others like Paul, Timothy, Barnabas, Priscilla, Dorcas, Mary Magdalene and a host of others they lived the life of obedient clay. They lived the life of clay that allowed itself to be filled with God's agape love. Clay that decided at some point that rather than build a kingdom for itself here on this earth that it would allow God to use it (them) to build His Kingdom here on this earth.
Mary so loved God that she gave herself to be God's chosen vessel to bring His Son into our world. Mary so loved God that she gave her body, her mind and her soul over to the LORD.
There is a song entitled "CHANGE MY HEART OH GOD". The words were written by a man by the name of Eddie Espinosa who in 1982 saw that even though he had walked with the LORD for a number of years he was not walking as closely as he could. He had become complacent and so one day he prayed this prayer to the LORD - "The only way that I can follow you is for you to change my appetite, the things that draw me away. You must change my heart!" Out of that prayer the words of this song came to be written down.
Change My Heart Oh God
Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You
Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You
You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray
Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You
This morning that song would be one that Mary would have liked. She knew what it meant to have her heart changed by the LORD. She knew what it meant to be meek and humble. She knew what it meant to life a life of faith and she knew what it meant to love the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY with all one's heart, mind and soul.
We would dishonor Mary if we were to say that the life she lived and the experience that she enjoyed with the LORD was only for a very few. For alongside of Mary are millions of people who have lived on our planet who have given to the LORD everything. For alongside of Mary are all those who are willing to repent of their sins, be baptized and filled with God's Holy Spirit.
Mary's walk was a daily walk of humility, of faith and of loving God. This Advent/Christmas Season Mary is a sign post of the life that we can all enjoy in Christ Jesus. Mary's life is a sign post for all of to know that we too can be one of the Lord's favored ones:
+Possessing a spirit of humility and meekness
+Possessing a life of faith - putting all our hopes in the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY
+Possessing a life of agape love - surrendering everything to the LORD
This morning as we close let's sing that song - CHANGE MY HEART OH GOD. And let's allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us and draw us closer to the LORD so that like Mary we too will have a spirit of humility and meekness, a life of faithfulness and a heart filled with God's Agape Love.
Closing Song/Open Altar