Sermon Series: Jesus the Light of the World
A Chicago bank once asked for a letter of recommendation on a young Bostonian being considered for employment. The Boston investment house could not say enough about the young man. His father, they wrote, was a Cabot; his mother was a Lowell. Further back was a happy blend of Saltonstalls, Peabodys, and other of Boston’s first families. His recommendation was given without hesitation. Several days later, the Chicago bank sent a note saying the information supplied was altogether inadequate. It read: “We are not contemplating using the young man for breeding purposes. Just for work.”
As I think about this story, I am extremely grateful that God does not require letters of recommendations or references for me to work in or for His kingdom. I suspect that if God did require such things, I would probably be precluded from working for Him. In fact, I am even more gratified that God does not have any requirements that I or, anyone else for that matter, have to meet in order for God to do anything for me or others. Can you imagine if we had to adhere to all of the commandments found throughout the Scriptures before God provided for our needs, extended His protection to you and I, or simply revealed to us His will and purpose for our lives? Can you imagine if God had a checklist of things we needed to accomplish to the letter before God extended His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ to us? And, if we had to fulfill all of God’s requirements perfectly, can you imagine?
Like the young Bostonian, the Virgin Mary throughout history has been deified by some and dismissed by others. Those who deify her see her as a pristine saint-like figure that never committed any sin or engaged in wrongdoing. Those who dismiss her relegate her to the realm of mythology and folklore. They understand her to be the creation of a wild imagination that has no link to reality, except for the moral her story attempts to convey.
One of the questions and issues that many people grapple with regarding Mary is why her? I mean, what made her so special that of all the women in Nazareth and the surrounding area of Galilee God should choose her? OK, so she was from the line of David, but that was several generations removed. If we examine Mary’s history, we would discover that she was from a poor family and they lived in a really bad part of town. I mean really bad. In fact, it was so bad that when you drove through you rolled up the windows and locked the doors while the car was still moving. She was not the most educated and she certainly was not the most attractive. If that was not bad enough, she was young. She had no life experience. She was barely out of diapers and getting rid of zits. Mary was still playing tag and red light green light with her cousins and the neighbor’s children. So what made her so special?
To be honest, there was nothing special about Mary. However, the Bible tells us that when God was considering a replacement for Saul the first King of Israel, God does not look at the outside but rather God looked at the inside. Specifically, God looks at the heart of a person. It is David, Saul’s successor that we are introduced to the concept of “a man after God’s own heart.” In Mary we see a woman after God’s own heart. More than anything else, God selected Mary because of the condition of her heart. God overlooked all of the things that we might look at and disqualify her and God went straight to her heart.
Verse 38 records Mary as saying “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.” Verse 38 provides us with a picture of a woman who was open to the will of God and willing to allow God’s will to be carried out in her life.
As we seek to understand God’s favor and how God dispenses or bestows His favor, two words jump out: a) openness and b) willingness. Mary’s openness made it possible for God to approach her and come into her life, and Mary’s willingness made it possible for God to carryout His action, plan, and purposes through Mary’s life. This much is clear, the favor of God is not something anyone can earn, merit, or work to achieve. We simply will never be good enough or be able to work hard enough to earn or achieve it. On the other hand, we can receive God’s favor through an open heart and a willing spirit.
By definition God’s favor is the acceptance, approval, blessings, and kindness God gives and extends freely. Another way to look at favor is, when a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day's pay for his or her time that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his or her performance that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his or her long service or high achievements that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award--yet receives such a gift anyway--that is a good picture of God's unmerited favor.
The entire life of Mary is the portrait of a woman who walked in the light of God’s favor. From the moment the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would be the conduit that God chose to bring Christ into the world up to the point she stood standing at the foot of the cross watching her son die, she walked in the light of God’s favor. Some will contend that watching your child die is not a blessing, you are right, but having the privilege of conceiving, carrying, and bringing a child into the world is a blessing.
To be truthful, Mary’s experience was unique and will never be duplicated. Yet, from her experience we are able to see and understand a couple things about the application of God’s favor in the lives of believers. One of the questions that I asked of the text and I am sure that some others also wonder about is how do we know if we have found favor with God?
For Mary, the visitation of the angel Gabriel was the first sign that she had found favor with God. I would suggest to you that the presence of angels in our own lives is an indication that we too have found favor with God. Hebrews 1:14 say’s “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” The Bible is clear that those that God has chosen, God protects, watches over, and provides for their needs. Part of the confusion arises in how we picture and think about angels. While certainly, there are angelic beings that operate in the spiritual realm, there are also people who God sends into our lives to offer us the ministry of presence. It is through their presence that God chooses to bless us by extending to us the comfort, strength, hope, encouragement, and love we need to make it through not only difficult times, but through life. Angels come in many shapes sizes, colors, nationalities, and speak a host of different languages, this is why we must be open and willing to receive people for who they are because they may have been sent by God to minister to us.
As we listen to Gabriel’s message to Mary, it is clear that Mary was selected for a job that she did not earn or deserve. Here we see another indication that we have found favor with God. When opportunities we have not worked for, are not qualified for suddenly drop in our lap, we need look no further than God. Some will call it kismet, others may call it good fortune, but I call it the favor of God. When doors are opened for our children, when family, friends, and loved ones receive special blessings and they have not moved off of the couch that my friends is an indication that they too have found favor with God. I cannot emphasize this enough, God’s favor is not contingent upon anything that you or I can and will do. It is simply God doing for us what we do not deserve and have not earned. Therefore, when the unexpected happens rather than try to figure it out, be open to it, and willing to go with it.
While it is important to identify the indicators that signal we have found favor with God, it is equally important to understand the operational nature of God’s favor in our lives. After Gabriel greets Mary, he informs her that, “The Lord is with you.” The favor of God is accompanied by the presence of God. Gabriel offers Mary the assurance that God is present and that God is walking with her, watching over her, and going to provide for her. With all of the fickle people we encounter in life, it is good to know that we can count on God. One of the lessons here is that we should not get so caught up and focused on what God can and will do for us and lose sight of the fact that unless God is with us God cannot do anything for us. The PRESENCE of God is more important and exponentially more beneficial than the presents we receive from God. The presence of God is the believer’s antidote for depression, anxiety, fear, worry, stress, or anything else that gnaws at and erodes the foundation of our confidence. It is precisely the lack of assurance that keeps people bound by fear, worry, and depression. The assurance of God’s presence has the power to liberate and free us from the shackles that have us bound.
One of the interesting things about God’s favor is that while God does not require anything of us to receive His favor He does expect us to do something with it. Gabriel tells Mary that because she has found favor with God “she will be with child and give birth.” Literally, she will become pregnant and conceive. The favor of God will impregnate the people of God and they will become productive for God. As I have said before, Mary’s situation was unique and I have not read anywhere in Scripture where another virgin will give birth to the Christ child. But, what we can understand from this text is that God implants His seed into believers and it is the seed of God that fertilizes the gifts and potential that God has placed in us, this action causes us to bring forth and produce that which is in us. To help us better understand this point let us consider the birthing process. Both males and females have the potential to become fathers and mothers. However, until they actually produce a child they simply have the potential. Potential undiscovered is potential unrealized. To put it another way, anyone can be anything but it is not until they become awakened to the fact that they can be something then they begin to take steps to make it happen. Within each of us lies the divine God given potential to be and do what God has created us to be and do. It is not until the seed of God meets the potential that God has placed in us that we begin to sense and realize that God has placed something in us and that something must come out. We can no longer allow what God has placed in us to lie dormant because God’s seed has meet our potential and created a stirring. The stirring is a sign that the thing God has placed in us is growing and it will continue to grow until our water breaks. When our water breaks it is time for us to bring forth that which God has placed in us from before you and I were born. The best example I can think of is from my own life. From the time I was twelve years old, I only thought of doing three things in life being a preacher, teacher, and counselor. I tried counseling and really did not like it too much as a full time job. I ran from teaching until one day I was asked to fill-in for a teacher that was absent. From the moment I stood before that class I felt something stirring inside of me and that was the moment I realized that the potential to teach within me was not being realized and it needed to come out. Part of the reason some people feel so unfulfilled and blasé about their life is because what God has placed in them needs to come out. In stead of settling for a life unfulfilled or going to the other extreme and trying a whole bunch of crazy things looking for fulfillment be open to God’s desire to awaken the embryo of our potential and then be willing to bring forth that potential. You will know you are doing it when you are doing it. As long as what you are doing feels like a job then you may be doing your job, but you are not fulfilling your potential.
As you try to digest the lengthy dissertation that I have just offered, I am sure you are wondering OK, how? Mary asked the same question, how? Gabriel tells her “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” In other words, it will be the work of the Holy Spirit. Gabriel’s words to Mary leave us with three lessons:
1. When we walk in the light of God’s favor all of the obstacles and excuses that could hinder us from giving birth to our God-given potential are overcome by the work of the Holy Spirit – It was the work of the Holy Spirit that overcame Elizabeth’s barrenness, it was the work of the Holy Spirit that overcame Mary’s poverty, youth, and inexperience, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit that will overcome every obstacle we face and excuse that we raise
2. When we walk in the light of God’s favor we are completely blanketed and covered by God – The bigger the person the bigger the shadow they cast. Shadows indicate that someone is present or in the area. They have either left the area and their shadow is sign they were there, or they are coming into the area and their shadow signals their arrival. When God overshadows us we have the assurance of His presence and His power. We also have the assurance that nothing in the future can harm us, because God’s shadow goes before us and nothing can sneak up on us from the past because God is pulling up the rear watching our back. Therefore, we have nothing to fear because we are completely surrounded by the shadow of God’s presence.
3. When we walk in the light of God’s favor it will transform our attitude – Mary started out by asking how can it be and Mary ended by saying may it be. Potential and ability make things possible. A person can live their entire life with the possibility that something could happen. On the other hand, an open mind and a willing attitude can make things happen. Mary’s openness to God’s will for her life transformed her attitude and made her willing to allow God to fulfill His will in her life. Her openness and willingness made her the beneficiary of the outpouring of God’s favor.
Why settle for less when you can have the best that God offers? Why spend a lifetime struggling to make things happen when if we open ourselves up to God’s will and then become willing to allow God to accomplish His will in our lives, God will make things happen for us and those around us. There is nothing that can compare to living our lives walking in the light of God’s favor.