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THE LORD'S SERVANT - by Ted Schroder


By Ted Schroder
December 11, 2005

Sabine Baring-Gould, author of such hymns as Onward Christian Soldiers, also gave us the beautiful Basque carol,

"The angel Gabriel from heaven came,

his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;

'All hail,' said he, 'thou lowly maiden Mary,

most highly favored lady,' Gloria!"

Advent and Christmas is the season of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Over recent years her significance is being appreciated more and more, as we become more aware of the role of women in the Scriptures, and in the history of our salvation. St. Luke provides most of the material about the women in the life and ministry of Jesus.

Mary is seen to be the prototype of the whole Church, the original pattern from whom we are all cut. She is the first disciple of Jesus. She was the first to hear the Word of God about Jesus, and to respond in faith and obedience. "Mary was a disciple of Christ before she was his mother, for had she not believed, she would not have conceived." (Timothy George) The story of the Annunciation provides a pattern for our own hearing and responding to the Gospel.

Mary was directly addressed by God through his angel Gabriel. In his three salutations he reveals God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She reacts appropriately to each. Her reaction to the revelation of the Father is alarm. When God makes himself known to us our normal reaction is alarm. "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." It is hard for us to believe that we are highly favored. We would be shocked and in awe if we suddenly became aware that the Lord was with us. Our normal attitude is to believe that we are not highly favored by God, and to the contrary, that we are more likely to feel forgotten or overlooked by God than noted.

We can sympathize with Mary that she was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. What does this incident, this manifestation of God's presence, imply. What response is expected of her. What does God want of her? God doesn't just come calling without some expectation. His presence carries the implication that her world has suddenly and irrevocably changed and can never be the same again.

To be highly favored by God carries a price. Sometimes we would prefer to be below God's radar, to be unnoticed, to be left alone. Yet, all of us have been singled out for notice. We are all highly favored, God's chosen people, a holy nation, a people belonging to God called out of darkness into his wonderful light to worship and witness for him. (1 Peter 2:9)

Those who are highly favored have more expected of them than others. They carry the burden of dreams.

It is troubling to be put on the spot by God. It is disturbing, even upsetting and frightening, at the least disquieting, to be the center of God's attention. The spotlight is on me. I am in the bullseye. Something is expected of me. My heart is in my mouth. What next is going to happen?

She is reassured: "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God." It is revealed to her that she would bear God's Son, whose kingdom would be forever. What a prospect. Could she have had any inclination of what that would mean? I am sure she was asking - what are the implications of this message for my life? She cannot have known what it would have meant for her future. She could not have anticipated what would happen to her.

The same goes for us when we hear God's call to us to welcome his Son into our lives. There is no way we could anticipate what our commitment to receiving Jesus into our lives would lead to. There is no way we could foresee what would happen to us, where our life would lead us, what we would have to deal with, how we would cope with the challenges that will face us. Our future is always a mystery to which we are given clues to follow the directions that are given us, and the choices we will have to make. When I made my decision to receive Jesus and follow him I was only fourteen years of age. I had no idea where such a decision would take me. Mary would have been the same age when she was confronted with this momentous choice.

Her response is to ask what practical steps she must take to fulfill God's expectations. "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" - I have never done this before. Aren't you asking too much of me? Is not this impossible? When we read or hear what God wants us to do with our lives we wonder how it is possible. We are just ordinary people. We have no special qualifications for saving the world, let alone ourselves. We feel our weaknesses, our inadequacies, our limitations.

All too often we accept lower expectations of ourselves than is possible. We denigrate our creation, we demean God's gifts, we discount our potential, we deny what God can do with us and through us. In doing so we shortchange the purpose of God.

The angel answers her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you....For nothing is impossible with God." Human inability is checkmated by divine ability. Human ignorance ("How will this be?") is answered by divine wisdom. Human weakness is overcome by divine power. The power of creation, the Spirit of God hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2), makes all things out of nothing. When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you are empowered to do all things necessary. When the power of the Most High overshadows you then you can do what seems impossible.

What seems impossible in your life? If a young virgin can conceive and have a divine child, then anything in your life and mine is possible. While it is normally practical to be realistic about what we can do in life, and what we should learn to accept that cannot be changed by us, that does not mean that God cannot do the extraordinary if he chooses. The story of the Gospel is the story of the transformation of men and women, and in the process, the changing of world history. The first disciples of Jesus were poor, unskilled, uneducated, famine-stricken, undistinguished folk born of undistinguished stock, and yet God used them to change the world. John Chrysostom, preaching in the fourth century described how God took the improbable and turned it into astounding success.

"When the one preaching is unskilled and poor and undistinguished, and the message preached not alluring, and the ones hearing it poor and weak and nobodies, and the dangers continuous and unremitting for both teachers and disciples, and the one being proclaimed a victim of crucifixion, what caused it to conquer? Is it not clear that it was some divine and ineffable power?"

What happened to Mary and the other disciples seems an impossible achievement. God used an insignificant girl to assist in the transformation of the world. She who was totally unknown became the most famous lady in the history of the world, venerated by millions for her role in salvation.

"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

The message that "nothing is impossible with God" needs to be heard when we have loved ones who reject the Lord, and do not believe. Can the Holy Spirit come upon them, and the power of the Most High overshadow them too? Can God transform our children's lives and bring them to a living faith?

God can do the extraordinary if he chooses. The recent movie, Walk The Line, featuring the story of Johnny Cash, reminds us how God can do the impossible He was seriously addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates, and even attempted suicide. But for God, by his grace, doing the impossible in his life, "his might have been yet another tragic tale of one who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for stardom." (Mark D. Linville in Touchstone, December 2005)

Anne Rice, author of Interview with the Vampire, and other darkly themed books that have sold more than 75 million copies, is now writing about Christ, the light of the world. She says that "the Lord came looking for me. Everywhere I turned, I found images of the Lord and his love." Who would have thought it possible for the literary queen of darkness, the demonic, pornography and erotica, to become the Lord's servant? Rice remembers that she was in church talking to the Lord, saying, 'I want everything I do to be for you. Then it hit me: 'It will be for you. All of it. Every word.' She said that in her future writing, "I'm not offering agnostic explanations about Jesus. He is real, He worked miracles. He is the Son of God." After much research she is treating the New Testament accounts as history - she really believes that the angel came to Mary. (Cindy Crosby, Christianity Today, December 2005) Nothing is impossible with God.

In response to the promise of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, Mary consents to be the vessel of God. "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." If the Lord can make it happen, then I am willing. Let it happen. I am willing to be the God-bearer. Mary is the daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son, and the vessel of the Holy Spirit. And so it is with the whole Church. The Church does not speculate: she worships and obeys, and opens her womb to the Spirit. She brings forth Christ in the world. She reproduces the life of God in human form.

God's saving purpose requires the willingness of a servant to bear his life. Mary is the example to emulate. This is why she is blessed among women. How can we follow her example and bear the life of Christ today? How can we be the Lord's servant?

First, listen to the messengers, the angels, in your life. Hear what God is saying to you.

Second, when you hear the message, ask the right questions in return. Ask the 'how' questions. Seek for further guidance. Learn to pray for directions and assurance.

Third, make yourself available. 'May it be to me as you have said. Lord, use me'

An audio version of this sermon may be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island, Florida.

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