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Dec 18, 2016

God-Generated Hope

God-Generated Hope

Passage: Luke 1:26-56

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Expectant with Hope

Category: Holiday

Keywords: faith, hope, humility, mary, poverty, song, teen pregnancy

Summary:

Mary, mother of Jesus, was a teenager plucked from obscurity and poverty to become an amazing model of God-grounded hope, despite the fact that life got much more difficult and complex for her after the annunciation of Jesus. Her song of praise to God reveals how this young women is a model of a life choosing to believe kingdom realities in the face of life challenges.

Detail:

God-Generated Hope

Advent Series: Expectant with Hope

Luke 1:46-55, 67-79

December 18, 2016

What did you hope for when you were about 16, 17 or 18 years old?  (Some of us are just hoping we can remember back that far, right?) I won’t embarrass any of our teens by putting them on the spot with that question right now.  But we can all respond to a few questions related to teenage dreams.

  • Anybody dream about flunking out of school?
  • Hope you’d get drafted and sent to war at 18?
  • That you’d get fired from your summer job? (Maybe, depending on the job you had.)
  • You’d be cut from the team or squad?
  • Wreck that car you had saved up for…or was your parent’s?
  • Your high school sweetheart would break up with you? (Some are probably relieved they actually did.)

While we may not remember what we were actually fixated on and hoping for as teens, almost all of us can certainly remember what we didn’t want to happen. 

            So when we come to the Christmas story, particularly the part that involves an engaged teenage girl probably in her middle to late teens, it’s not hard to imagine both the hopes and fears that were swirling in her mind as that momentous year unfolded. 

            It was a year of so many great hopes for Mary.  She was a young woman like most young women—prone to romantic crushes, hoping that she would find a good man to marry someday, a man who would love her and treat her well. 

            I wonder if she had been talking with her parents about the list she was making in her mind of eligible suitors in her home town?  I wonder if her parents were asking God to lead them to the right fellow?  I wonder if their poverty was an automatic disqualifier for considering someone that might have caught the eye of their daughter?

            However it all came about, what we do know is that their teenaged daughter, Mary, had already gone through the process of engagementCulturally speaking, it would be more accurate to say that Mary and Joseph were actually married.  Jews treated betrothal in that day very differently from engagements in American culture.  Engagement was tantamount to marriage.  To break an engagement required a divorce decree

Betrothal sealed the marriage between two families legally.  The parents of the bride’s family would have received a negotiated sum of money from the groom’s family as a sort of contract price for insuring that the bride was a chaste virgin. While months might pass before the bride and groom took up residence together, both would have been considered married by the culture. 

That’s radically different from what is going on today in our culture.  Teen pregnancies outside marriage have become rather common in our culture today (1 million annually). But even among American teens who get pregnant, only 1 out of 5 actually wanted to get pregnant. 

In Mary’s day, NO young woman wanted to turn up pregnant before the actual wedding day/week, especially if the father wasn’t her fiancée. 

So how does a young teenaged girl’s “unplanned pregnancy” go from being her worst nightmare to her greatest hope?  How did this young woman handle one of life’s greatest upsets in such a way that joyful singing replaced justified terror?  How did something so catastrophic to this teenager turn into the hope of the world?

In a word, GOD. When God gets involved in even the most crushing of life experiences, amazing things happen.  That’s worth remembering not just at Christmas but all year long.  Fear turns to hope, tragedy to triumph, and perplexity to peace…when God is involved. 

Some of you are currently facing or will face this year some of life’s most troubling, potentially anxiety-provoking events.  What will make the difference between joyful hope and fearful dread is just one thing: the basis of our hope in life. 

If it’s built on getting a perfect set of experiences that are free from pain or misunderstanding or conflict, fearful dread will probably win.  But if getting a greater grounding in God is the basis of our hope, even the craziest surprises and wildest developments won’t keep us from being the most hopeful people on the planet. 

The difference is God-generated hope or life-generated hopelessness.  So let’s take at how God-generated hope got birthed in the life of one of the most amazing teenaged girl in human history.  It might just be the kind of pregnancy that saves your life from despair this year.

Luke 1:26ff-- In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

We’re all so familiar with this story, nothing probably seems particularly surprising to us by now.  But an obvious angel encounter would probably be enough to shake up all of us, teenager or adult.  The curious thing here is that Luke says Mary was “troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”  It wasn’t the Gabriel’s presence that troubled Mary; it was his message.

And what was the message? 

1.) “You are highly favored.”  Really?  Just what about Mary and her place in that Jewish-Roman world would indicate that?  She was young.  She was poor.  She was unknown.  She lived in the wrong part of her nation, in the wrong city.  There was nothing on the surface to make Mary stand out to anyone…but God. 

Favor with God obviously doesn’t depend on age.  It doesn’t depend on socio-economic status…nor family position…nor mental development…nor physical strength or beauty.  Pretty much ALL the things this world counts as important don’t matter to God when it comes to being “graced” by Him.  That term “favored” comes from the Greek root word for “grace” (charis).  [“Full of grace” would actually be another term found in Acts 6:8 and used of Stephen.] 

            Anybody here NOT want to be “graced” by God?  Buildings in our neighborhood get “tagged” by gangs and graffiti “artists.”  But people get “tagged” or “graced” by their Creator. And the Bible confirms over and over again that it isn’t based on all the stupid stuff the world applauds.  God loves to pick out obscure, unknown, ordinary people to become extra-ordinary recipients of His grace.  Anybody hungry for that?

To have that said of a young teenager should tell us something about both who SHE was as well as who GOD is.  [Any ideas about either?] 

2.) “The Lord is with you.” Hmmm, that sounds vaguely familiar, like some promise I’ve heard from Jesus’ lips (Mt. 28:20), no?  Hebrews 13:5—“God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  But God was going to actually “be with” Mary in a way no other human being would ever experience as she carried God in human flesh in her womb for 9 months.  But I don’t think she fully grasped that right then. 

The story continues: 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.

Who said she was afraid?  Nothing indicates she was afraid…yet.  And with the revelation that she had “found favor with God,” what was there to fear? 

Well, life was about to get crazy.

 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 

From what Mary says in response to this in vs. 34, it is clear that she understood Gabriel’s statement as clearly meaning her pregnancy would be immediate, miraculous and out of the ordinary.  A teenaged pregnancy…out of wedlock…out of any previous experience of any mother in human history…without human father…by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The list of “unbelievables” was getting longer by the second. 

            But Gabriel just kept plowing ahead:

32 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, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 Mary was not a Political Science or Government major at the time.  But even this prophecy-promise needed no higher ed degree to figure out.  Clearly her child would be like none other before—“called the Son of the Most High.”  That’s touching deity.  “Throne of his father David….”  Now we’re talking royalty and political power.  “Reign…forever; his kingdom will never end.”  Now we’re skating on inconceivable and unmatched in all of human history. 

Do you think this prophecy-promise ever troubled her as Herod tried to kill her baby?  Do you think it ever bothered her as the leaders of Israel, one after the other, rejected and reviled her son as a man and leader?  Do you think those words came back to almost mock her as she stood at a distance on The Place of the Skull and saw her son crucified in shame, tortured and ridiculed, dying without having ever married or had children? 

But as we now know, this promise wasn’t about biological offspring.  His reign wasn’t limited by geo-political borders.  His kingdom would explode to every nation, tribe and tongue, every century and city of this world.  Surely the promise of unbelievable hope that Gabriel delivered that day died a thousand deaths in her heart along the way.  It had to…so the real Hope of all mankind could rise in resurrection power…for all of us.

That’s how God-generated hope works.  It turns everything in this world upside down so that everyone who hungers for God can be turned right-side-up.  Mary’s life and world was getting turned upside down…at a very young age.  And it wouldn’t stop until she drew her last breath.  Her wonderful, sheltered, perfect little world was being shaken to the core by no one less than God himself. 

An “unplanned pregnancy.” 

A devastated husband

An impending divorce.

Critical, gossiping neighbors and relatives.

An unheard-of and certainly unbelievable “story.”

How could hope come out of such seeming disaster? 

35 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. 36 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. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”  

            I think God chose these two very different yet related women, in the order He did, so that Mary would have just enough evidence to go on that God was really in this.  She knew how impossibly old Elizabeth was. And she was about to find out how amazingly accurate and true Gabriel was.  If a virgin birth seemed impossible, it was only one-step away from an octogenarian birth in her world. 

            But I think what would convince her enough to embrace all this unbelievable change and disruption was the presence of God himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.  God the Spirit would “come upon” her and His power would “overshadow” her.

            The presence and work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life does what nothing else can.  This is why there is NO SUBSTITUTE for the Spirit-filled life.  There is no substitute for us learning to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.  The more He overshadows us, the less we live in the shadow of life’s perplexities. 

So let’s talk for a bit about HOW any of God’s children develop a life of God-grounded hope.  In what ways did Mary ground her hope about life in her relationships with God? 

  • God-grounded hope comes to people who are willing to exchange their personal “hopes & dreams” for God’s (sometimes disruptive) divine plans.

At 16 or 17 years of age, what kind of life do you think Mary dreamed of?  A happy marriage to her responsible, loving, considerate carpenter of a husband?  She wasn’t asking for the moon, just a humble life of a poorer peasant. Maybe she dreamed of a house full of children.  Maybe she envisioned a life of loving God from the shadows of obscurity

            So when God sent Gabriel, those dreams got shattered.  From the beginning of their marriage until the end, she was viewed by many, not as “Virgin Mary” but as “Suspect Mary.”  Even Jesus would carry the stigma by many of being an “illegitimate child” as alluded to in his debate with the religious leaders in John 8.  By claiming they were true descendants of Jacob and Jesus’ was a “Samaritan,” they were not only calling him a Gentile but an illegitimate one at that.  After all, Mary may have traveled through Samaria on her way to visit her relative, Elizabeth.  And didn’t she get pregnant right about that time?  And wasn’t it public knowledge that Joseph, her husband, was about to divorce her for infidelity? 

            And what of those dreams of a happy, whole family?  Somewhere along the line, it appears that Joseph died.  I doubt being a widow was not part of her dreams. 

            And what of the dreams of her firstborn, Jesus, making her a grandmother?  Hadn’t the angel promised that his kingdom would “never end”?  He never even got married!  And then came his horrible trial, torture and death that horrific cross.       

Mary just kept exchanging her dreams for God’s divine plan.  Little could she have imagined that her life of quiet, obscure poverty would turn her into one of the most well-known and loved women in human history. 

God-grounded hope is always greater than our private dreams…even when those dreams are given by God.  This is something I’ve noticed with God.  He may give a dream…a calling.  He may actually call you into some ministry that you find becomes a consuming desire in your heart.  BUT, a calling is not the same as the route.  A dream is not the same as a map.  HOW God works out that “calling” or “dream” may be very different from what you envision. 

This dialogue between Gabriel and Mary ends with both of them affirming their confidence in God’s word

  • Gabriel declares in vs. 37, “For no word from God will ever fail.” It’s popular today among some of God’s people to proclaim that you have “a word from the Lord.”  While that is entirely possible, I think we all need to be extremely careful about both what we claim comes from God through someone today as well as what we do with it.  I’m open to hearing people’s “word from the Lord.”  But I will always wait and see whether it “fails” or not.  This Word, the Bible, will never   But I haven’t found that to be the case for most people’s supposed “word from God.”  We best be very careful in what we claim and what we cling to.
  • Mary echoes Gabriel in vs. 38 when she affirms, “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled. Here is a young woman who is calling on God to carry out his word in her life…even though she has little idea how hard or happy life may be as a result.  When we read God’s word, it is good to turn that word to us into prayers about its fulfillment in and through us.  “Lord, may your word to me find fulfillment in me,” should be our frequent prayer. 
  • And later when Mary shows up at Elizabeth’s house unannounced, Elizabeth affirms that Mary is a woman who lives out action-backed belief in God’s word. Elizabeth declared, 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” 

God-grounded hope comes from lives that believe that God will fulfill his promises to us…and then acts accordingly.  If Mary had questioned God’s promises, she probably wouldn’t have made the long and arduous trek to Elizabeth’s house some 80-100 miles south.  Walking 20 miles a day (which, by the way, I’ve only done once or twice in my life) takes a pretty strong and determined person.  God-grounded hope grows in the soil of Word-based conviction.  Without confidence in this Word, we will never cultivate a life of God-grounded hope.

But it is Mary’s song that gives us other foundational pillars of God-grounded hope.  Let’s read what probably should be sung… but I’ll spare your ears the torture.  J

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.

Stop!  How many of us feel like we come from a “humble state”.  No, I’m not talking about Idaho. J I’m talking about poverty in its many forms:  poverty of housing or home; poverty of clothing or transportation; poverty of learning or education; poverty of abilities or opportunities; poverty of body or brawn.  You know what God does with all those “poverties” we tend to think limit and define us?  He takes note.  He notices.  And He says, “Now there is someone of humble enough state who I can bless in a world-shaping way!” 

            Just look around.  Heavens, you can just look at me!  I’m the most unlikely guy to be doing a ministry in the middle of Spokane, trying to pull the church across the city together to do impossible things.  And YOU’RE the most unlikely people to be doing kingdom-shaping work in this place too! J  I’d say we fit the bill of “the humble state.” 

 

So I think we could conclude that God-grounded hope believes God turns the world’s notion of “success” on its head.  In other words, what the world says makes you successful usually makes you proud and therefore not the best candidate for the grace-filled and guided life.  Listen to how Mary describes God’s turning of the tables of “success.” 

From now on all generations will call me blessed,  [“Me…the young, inexperienced, poverty-stricken little hick from Nazareth.”]
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me  [See the contrast between the Mighty God and His “great things” to “little ol’ me…noth’in Mary?  Mary is overjoyed that God who is more mighty, massive, powerful, etc. than the strongest human, let alone a weak teenage pregnant girl, helps out those who have no naturally rank to pull, no weight to throw around. 

Before we get too far from this, let me ask you, “Have we seen the Might One of Israel do ‘great things’ for us?  Mary sang this song based on a promise, a prophecy.  She believed Gabriel despite the unforeseen and unseen rest of her life ahead.  Nothing had changed for her yet.  She was still poor. She was still young.  She was still a powerless Jewish girl in a Roman and male-dominated world.  Nothing looked different to anyone who knew her.  But she believed God so her future looked very different to her.

You may not have had an angel tap you on the shoulder or carry on a conversation with you in the car.  But I’m pretty sure every one of us who knows we belong to Jesus can point by faith to some “great things” God has promised to do for you. 

  • Jude 24—“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord….”
  • Philippians 1:6—“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
  • Hebrews 13:5—“God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
  • Romans 8:28“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him….”
  • John 15:7—“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

If we were to take just these words from God and pin our lives to them, there would be every reason in the world to echo Mary’s praise that “God has done great things for us”…without anything else changing yet. 

            Before we hope to hear new promises from God we would do well to embrace the old ones.  When we embrace the truth that the only true God has reached down and chosen the most humanly insignificant people like us to be the bearers of Jesus Christ in this generation, it should set our hearts singing with gratitude…and with trust in His moral and spiritual purity, His holiness.  Mary continues:

    “…Holy is his name.”  She’s developing, even at her young age, a resolute trust in the moral, pure, uncompromised character of God. 

In some ways declaring God’s holiness may seem easier to do when you are young.  Most youth haven’t seen that much evil yet.  Most young people have been spared a lot of disappointing abuse, suffering and pain.  But sooner or later (and it was probably later for Mary), she would have to hold to God’s holiness despite the horrible darkness and sin of the world our holy God was invading starting with her womb.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.

Mary knew that it was not those who mock God who experience mercy.  It is not those who think they don’t need Him.  Mercy flows to those who know how great He is and how small they are… those who reverently respect and obey God Almighty. Those will be the ones who receive his forgiving, slate-cleaning, debt-canceling mercy day after day, year after year.

Though God had not spoken through prophets for nearly 400 years, Mary knew and believed that every generation gets that opportunity for mercy (“…from generation to generation.”).  God offers his mercy simply on the basis of our response to Him, not on the basis of things we may not be able to change like ability or class or personality or appearance. 

Q:  Anybody here glad that God’s mercy extends to those who simply fear/respect Him, from generation to generation?  AMEN?]

Next Mary says…
51 He [God] has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

What deeds do you think Mary had in mind?  The Romans were still dominating the Jews.  The rich were still getting richer.  The politically connected were still powerful.  The poor were still eking out a living.  But Mary chose to see Gabriel’s words to here as an established fact, as though they had already happened.  Gabriel had said her son, Jesus, “…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.”

What she is about to affirm sounds like it would fit much better into the Millennial reign of Christ.  In fact, it only fits completely and fully there and in the eternal reign of Christ.  In a few isolated individual historical situations, it maybe fits.  But I think this peasant girl had a Kingdom perspective.  Nothing around her at the moment fit what she is proclaiming about God UNLESS she is declaring it with eyes of FAITH.  Listen.


    He [God] has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

God has certainly done this from time to time in human history.  But Mary chose to look at God’s promise in Jesus…yet incomplete…and praise God for what He would do

I’m guessing that there would be many a time for years to come when she would wonder if her now famous Christmas song of praise was really true.  And her possible doubts might well have been greatest just when God was doing the most to fulfill His promise to give Jesus “the throne of his father David” and a “kingdom [that] will never end” (vss. 32-33).  As her son, the Son of God, hung on that horrible cross, God the Father and God the Son were doing more to establish this “kingdom that will never end” that you and I and millions of other Christ-followers through the centuries have become a part of by faith in Jesus. 

I think the big deal here…the thing that Mary grasped and held onto with all her strength…the thing that God did in making this poor little teenage girl the first human host of the holy Son of God…is that God delights to turn the tables on the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the proud and the humble.  God chooses those the world discards and humbles those the world chooses. 

That is the HOPE that Mary made her own.  It is a hope grounded in what God does, not who we are or are not.  She became a women, a wife, a mother “expectant with hope” that was grounded firmly in what GOD has and will do. 

APP:  So what about us?  Ready to ground your hope in God’s promises to you rather than how life may look right now? 

Ready to believe that God more often uses us when we are weak, powerless, poor, hungry and humble than those who are stuffed, powerful, rich, strong and proud?  God may ask us to live a lifetime holding onto that hope by faith.  Or He may literally fulfill every one of those hopes in our very lifetimes, before our very eyes.  Either way, God-grounded and faith-filled HOPE is the only way we’re going to live to see “His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

PRAY

  • For faith to believe and live in the promises of God.
  • For hope to live confidently and positively in an upside down world.
  • For love that will last forever and will bind us to God and people in the here and now.

Questions for further thought and discussion:

  1. Why do you think God chose an old woman (Elizabeth) and a young woman (Mary) who were relatives to be the most important women for His coming kingdom?
  2. This passage calls Christians to belief in the virgin birth of Jesus. Why is that critical to Christian theology and the nature of Jesus?  (c.f. Romans 5 and web sites such as https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_1330.cfm).  How does the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 relate or not relate to this?
  3. Here’s a statement from a contemporary religious website: “According to academia, there are at least 32 stories of other virgin births in ancient cultures of bygone eras. The legends of the surrounding pagan cultures were so influential in the first century that the Early Church was forced to imitate and incorporate them to have their ‘new’ Christian religion accepted.”  How might you respond to someone who holds this position in a way that will help them see the uniqueness of Jesus’ virgin birth?  This came from: www.lawofattractiongps.com/living-law-of-attraction/not-just-jesus-other-virgin-births/#ixzz4TKIC8y3j 
  1. How does Gabriel’s response to Mary’s and Zechariah’s questions about his prophecies differ? Why would you say that was?
  2. What parts of Mary’s song were statements of faith and what parts were statements of personal experience? At what points in her life might it have been most difficult for her to hold to her declarations in this song?
  3. Try writing a Psalm of praise to God for what God has done for you. Try making it a mixture of personal blessings from God and blessings promised but not yet realized from God. 
  4. People often wish they had some sort of angel encounter. Be careful what you wish for! From these two angel encounters in Luke 1 (Zechariah and Mary), what do you think were the positives of such encounters and what were the negatives?