Jesus - A New Hope 4
Passage: Luke 1:26–1:38
It’s finally here! Some of us have been waiting a long time for it, we’ve seen signs of its coming, we’ve speculated what we would get. And here it is. And of course, no duh, you see what I’m doing here, you know I’m talking about the Last Jedi. Anyone already go see it?Well for the last few weeks we have been seeing how the stories in Star Wars can help us understand the meaning of the story of Advent. And each week I’ve gone on a little deep dive into the plot of different movies. Fear not, I’m not going to talk about the plot of the Last Jedi. There will be no spoilers here.
Instead there’s a different story I want to tell. A larger story about God’s attempts to save and redeem humanity. And what that means for us, for our lives, and for the Christmas we are about to celebrate.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God made humanity in God’s own image and breathed into us the breath of life. God placed Adam and Eve in a garden to live in perfect relationship with God, with each other, and with the rest of creation. There was one rule to ensure that this harmony would remain intact: don’t eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Adam and Eve, tempted by a serpent to be like God themselves, ate the fruit of that tree and their relationship with God, with each other, and with creation were thrown into disorder. They were expelled from the garden and things got progressively worse. Cain kills Abel. Sin and discord reign. So God decides its time for an Edit Undo. A Control Z if you will. God decides he will flood the earth. But he notices a man named Noah who exhibits proper righteousness and he saves Noah and his family through the Ark. Afterwards God promises that God will never again destroy the earth and makes a covenant with humanity.
Covenant becomes the new way that God relates to humanity. God makes promises. God makes deals. God makes contracts. God tells Abraham he will make a great nation out of him. And the nation of Israel becomes God’s special chosen people. Israel wind up living in Egypt after a famine drives them there. And after a while the children of Israel become slaves of the Egyptians.
But God hears the cry of His children. He hears their agony, He hears them calling out in pain. And God springs into action to bring about the deliverance of His people. God now enters history in order to save God’s people. God saves a baby Moses through the tragedy of genocide. God calls Moses to be his messenger to Pharaoh. God causes plagues to happen so Pharaoh will listen to God. Finally Pharaoh relents and God parts the Red Sea allowing the children of Israel to pass through the waters on dry land. God leads them through the wilderness promising to give them a land of their own.
Then God gives them the law, another covenant, that will guide and govern the life of God’s people. In previous covenants God made promises of how God would relate to humanity with little to no expectation or obligation on humanity’s part. The early covenants were descriptors on what God would do or would not do with respect to humanity. Now this covenant orders not just God’s relation to humanity, but humanity’s response to God’s action. God saved Israel from the Egyptians, therefore Israel will relate to God, to each other, and to the rest of creation in particular ways.
God leads the Israelites through the wilderness and gets them to the Promised Land. God continues to provide for His children giving them water, food, protection from the threats and dangers of passing through the wilderness, seeing to their needs. But God’s children continue to forget about their end of the relationship. God’s children continue to do things their own way instead of following the way of God in the world.
Following their own way gets Israel into trouble. They are beset and besieged by enemies that reside in the lands that God gave Israel. These people raise up armies and induce skirmishes against the Israelites and ultimately threaten God’s people. God raises up leaders who lead Israel to victory over their enemies. Thankful for God’s provision, God’s children follow His ways for a little bit. But then they forget God’s ways and the cycle repeats.
Desiring stability, security, and safety Israel demands that God anoint for them a king. So God gives his people a king who will be charged with administering the laws God had given the people. Sadly more often than not the kings became mostly concerned with increasing and maintaining their power base relative to other nations rather than staying true to God’s decrees. They married daughters of foreign kings to consolidate power and maintain alliances. They worshipped foreign gods to hedge their bets. And they led their people down the paths of idolatry.
In an attempt to win and woo His people back, God raised up prophets. God raised up people who would be faithful to God and would say and do unpopular things to remind the people Israel of their God and His law. One prophet was told to go marry a prostitute and named his children “unloved” and “not my people.” Another prophet, in order to warn the people of what was to come, cut off all his hair and his beard with a sword, burned a third of it, threw a third of it into the wind, and hacked a third of it to pieces. One prophet walked and preached around Jerusalem for three years naked to show Israel how vulnerable they were.
The prophets pronounced impending famine, impending destruction of Jerusalem and all Israel, and said that God would reject His chosen people as His people had rejected God. All of this came to pass.
But in the midst of the prophets preaching and dare I say acting out we see hope. The same prophet that named his children unloved and not my people says that God will give us new names. We hear that if the people would turn from their idolatrous ways God would end the famine. God promises an end to the exile. The prophet that did all the stuff to his hair did keep some of it, a remnant, on his garment. Things are bad, but there is hope that God can bring about a time when they will get better.
And we hear a promise that one day God will write His law on the people’s hearts. We hear a promise that God will come amongst His people. Israel will once again be God’s people, His children. Israel will once again be a great nation, living in peace with the nations. Israel will see prosperity and peace.
The Old Testament story ends with these prophets living in and preaching in and ministering in the tension of disobedience and calls to faith, punishment and hope for redemption.
In the days leading up to the release of the Last Jedi we knew very little about what was coming. The story had been rebooted and we had all the pieces. But we had no idea where they were going. In the weeks leading up to the release I read articles and theories about what might happen. I read a ranked list of who we thought might be killed off in this movie. There were timelines of all that had happened from Return of the Jedi to the Last Jedi. We looked backward in order to anticipate what was coming.
As our final moment of waiting for and anticipating what is to come and happen next in our story of God’s relation to humanity, we too look back to remember all that has happened. We remember how God graciously and lovingly created all there is. We remember that ever since we messed up that perfect creation, God has been working with, reaching out to, wooing, loving, redeeming us. God has wanted to bring us healing. God has saved us from hurt. God has averted tragedy. God has led and called us into the way that leads to life. And all throughout God promised a new thing. God promised a new way that would be the culmination of all that God has been and done in His relationship with us. And as we all take a collective pause, we hear these words in final preparation.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God shall ever fail. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
This is a peculiar story, one that introduces us to new bars tees and a new narrative. So much of the way this is told is meant to signal continuity with the old and yet something decisively new. In the first couple verses Mary is called a virgin twice. You get the sense this might come into play later. Then we have an angel appearing to her saying that she has found favor with God. In the Old Testament this signals that this person will be given a special task and it turns out its true in this case as well. Mary’s task will be to have a son who will take the throne of his ancestor David. But unlike the prior kings whose reigns came and went, this son of Mary will rule forever and ever. Oh and that this son will be called Son of the Most High, which is to say son of God but not in a Roman Emperor way, in a very Hebrew son of Yahweh way. Mary asks how this can happen for she is a virgin. I KNEW that would come up again! The angel calmly and without giving off the slightest impression that this is super duper weird says, Oh no probs the Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Yeah totally angel. That’s normal.
But seriously all of this is meant to signal that this work of God, this interaction of God, is new. Is different. God is going to do a new thing completely outside normal order. And perhaps that’s a good thing, perhaps that for us is hope because the normal order has led to a cycle of sin and death that hasn’t really worked out for us. A baby, who will be called son of the Most High and is going to rule over the nations, is going to be born of a virgin. Born outside the normal, biological order of birth, this baby will be categorically different. Perhaps he will be able to break other order, cycles, and systems as well.
We are going to speak more about what this child can and will do in a week; trust me I have much more to say. But for now I want to focus in on the promise. On the call. On what this means for us, especially in light of the grand epic story that preceded it.
You might be asking yourself why I spent so much time going through the Old Testament and not as much time, ya know, with the Gospel lesson that we printed in your bulletin. Which is a fair question. I think what I wanted us to see today is that God never stops trying. God never says here’s my plan A, here’s my game plan and if it doesn’t work, oh well. God doesn’t say, well I made it kinda easy for them, just follow these 600 steps and it’ll all work out, and why oh why can’t they follow them?! God doesn’t say, like I have tended to in relationships, alright I’ve texted three times in a row, now it’s on them.
I don’t know how many of you watched the tv show Scrubs, but I did. And I loved it. In the first season there was a particularly powerful episode where at the end of it wise Dr. Cox ends up talking about relationships. And he says, “Bottom line is, couples who are truly right for each other wade through the same stuff as everybody else, but the big difference is they don't let it take them down. One of those two people will stand up and fight for that relationship every time if it's right and they're real lucky. One of them will say something.” I say that random quote to say this: God has always stood up and fought. God has always spoken. God has always worked. From the beginning of time our God has been working and fighting and acting and speaking and trying to win his people back. Trying to make his children love him. Trying to perfect us with His love.
And God’s about to do something new. God’s about to try something new. God’s about to move and act and work in a new way. Both in our story as we head towards Christmas and in our community, in our church, in our lives. God’s gonna show up. And the question is, are you ready?
I forget who it was that I first heard say this, but we don’t know that Mary was the first person asked to bear the son of God. We don’t know that Mary was God’s first choice. We don’t know that Mary was the first to get the call. But we know she was the last to receive it. And we know she was the right one to receive it.
God is going to move, God is going to act, God is going to come into your world in a big new way. What will be your response? Will you receive God, will you work with God, will you say yes to God? Will you risk it? Will you be vulnerable? Will you say yes? Will you fight for God and with God?
Christmas is coming. Christ is coming. Will you be ready for the new thing that God wants to do in your life, in your family, in your neighborhood to win you back, win you spouse back, win your children back, win your family back, win you neighbors back to Him? God’s never giving up on us, on you, and on our world. He enlists us in the task of proclaiming His love. Will you respond as Mary did?
If you will, say it with me…
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”