Summary: God’s ways are not our ways. God has plans for our lives that surprise us all.
Sermon for Advent 4, Yr B 22/12/2002
Based on Lk 1:26-38
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
One grim winter day in 1754, Horace Walpole was reading a Persian fairy tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip.” The story touched him, and writing to his friend Horace Mann, he told of the thrilling approach to life he had discovered from the tale. The ancient story told of three princes from the island of Ceylon, which was originally called Serendip, who set out on a pursuit of great treasures. The princes never found what they searched for, but en route they were continually surprised by unanticipated delights. While looking for one thing, they found another.
Using the original name of the island, Serendip, Walpole coined the word serendipity. From that day on, Walpole’s most significant and valuable experiences were those that happened to him when he least expected them.
Serendipity occurs when something beautiful breaks into the normal routine of our lives, bringing new vitality and joy. It is all so totally unexpected, and because of it, life would never be the same again.
Our God is a god of serendipities, doing new things, often at times when we least expect them. Our lives might be in a rut or we might be frustrated and worn out from some difficult turns our lives may have taken. Then suddenly, often quite unexpectedly, a new thing happens, and it changes our lives forever. 1
In today’s first lesson and gospel, we learn of God’s serendipity. We learn that God’s ways are not our ways. As Christians reading these ancient biblical texts centuries after the fact; we bow in awe at how God works in ways that humans do not understand or expect. I’m sure if David were with us again in our age and we were to interview him; he’d be profoundly baffled and amazed by the manner in which God worked to fulfill the promise that David’s house, kingdom and throne would be forever! Most likely the prophet Nathan, who spoke those words of the LORD to David, would also be rather surprised at how God worked to fulfill that ancient promise.
Then there’s Mary in today’s gospel. This young woman--most likely a teenager at the time of the Annunciation--Mary, living out in small town Nazareth, betrothed (engaged) to Joseph the carpenter; is totally taken by surprise, as God’s messenger Gabriel speaks directly to her one day. The messenger shocks her nearly to death by telling her that she is God’s favoured one; she is going to give birth to the Messiah; she is going to name him Jesus (in Hebrew, Joshua or Jeshua, meaning “God will save”)! If we were to interview Mary today, and ask her whether this was part of her plan; whether she was expecting such a visitor, with such a message, do you think, for even one second, that she’d answer us with a “Yes”? I DON’T THINK SO! Mary, like Nathan the prophet and David centuries before her, came to realise and learn that GOD’S WAYS ARE NOT OUR WAYS.
When God revealed the ancient prophecy to Nathan and David, God did not have in mind a literal house, kingdom and throne of David! God did not mean political, economic, social wealth, power and status. Historically, David’s successors did not last that long; they were vulnerable to the worldly powers of the ancient Near East; losing their house, kingdom and throne; either put to death; or captured and taken into exile to live and die as slaves or at best servants of their enemies. God’s ancient prophecy would not be fulfilled completely in David’s time or during the time of his children or grandchildren. Rather, the ancient prophecy was a reference to God’s Messiah, who would come into the world at God’s appointed time in history centuries later; when Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph was born; would grow up in small town Nazareth; would be baptized by cousin John; would then begin his earthly ministry of teaching, preaching and healing; would then lay down his life on the cross for all of humankind (past, present, and future); would be raised by God from death; would then rule over heaven and earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords forever. What a surprise that was to Mary! What a surprise that is even to us today! God’s ways are not our ways! Wow, what a surprise! Do we expect it? Do we believe it? Do we trust that God’s ancient promise is true? Thanks to God’s messenger, the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God, yes, we do! That’s one reason why we’re here today, is it not?
But what of God’s ways not being the same as our ways? Have there not been times and situations in our lives too like Nathan and David and Mary? I know there have been in my life. For example, if someone had asked me a couple of years ago if I would be the chaplain at South Ridge Village and the pastor of Grace Lutheran; I’d likely have answered them in the negative, and say something like: “I don’t think so.” Or at best, I’d have said: “That’s news to me!” God’s ways are not our ways. God calls the strangest people; speaks the most surprising messages to them; and asks them to do the most unexpected things. At first, we, like Mary, tend to respond by being perplexed; by becoming overwhelmed or afraid. We, like Mary, may also be sceptical: “How can this be, since I’m a virgin?” Or we, again perhaps like Mary, may wish God would not choose us for such an unplanned, surprising future. After all, we are “creatures of habit,” some of us schedule our lives to the nth degree, and take great delight in it; giving us a sense of control and self-worth! But still, even today, God’s ways are not our ways. He has special plans for each one of us--including you and me!