Third Sunday in Advent December 14, 1997
55, 61, 343, 45
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Here ends our text.
In the Name of the Christ Child, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Is it true that “good things come to those who wait?”
I recall one evening, while the Gulf War was going on, watching a news broadcast from Saudi Arabia. They were interviewing American soldiers about the hardships of life in the desert. “What’s the hardest thing about serving in the Middle East?” one soldier was asked. “Is it the heat? The hard work? The danger of possible combat?” His reply was surprising. “It’s the waiting,” he said. “That’s the hardest thing of all.”
For us Christians, the Advent season is a period of waiting. We’re waiting for Christmas, when we can celebrate with joy the gift of the Christ Child. -But that waiting is mostly symbolic, since our Savior’s first coming actually happened centuries ago in history. In a more real sense, we’re also waiting for the second coming of our Savior, on Judgment Day. And waiting can be so difficult! But as Mary found out, the Lord has provided great comfort for those who wait. This morning’s theme is:
Earlier, we stood with Zacharias at the altar of incense in the great Temple at Jerusalem. Today the Holy Spirit takes us to a very different setting, many miles to the north. We find ourselves in the small Galilean farming community of Nazareth. In one particular house in this town, a young woman named Mary sits by herself, thinking. Perhaps she’s thinking over the day’s activities; she might very well be making plans for her wedding day, which is coming up. All of a sudden these mundane thoughts are dramatically interrupted, when an angel—of all things!—appears in her room. The angel Gabrielcame in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
Mary reacted predictably to the appearance of the angel: she was scared stiff. She was just as afraid as Zacharias had been, when the angel appeared to him in the temple in Jerusalem. For that matter, what about those shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks on Christmas Eve? Did they clap their hands with joy when the angel of the Lord appeared to them? Not right away, they didn’t—at first they were scared out of their wits! “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid!” —Lk 2:9.
Mary’s fear is quite understandable. Fear is the natural reaction of the human to the Divine. When Peter saw Jesus use His divine power to perform a miracle, “…he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’” —Lk 5:8. Have you known that kind of fear? When you come face to face with Almighty God in His Ten Commandments, how does it make you feel? Confident—or afraid? When you look back over your life, are you happy with the way you’ve been serving the Lord? Examine your stewardship of God’s gifts—your time, talents and money; how much have you given back to the Lord for everything He’s given you? Here’s something that’s easy to do: get out your calculator and divide your yearly church contributions by your gross annual income—will that percentage be impressive? Or will it be pitiful?
You know, like Mary, you and I will one Day find ourselves suddenly confronted with the divine…and it won’t be just God’s angel, either! We’re waiting for our Lord Jesus Himself to arrive back on earth in Judgment. Must we tremble with fear at the prospect of that meeting? God’s Holy Law shows us our own unworthiness only too clearly, as Paul says, “The Scripture has confined all under sin…”
But thank God the Apostle doesn’t stop there! “The Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” —Gal 3:22. The message God brings us this Christmas is not a message of judgment and condemnation, but a message of comfort!
Humble Mary was frightened by the appearance of the angel. But Gabriel soon comforted her. He had wonderful news! Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Mary, too, was a sinner. And yet, the angel told her that she had found favor with God. He comforted her with the assurance that the Savior of the world would soon arrive, and that He would be the Child of her womb! This was the event that pious Jews like Mary and Joseph and Zacharias had been waiting for for centuries: the coming of the promised Messiah, the Son of David so long foretold. Now, finally, the waiting was over. Now the days were fulfilled for the Redeemer to appear. The Holy Spirit would be His divine father, and—thrilling news!—Mary would be His human mother. His name would be Jesus, or “The Lord Saves”, because He would save His people from their sins. But most comforting of all to Mary was the fact that the Child she would bear would be her own personal Savior. Through Him, Mary herself would find eternal freedom from her sins!
The time had arrived, and the difficult waiting was over. Sin and fear and guilt was being replaced with comfort and joy and hope. My Christian friends, the comforting Good News of the angel is for you, as well. It’s not for nothing that we sing, at this season, “Good Christian men, rejoice! Now raise to heaven your voice!” Unlike the unbelieving world around us, we’ve got something real to rejoice about! That Baby born in Bethlehem is God’s brilliant answer to the problem of our sins—yours and mine. Yes, we’ve failed to serve the Lord as we should; we’ve disobeyed Him time and again, leaving every commandment broken in our wake. But what we couldn’t accomplish for ourselves, Jesus accomplished for us. As we read in Romans, “What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son.” —Rom 8:3. Jesus kept the Law perfectly, in our place. This righteousness He gives to us. Our sins He takes from us, and covers them with the blood He shed on Calvary’s cross.
In the manger of Bethlehem we see a wonderful Gift from God. That gift brings the greatest comfort we could ever have—the comfort of God’s pardon and acceptance. Through the prophet Isaiah, we hear our Heavenly Father say, “Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned.” —Isa 40:1-2. The comfort of that Gift, I think you’ll agree, was well worth the wait!
Do you remember waiting for Christmas as a child? I sure do. Like other children, I looked forward to the gift-giving and festivities of that day so much that it seemed like it would never get here! Once again this year, we’re waiting, joyfully, for Christmas to arrive. But the best Gift of all has already been opened—the gift of God’s Son. He is our justification, and our eternal life. So let us wait, with equal joy, for the second coming of our Savior to earth. On that Day we’ll finally see clearly the full comfort that is ours through Jesus Christ. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.