Title: Faith to Endure Our Blessings
Text: Luke 1:26 – 38, 48 – 56
MP: It takes faith to endure our blessings
Sometimes it requires faith to endure our blessings.
If that sounds odd, maybe it is because we do not fully appreciate what it means to truly be blessed. It is easy to assume that blessings mean houses that are full of family, trees overflowing with gifts, and bank accounts that will recover come January. But those are simply the trappings of success. Let’s face it, we rarely think of the Christmas bonus as a blessing – it is nothing more but one more thing we think we’ve earned.
No, blessings are completely unwarranted. There is no path to blessing. It is merely the fortunate result of God’s desire to deem us fortunate. Often that takes traditional forms. But not always. I wonder how blessings come wrapped not in gold paper but pink slips.
I can now say that one of the biggest blessing of my life so far was being “separated” from Coopers & Lybrand many years back. I doubt many of us would want a pink slip wrapped up in a pretty bow, but I can see now how blessed I am by being set free from that treadmill.
I had worked there for over seven years. In one two month period I had been promoted from associate to senior associate to manager. And, I was earning good money. My clients liked me. And midway through that job I even married truly the best woman that God ever fashioned.
Maybe that was the problem – I realized that as good as that job was: Susan was better. I no longer wanted to work the 200 hours per two weeks that I did not once but on three separate occasions in a two month period. In the first six months I was married, I spent 19 days not in Detroit. That Christmas, I received a Christmas card not from the generic Marriott hotel chain but rather from the Detroit Romulus Marriott itself. After Christmas was over and I was back in the hotel, the woman who delivered my room service remarked – I was wondering where you had been. It’s been a week since someone ordered the Caesar salad and a jug of lemonade.
If that job was a blessing, it was one that I could not indefinitely endure. And so, when I got that pink slip, I recognized it for what it was – it was truly a blessing from God. Two months later I was in seminary. Seven months later I was working at a higher salary and half the hours in my current job. I had been suckered into thinking that God couldn’t bless me more. Oh was I wrong.
Blessings are not things that necessarily make you happy – but they are things that show you are fortunate. They show that you have received a good thing from a good person whom you will never pay back. But do not assume that good and happy have to go together. In this Christmas season, we are in a time of blessing – but if you limit yourself only to the happy, you may be missing out on recognizing the great gifts your father has already given you.
In this morning’s text, we have just such a situation. Mary was a young girl – probably only about 12 years old. Last week, Emma All read the part of Mary in the Middleburg Canata, and I caught myself thinking, you know – Mary probably wasn’t much older than Emma. She was a young girl, and she was about to blessed beyond belief.
But I have to wonder, if I had been Mary, could I have endured such blessing? Understand that the Bible is perfectly clear – Mary was a young girl who had never had sex. And yet, somehow, she got pregnant. Now I believe wholeheartedly in the virgin birth. But understand this as well: Gabriel only ever told two people about this – Mary and Joseph.
I think Homer Simpson [Season 17: Christmas Stories] nailed what must have been Joseph’s reaction. A pregnant virgin? That’s every man’s worst nightmare!
As far as anyone else was concerned, Mary was just another unwed teenage mother. For anyone other than a member of the Britney Spears’ family that’s pretty much a one-way ticket to poverty and a permanent space in last place.
If that had been me receiving the news, the word ‘blessing’ would not have been the first off my lips.
But you know – there’s something about Mary. She really is blessed among women. Indeed, when we’ve been there 10,000 years, our King of Kings will still only call one woman ‘Mom.’ With those eyes, and only with eyes, can we really see how much of a blessing that little baby was.
You see, it is precisely those eyes that let us endure our blessings. It requires eyes of faith to see that the blessings of our God do not come gift wrapped in Gucci bags or with a receipt to Best Buy. I’d argue that the greatest blessings recorded in Scripture are ones that we’d be tempted to leave under the tree.
Take Genesis 12:1-3, the great blessing that God pronounced on Abram. Through you, God declares, all the nations would be blessed. We’ve traced that blessing over the course of this month – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth – stories not very likely to be turned into a Hallmark special. Even Abram himself only received this blessing after losing his home.
And how is that anyone could see the cross – see the suffering and shame of our savior, and think, ‘blessing?’ And yet, is not the salvation that he won for us on that cross the most amazing blessing we will ever have?
It all seems so backwards – so upside down – that trials and loss are but the seed of blessings. But in the end that shouldn’t surprise me. In an upside-down world, things necessarily must be flipped in order to be turned right side up.
You see it in Mary’s pray so clearly – He feeds those who have been hungry, he lifts up those in lowly estate. Everything is changing, thank God! Indeed, He rises up and he calls me blessed. I have found favor with God, even in what seems to be the worst of circumstance.
I tell you this, this morning, because I know that many of you are in “lowly estate” this morning.
More than one family is in a situation that is driving you crazy this morning. But as I’ve had to remind even myself in the last few months, [Psalm 127] says that children are a blessing from the Lord. You know deep in your heart that your children and your step-children and your grandchildren are a blessing, pray for the faith to endure it.
In the last month I’ve seen close friends back in medical situations that tear out my heart. And yet I also know [2 Cor 12:9] that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Paul writes that he boasts in his weakness, because that is when God shows himself most strong. I am not saying that your illnesses and your failing bodies are a blessing – but I can tell you that the gift of God is his presence even in your bad health.
And, I know that I’m still trying to understand God’s will and desire for the future. But you know what – I don’t need to understand, I need only answer as Mary did: Lord, in all things, let be according to your word. It’s amazing what power there is to be had in allowing his blessings to be according to his word.
I may not understand that these trials are actually blessings waiting to be revealed. I need only have the faith to know that God himself is working all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [Romans 8:28]
Indeed, with God nothing is impossible.
You may have overheard the exchange between the cynical rabbi and his disciple. The disciple was explaining to the assembled crowd that the Jews were the Chosen people. The cynical master chimed in, “Sometimes we wish he would pick on someone else for a change.”
There is a truth in there that I think will help us to understand the birth of Jesus. Let’s face it. Every Christmas, the star seems a little brighter, the messy stables a bit cleaner, and the baby Jesus somehow becomes that much more tame. But if we are honest to the text, we would understand the blessing of Jesus’ birth was, as the Queen of England famously mused, not an “undiluted pleasure.”
Think about Mary if you will. Here she is – probably a twelve year old, unmarried girl, and she’s pregnant. Mary was young, alone, afraid, and pregnant. Now, I will defend the doctrine of the Virgin Birth 100%. The Scripture is pretty clear: Jesus was born of a woman who had been with no man but God.
But you have to remember, none of Mary’s friends had an angel explain to them that she had been blessed by God. No, as far as the little village of Nazareth was concerned, she was just one of “those” girls who couldn’t wait, and no she was paying the price.
And yet, in spite of the circumstance, Mary really does know something that is amazing. She has been blessed in a way that no woman before or since would ever be blessed. It took amazing faith to understand and accept this miracle from God. That calm assurance that comes from seeing things God’s way is the only means by which we will ever learn to endure our blessings.
Long Branch Baptist Church
Halfway, Virginia; est. 1786
Sunday, December 23rd, 2007
Enter to Worship
Prelude David Witt
Advent Reading Isa 7:10 – 16
Invocation Michael Hollinger
*Opening Hymn #250
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
Welcome & Announcements
“One Small Child”
*Christmas Hymn Sing
“Count Your Blessings”
Offertory Mr. Witt
Praise God from whom all blessings flow / Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise him above, ye heavenly host / Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
*Scripture Luke 1:26-38, 48-56
“Mary: Faith to Endure Our Blessings”
Invitation Hymn #139
“Great is Thy Faithfulness”
May the grace of Christ our Savior / And the Father’s boundless love
With the Holy Spirit’s favor / Rest upon us from above. Amen.
* Congregation, please stand.
Depart To Serve
Ask a sign of the Lord your God: let it be as deep as hell or as high as heaven!
But Ahaz said, ‘I will not put the Lord to the test!’
And he said, ‘Hear then, O House of David! Is it too little for you to weary men that you weary God as well? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you this sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
This morning we light the candle of the presence of God.
His name is called Immanuel, God with us. He is in our hearts; he is in this place; He will never leave us; He will never forsake us.
Martha Puryear, Susan Schulz, Warren Lee, Brandi Rector & daughter, Irene Griffith, Cory Keely, Larry Morrison, Debbie Morris, the Garretts,
Jeff Coleman, Zane, Bruce, Steve, Long Branch
MEDITATION IN TIMES OF TRIAL
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
2 Corinthians 12:8 – 10
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
5 …He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
LUKE 1:26 – 38, 46 – 56
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.