Summary: This sermon gives encouragement for facing difficult times.

Have you ever faced a difficult time? Your difficult time could be: the loss of a job, death of a family member, a relationship problem with another person, disease in your family, a problem at work. All of us face difficult times. Some of these times are emotional, some are spiritual, some are physical and some are financial. The challenge is finding the courage to face difficult times. Where do we turn?

I want to use one of the very familiar parts of the Christmas story to find encouragement for difficult times. Look at Luke 1:26-30. “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’’ But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (NKJV)

When this message was shared with Mary she faced a difficult time. Initially she did not know what to do. She faced the fear of people’s rejection. She faced an uncertain future. She faced ridicule. What should she do? God gave her courage and direction to face this difficulty. God knows when we face difficulties, trials and tests. Not only does he know, he wants to encourage us during such times. Look at the encouraging news he shared with Mary as she received the startling news that she, a virgin, would give birth to the Son of God. Initially this news was unsettling to Mary. In verse 30 we read that Mary was “troubled.” That phrase is translated in various ways. The Living Bible says she was “confused and disturbed.” The New Revised Standard says she was “perplexed.” The NKJV says she was “troubled.” Regardless of how you say it, she was facing a difficult time.

Ill- I read about the mother of four young boys who often had difficulty curbing their energy, especially in church. But when her minister preached on "turning the other cheek," the boys gave him their undivided attention. “No matter what others do to us,” he said, “we should never try to ‘get even.’” That afternoon the youngest boy came into the house crying. Between sobs he said he’d kicked one of his brothers, who then kicked him in return. "I’m sorry you’re hurt," his mother said. "But you shouldn’t go around kicking people." Still choking back tears, he replied, "But the preacher said he isn’t supposed to kick me back." That little fellow needed encouragement during that difficult time.

[Jane Vajnar, Tampa, Kansas. "Lite Fare," Christian Reader.]

(Contributed to Sermon Central by Mary Lewis)

God gave Mary courage to face this difficult time. I want you to notice three encouraging words the angel of God shared with her: “The Lord is with you”; “Do not be afraid”; and “you have found favor with God“. I want to look at those phrases individually. It may be that one or all three will be just what you need to hear from God.

Look at the first phrase: “The Lord is with you.” That is the essence of faith. God is not some uncaring, far off and distant God. He cares about you! He loves you! He knows when you are going through difficult times.

Many believers, we read about in the Bible, had the confidence that God was with them.

-David as he faced Goliath

-Gideon as he was called to lead (Judges 6:12)

-Strugglers who go through the valley of death Ps. 23:4

-Sometimes we may feel alone.

Example: Standing at the grave side of a

loved one

-Sometimes you may stand alone.

Example: At work you may be seen as the bad

guy…enforcing discipline and rules.

-Sometimes people may disappoint you.

Example: A mate who divorces you

Consider the verse “If God be for us, who can be against us.” Rom. 8:31

Ill- Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed from the neck down while still a teenager, wrote, "You don’t have to be alone in your hurt! Comfort is yours. Joy is an option. And it’s all been made possible by your Savior. He went without comfort so you might have it. He postponed joy so you might share in it. He willingly chose isolation so you might never be alone in your hurt and sorrow.

(Joni Eareckson Tada, Christian Reader, Vol. 32,no. 2. Contributed to Sermon Central by Mark Beaird)

What will the assurance of God’s presence do for you?

1. It will give you new confidence.

Ill- The story is told of a wonderful, elderly, christian lady. She had very little money and lived in a rundown house, but she was always praising the Lord. Her only problem was with the old man who lived next door. He was always trying to prove to her that there was no God. One day, as the old man was walking by her house, he noticed the woman through an open window. She was kneeling down in prayer, so he crept over to the window to see if he could hear. She was praying, " Lord, you’ve always given me what I’ve needed." She prayed. "And now you know that I don’t have any money, and I’m completely out of groceries, and I won’t get another check for a week." She continued, "somehow, Lord, can you get me some groceries." The man had heard all he needed. He crept away from the window and ran down to the grocery store. He bought milk, bread, and lunchmeat. He ran back to the woman’s house carrying the groceries. He set the bag down on by her door, rang the doorbell, and hid beside of the house. You can

imagine how the woman reacted to seeing the bag of groceries. She threw her hands over head and began praising the Lord. "Thank you Jesus," she shouted. "I was without food and you provided the groceries." About that time the old man jumped out and said, "I’ve got you now." She was too busy shouting thank yous to Jesus to pay any attention. "I told you there was no God," the old man said, " it wasn’t Jesus who gave you those groceries it was me." "Oh no," the woman said. "Jesus got me these groceries and made the devil pay for them." She had the right attitude. She was confident of God’s provision.

(Contributed to Sermon Central by Larry Butcher)

2. It will give you new courage. The word encourage means to give courage.

Ill- In Stockholm, Sweden, a woman was injured as she rushed to catch a streetcar. She stumbled in front of the moving car and was caught beneath it. The police sent for a crane to lift the car off her body. While waiting for the crane a crowd of people gathered. One man pushed through the crowd, crawled beneath the car, and said to her, "Take my hand." As she took his hand she felt warmth and courage . This calmed her and prevented her from going into shock. After the crane arrived and the woman was released, she said, "I never thought an outstretched hand could mean so much." God wants to do the same for you.

(Contributed to Sermon Central by Bruce Howell)

Notice the second phrase “Do not be afraid.” Mary had every reason to be afraid. She faced the fear of ridicule by the public. She faced the fear of rejection by her fiance. She faced skeptics who would doubt her story.

The Bible is filled with “fear not” passages. The Bible literally has hundreds of “fear not” passages.

- See Gen. 21:17

- See Is. 43:5

- See Lk. 1:13

- See Lk. 2:10

Why does the Bible discourage fear?

1. Fear paralyzes.

- Fear will stop you from sharing your faith with other people.

- Fear will stop you from using your gifts in serving God.

Harry Emerson Fosdick said “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable—and, most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.”

2. Fear creates paranoia.

A German Proverb says “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”

Ill- A legend from India tells about a mouse that was terrified of cats until a magician agreed to transform him into a cat. That resolved his fear…until he met a dog, so the magician changed him into a dog. The mouse-turned-cat-turned-dog was content until he met a tiger-so, once again; the magician changed him into what he feared. But when the tiger came complaining that he had met a hunter, the magician refused to help. “I will make you into a mouse again, for though you have the body of a tiger, you still have the heart of a mouse.”

(Contributed to Sermon Central by: David Yarbrough)

The third phrase is, “you have found favor with God.” This phrase teaches the truth of God’s grace. To be in God’s favor means you are in God’s grace. In Mary’s situation it meant that Mary had been shown grace by God. God chose her to be the earthly mother of His son. It was not because of her merit but because of God’s grace that she was chosen. There are some people who want to elevate Mary to sainthood because of her role. In fact, I read in a magazine (several years ago) that some people want to elevate Mary to the same stature as Jesus. That contradicts the divine nature of Jesus. He is the only begotten Son of God. The grace of God means God does the choosing. It is His sovereign choice that chooses us and not the other way around.

Jerry Bridges said “Our worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

Ill- Billy Graham, the great evangelist, tells of driving through a small southern town and being stopped by a policeman and being charged with speeding. Graham admitted his quilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court. The judge asked, "Guilty, or not guilty?" When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, "That’ll be ten dollars -- a dollar for every mile you went over the limit." Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. "You have violated the law," he said. "The fine must be paid--but I am going to pay it for you." The judge took a ten dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Graham out and bought him a steak dinner! And Billy Graham used that illustration in his sermons to explain God’s grace. That is how God treats us as repentant sinners! He paid for our sins with his son and now we get to dine with him in heaven.

(Contributed to Sermon Central by Aaron Burgess)

As you face difficulties God will be with you, he will comfort you amid your fears and he will be gracious to you. What does he want you to do today?