Given at Gordon Chapel by Jeff Lowndes on 25 Dec 16
We hear special words in The Christmas Story- you may know them by heart – and we’ll hear and use them later.
Joseph is told not to be afraid, that Mary would bear a child to be named Emmanuel (‘God with us’), and he should still take her as his wife – Joseph obeyed! Mary gives us the glorious and moving Magnificat we enjoy, especially at Evensong.
But I want to concentrate on the conversation between the Angel Gabriel and Mary. Gabriel said ‘Greetings favoured one – the Lord is with you’ and ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God’.
Then she gave that wonderful response, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word’. Amazing – can you imagine a teenage girl these days being so co-operative?
This happened over 2,000 yrs ago – to a very special young woman in a different time and place – that is true. You may think that it has little to do with us here and now – and that is not true at all.
Gabriel did appear to Mary, and only she would be the mother of the Lord. But – listen to the angel’s words again and ask yourself – could those words have meaning for me ? ‘Greetings, favoured one – The Lord is with you’. Surely those words are meant for you and me too. Whilst we will never be the mother (or father) of the Messiah, God does favour each of us.
We are His people in a special way – He made us with a purpose in mind. God may not call us to do something great and dramatic. It doesn’t matter what He asks us to do – whether it’s a great or humble thing. He calls each of us to some special need or action – a calling that may remain unfulfilled if we don’t respond – but one that will leave the world a better place if we do. Live your life in faith, and God will honour that by doing some important, wonderful work through you.
It may be that there is someone here who is, or who will become, a tireless worker for the church and community, someone who loves their church, (priests, sacristans, administrators, fund raisers, musicians, tea makers and many more). And we must include those faithful members who encourage us simply by their attendance week after week.
Someone may become, through you, even in their maturity, a minister – a leader in the church or an inspiration for others. You may encourage a child who will become special – perhaps another Nelson Mandela or Bishop Mark. Perhaps a pillar of their community – a blessing to all who come in contact with them. Who influenced some of those great Christians – who will you influence – what effect will you have?
It’s possible that your calling may simply be to bring a child to know the Lord – you may do this as a parent, neighbour, teacher or friend. Or it may simply be to show kindness and give hope to the lonely, sick and homeless, the refugee and the prisoner. You may have talent to show in music, dance or words, what it means to be a Christian.
Listen again and believe that these words are intended for you. The angel is saying to Mary and to you “ Greetings, favoured one – the Lord is with you”.
It may be a fearful thing to be in the presence of God, but we need not be afraid for God is with us – not against us. He loves us and is willing to forgive when we go wrong – he shows mercy – it is in his nature. So, perhaps the question is – do we reflect that nature too?
‘Do not be afraid’ – said to Mary and the Shepherds – we need to hear those words. We go through life fearing many things, most of which never happen. We are all afraid at times, and it is then that we must hold on and hear again the words of the Angel so that Jesus will become real to us as we call upon him.
‘Do not be afraid’. Churches too need to hear those words. Often they cannot find the courage to act – to do new things – it takes great faith to do great things – we are the church – but so often we wait and wait and wait until we feel that the time is right – and by then it may be too late – the moment has passed. It’s true that we need to be good stewards – but we must believe the angel and not be frozen into ‘doing what we have always done, or live in fear of what others may say”.
A frightened Mary could have opted out and said no, but when the angel told her what would happen to her, she asked that important question – ‘How can this be since I am a virgin’?
She was satisfied with that great answer in the angel’s closing words “ nothing will be impossible with God’ and today we give thanks for her obedience and faith as we celebrate that miracle – the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now – when you hear me say those words, I want you to repeat them after me when I indicate to you, and to help seal them into our hearts and minds let’s say them now. ‘The Angel said that’ – indicate reply * ‘Nothing will be impossible with God’.
Do you believe it? Surely we must believe that if God wants to do something important through our own life, then he can and will do it. He may not need us to be brilliant or eloquent, or a super achiever – but he can still use us. ‘The Angel said that’ – * ‘Nothing will be impossible with God’.
If we try to live faithfully, God will accomplish something wonderful through us, and He can do that in spite of our failings – our limitations – our sins.
We may be very ordinary people – but it doesn’t matter. We may be young or old, or shy and reserved – but that doesn’t matter. And the reason it doesn’t matter, is because God doesn’t depend on our power and ability or anything else – it’s we who depend upon God. Because – ‘The Angel said that’ * ‘Nothing will be impossible with God’.
If we walk faithfully with God, then he will do something important through our lives and we may not even be aware of it – a bit like the butterfly effect! We may not even know about it until we get to heaven. So, hold on to the Angel’s words and believe them – for they are as true now, as they were for Mary.
Mary is a great example of faith, humility and obedience and she believed the Angel. She responded to God by saying “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”. What a response – and it made all the difference. So, let us like Mary, make our own response. But this time when I say ‘Here I am Lord” the response is ‘Let it be with me’. “Here I am Lord’ * ‘Let it be with me’.
If Mary had not had that kind of spirit, we’d never have heard of her. God didn’t need a brilliant or beautiful woman – just a faithful woman – and that is what he found in Mary. That was all that God needed from her – and that is all that God needs from us – so we can confidently say: “here I am Lord’ * ‘Let it be with me’.
Has God been tugging at your heart to do something special, nudged you in a certain direction – challenged you to make a change in your life? Have you heard that still small voice. If you want to do what God asks of you – pray for help and guidance and answer as Mary did: “here I am Lord’ * ‘Let it be with me’.
If you do that, God will make something of your life. He may not make you famous, or rich, or give you an easy life. But you can be sure that God will give you a blessed life – a life that blesses those who know you, those touched by you, and even those you may never know in this life. Like Mary, you will be blessed when you can say: “here I am Lord’ * ‘Let it be with me’
“Here am I” – that is all that God needs from us – our willing heart – our willing hands – our life of faith. As we prepare to share in the gifts of bread and wine in the Eucharist this morning, let us give thanks for all the gifts we have received in our lives.
And on this special day let us give thanks for the baby Jesus – all that he was, all that he is, and all that he will be for us.
May I now on this Christmas Day, invite you to give a gift to God – to give him the gift of yourself – “here I am Lord’ * ‘Let it be with me’.