Love

Today is the fourth week of Advent and the final week of our sermon series, “The Promise.” Each week, we have been exploring the themes of Advent, the promises of God, leading up to Christmas.

The first week, we discovered that God’s promised HOPE came in the form of a person. Jesus meets our deepest longings and is the hope for our present and our future. The second week, we looked at the promise of PEACE that was given to the lowly shepherds. There would be a new government that would come that would bring peace to the world.

Last week, we discovered deep JOY in the promise that the Savior of the world was coming. It’s a joy to receive and a joy to share. And today, we will visit the promise of LOVE that was born into the world in the form of a baby in a manger.

There is a very familiar depiction of this love coming into the world, and you may even have it displayed in your home right now. You may have it set up in your living room or on the mantle of your fireplace. Have a clue what Christmas decoration I’m talking about? A nativity scene.

Ever wonder what the word nativity means? We teach you all sorts of strange words around here, like the word Advent which means the coming or arrival.

The word nativity comes from the Latin word meaning “birth.” The nativity scene, the birth scene, that we set out each year is a picture of the birth of the God of the universe into the world. Surrounded by his mother, his earthly father, barnyard animals, shepherds, and angels, all eyes of the nativity are fixed on the baby Jesus since it’s all about His birth.

Within our culture today, there is this new phenomenon that is taking over each young couple as they find themselves pregnant. It is called the gender reveal. Couples have pink or blue cakes baked that give away their secret when they are sliced. Some couples fill balloons with pink or blue powder and pop them together, others shoot confetti guns that hold the correct color. Some couples have boxes full of pink or blue balloons and release them. You name it, and it has probably happened.

No matter how you’ve done it or how others are doing it today….

POINT #1: WE PREPARE FOR THE BIRTH OF SOMETHING NEW.

You see, the reason the nativity, the birth of Jesus, is so significant is not because this birth happened one day long ago, but because God’s desire for each of us is for Christ to be born within us, and for the love of God to be revealed to the world by the way we live.

So, as we finish this four-week series, what would happen if each of us, full of expectation that God could birth something new within us this season, began to prepare ourselves for all that God desires to do?

There is a promise given in the Old Testament that is fulfilled in this nativity scene that we are so familiar with.

Isaiah 7:14

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

There would be a sign given to God’s people that they had not been forgotten in their sinful and broken states, but instead, when they see a virgin gives birth to a child, they would see the tangible love of God coming into the world to rescue us all.

The instruction given in Isaiah is to be prepared. Be ready for this revelation. Live your life with expectancy that God would come to us. Make space in our lives. Make room for the work of God within us right now, even before the arrival comes.

In the New Testament Gospels, we have two different accounts of the nativity, this birth. Matthew and Luke each give an explanation of the way in which God came to us in the middle of our mess to be with us because of His love. In the book of Luke, there is a bit of backstory to the nativity. It begins with an angel called Gabriel speaking to a young teenage girl named Mary.

Luke 1:2633

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

The message brought by the angel is that Mary would conceive a child within her womb whose name would be Jesus. Now, here’s a big key to this story. Mary is a virgin. Yes, she is engaged. But she has not yet been married to Joseph, so this announcement must have been a very difficult thing to process. “Wait! What do you mean I am going to become pregnant? How’s that going to happen?” But you see, when God is ready to do something new, it’s almost always a disruption. In a world that is broken and marked by sin, the arrival of love is disruptive.

POINT #2: WHEN GOD SHOWS UP, OUR LIVES ARE DISRUPTED.

Mary’s life is taking a turn here that she could have never expected. As far as she knew, she was about to marry this nice Jewish boy Joseph, when suddenly she has been chosen to give birth to the Savior of the world. This was a disruption.

For Joseph, your fiancée suddenly becomes pregnant, and it’s not your baby. How do you explain this to all your friends and your family? I know that Mary says an angel told her that this baby is not from another man, but how do I know? For Joseph, this was a big disruption.

For the political power of that day, King Herod was in control of all of Israel. For this baby to come into the world and be the Son of God, the King of kings, this meant that all the old kings would have to go. This was a disruption.

This disruption comes because of the promise that God loves His people so much that He would come to dwell with them through this humble young girl.

I believe there are two choices that any person has when it comes to disruption within their life: to avoid it or to embrace it. I believe that when God is trying to birth something new within us, it will always feel like something confusing, something hard, something exciting, something mysterious, something uncontrollable. When this happens…what will we do? Avoid it or embrace it?

Ever have a moment where you just feel like you hit rock bottom for the day? Your day just can’t get any worse, your plate is heavy, your stress level is through the roof, and you just can’t do anything else but finally turn to God. How much of that busy, stressful day do you think was keeping you from God, and God finally said, “Enough child. I’m right here. If you just let me, I can help you.” And when you do, when you let Him in, it’s like nothing else matters. Maybe you cry, maybe you breathe of sign of relief, but one thing is for sure, you’re reminded of what really matters. That God is in control, that He’s your number one priority, that He’s got you. That’s a disruption of love.

Maybe this morning, as you came to church, you were wrestling with a disruption in your life. Maybe it is a new job you are not sure what to do about.

Maybe it’s a loss of some kind that is painful. Maybe it is a sin that has finally caught up to you. Maybe it is a relationship that has hit a dead end. Maybe it is a need that you see around you that you can’t get off your mind. This may be God’s disruption, His grace and love bringing about something new in your life.

Some of us this morning have spent years avoiding a disruption that God has been trying to use within our lives to birth something new. My prayer today is that all across this room there would be people who would stop avoiding the disruptions that God can use to help us experience Him and start embracing the work that God wants to do within us.

Like Mary and Joseph in this story, God is wanting to do something through our lives that will change the world. But we have to choose how we will respond. Look how Mary responds.

Luke 1:3437

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”

Mary asked a fair question: “How will this be?” She was a virgin. There is no natural human way that this promised could be fulfilled. You see, within her mind there can be no new birth because it does not seem humanly possible. And she’s right; it’s not humanly possible. This is a work of God.

POINT # 3: BUT WE ALL HAVE NEW-BIRTH EXCUSES.

We all have reasons why God cannot do a new work with us. I want to speak to those excuses for a moment. I have heard them over and over from people, even Christians.

I have heard people say, “There is no way God can save my marriage; it’s too far gone.”

I’ve heard people say, “There is no way God could love me; I have made too many mistakes.”

I have heard, “I will never see the relationship with my son or daughter restored; there has been too much damage done.”

I have heard, “I will never be able to get on top of my bills; I am destined to be in debt the rest of my life.”

I have heard, “I will never be able to get clean and stay sober; the temptation is too strong.”

These are all excuses for why we can’t experience new birth. Like Mary, we point out how, from a human perspective, it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t look possible. But look how the angel responded to her excuse.

The angel says, “The Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Essentially, he was saying, “You see, Mary, what is impossible with man is possible with God.”

All of our excuses are correct and valid. In and of ourselves, it is impossible, but through the love of God, expressed in His miraculous birth, anything is possible.

The nativity, this birth, changed the world two thousand years ago and has been every day since. This birth is still changing the world today because the same Spirit of God that came upon Mary is the same Most High that can overshadow us today.

God wants to birth something new within you today, and it is not about your ability, your effort, your qualifications, your gender, your track record, or your status. It is simply about seeing that whatever disruption God has allowed or brought into your life is an act of love and is something to be embraced rather than avoided.

I think we need to pay attention to Mary’s response to the fulfilled promise.

Luke 1:38

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Mary’s response is total surrender. She opens herself up to whatever God wants to do within her life. There’s still a lot of questions to be answered. There is plenty yet to be revealed, yet she is still willing, and she rests in God’s love for her and God’s love for the world knowing He’ll see it through, some crazy way He’ll see it through. And she says, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

POINT #4: WHEN WE SUBMIT TO GOD, HIS PROMISES CAN BE FULFILLED IN & THROUGH US.

What if we committed to this kind of posture this Christmas season? How would our lives be different? Our submission to God has everything to do with what we perceive to be our greatest need.

Author and Pastor, Max Lucado said,

“If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; if our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; if our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; if our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; but our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.”

The world’s greatest need was the love and grace of God. So, Mary was willing to take on the disruption that giving birth to the Savior of the world would require. Here’s another question: If this is the posture we choose to take this Christmas season, how might God use us to birth something new in someone else’s life?

I like this because the message of this birth is not just intended to change Mary and Joseph’s life. This message of a baby named Jesus is also meant to usher in a new kingdom that is the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom does not look like the kingdom we have grown accustomed to. This kingdom is dedicated to turning the world on its head and healing the broken and rescuing the lost. The norm in this kingdom is love! And it becomes a reality when we receive the love of God for ourselves, and then offer it to others.

I believe that the new work that God could do within our lives could be good news for someone else. This Advent season, we have an opportunity to join together as a church and allow the birth of Jesus to move us to be a part of new birth within our community.

  • Think about the new thing that was birthed downtown at the new Christmas Tree Lighting. Many (like 300+) people came out and heard the Christmas story told, and not only fellowshipped with each other, but found joy in all the others that wanted that same fellowship.
  • How about the Angel Tree Program where we buy Christmas presents for children in struggling families? We took on more angels this year, so maybe this was the first you did that, something new.
  • The children’s Christmas play today was something done that was new in this church. Lead by new leaders, and performed by new children.

Consider other ways you could do something new to give love to others. Maybe it’s ringing the Salvation Army bell at the Weis Market this week. Maybe it is inviting a neighbor to eat a meal and developing a new relationship. Maybe it is beginning new family traditions that puts Jesus first.

This is what happens to us when we believe the good news of Jesus’ birth as more than just a historical fact, but also as a promise that affects us right here and now. Our lives can be changed, and in so doing we can have an eternal impact on the lives of those around us.

So, may we be people who, like Mary, are eager to say, “May your word to me be fulfilled. You do whatever you want to do in me, God!”

Let’s Pray: God, thank you for expressing your love to the world through the arrival of Jesus. May we be conduits of this love to a world that is far from you. This Christmas, make us an extension of your grace and mercy. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.