4th Sunday in Advent
December 23, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text for the sermon today is the Gospel Lesson previously read from Luke 1.
My dear friends in Christ,
Many times my sermons have light-hearted, cutesy openings to get us started. Not today. This past week I observed a gruesome anniversary. The phone rang at 12:01 AM on December 17, 2006; 12 years ago. I mumbled “who calls us at midnight?” My general rule of thumb is any call before 8 AM or after 10 PM is never good. I knew right away that it couldn’t be good because it was my brother on the phone. For some reason, throughout the years my brother Mike has been given the task of calling me to let me know when close family members die. It had happened with both grandparents back in 2002, but in 2006 there were no grandparents left alive. What could Mike possibly want to tell me at 12:01 in the morning? Through his slurred words I heard him clearly say “we lost dad tonight.” “We lost dad tonight.”
That couldn’t be. It is impossible. My dad was only 66 years old and there had been no signs of medical problems. Sure, he had had a stroke 1 ½ years before, but he was better now. Not so much, I guess. At 11:30 PM my father had stood up, went into the bathroom, crashed into the wall, took 3 or 4 more breaths, and then went to meet his Lord and Maker right there on the bathroom floor.
Our world was turned upside down. We hurriedly “packed,” which is a nice way to say we threw some clothes into a suitcase, grabbed our dog Farley, and drove off into the cold night headed for mom’s house in northern Minnesota. Life became upside down. The Christmas tree in the house stood in stark contrast to all the flowers and plants brought back from the funeral. Dad’s Christmas gifts were divided among the rest of us. Gifts that he had ordered for mom kept showing up from L.L. Bean or Amazon; gifts which he never had a chance to hide, wrap, and place it under the tree with only the word “maw” written on the tag.
It is an open secret that my life has been upside down for almost all of 2018. Now, my youngest grandson Eli has Type I Diabetes and as a family we are learning what it will take to care for him until he’s old enough to care for himself. The reality of life is that life can certainly change from one moment to the next. Our normal life patterns and routines are more fragile then we think; medical crisis, death, weather emergencies, financial responsibilities and pressures, and the like all have the ability to turn life upside down for us in a heartbeat.
Talk about upside down! Consider today’s Gospel lesson. In the verses right before today’s lesson, in Luke 1:28-37, the angel Gabriel told Mary – a virgin – that she was with child, and would give birth to a son, and would call him Jesus (v. 31). Talk about upside down! Mary was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, but they had not consummated their marriage; she was still a virgin. But, this virgin named Mary was pregnant and was going to have a baby. That’s having your life turned upside down, right?
But it wasn’t just Mary. Mary’s relative Elizabeth, the devout wife of Zechariah the priest, was also with child even though she was “well along in years” (v. 18). I don’t know exactly how old Elizabeth was, but she was certainly past normal child-bearing years. For those of you here today that are past “normal child bearing years,” how would you like to find out you were pregnant all of a sudden? Wouldn’t that turn your world upside down?
How is this all possible: leaping babies, pregnant virgins, fathers being buried 4 days before Christmas, infants being diabetic? Why is it all so upside down? Did we ever stop to consider one thing? Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, when God does something it is good, and we are the ones who label it “bad?” When death strikes, or uncertain times are upon us, or when we are alone, or when our finances seem stretched, in our sinfulness and our tendency to want things our own way, we think what God has done is bad. We want things the way we want things! It goes back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They wanted things a certain way contrary to God’s will, and look what happened. God looks at something and says, “it is good,” but we look at a situation or a circumstance and we say, “that’s NOT good. That’s not the way I want it! Why are things so upside down in life?” God doesn’t make mistakes, but in our selfish sinfulness we have a hard time seeing that.
So how do we persevere? How do we get through the upside down things of life? Consider Luke 1 verses 37 and 38: “For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” God is the one who makes all things possible whether it is going through grief or “getting through” the holidays or wrestling with issues of conflict or uncertainty. Nothing is impossible for God and our response, like that of Mary, is one of faith.
God uses what looks impossible to make the impossible a saving reality for His people. He arranges things such that His only begotten Son comes into the flesh via a virgin. He arranges things such that the child is born in a lowly and stinky manger. He arranges things such that the Son dies a cruel death on a Roman instrument of torture and humiliation – the cross. He arranges things such that the Son rises from the cold, stone tomb. He arranges things such that the Son then re-ascends back into heaven in full sight of His disciples. Our God is a God who makes all things possible, and these things are done for our salvation and the forgiveness of our sinfulness.
Armed with this knowledge, we can get through the upside down times of life by faith: we too can say “May it be to me as you have said.” When we can learn and discern and accept God’s will in this life for us, we are better served to live life by faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” As Christians we do not always see God’s wisdom of what’s happening in life and in our sinfulness we are not certain about what’s going on. However, we don’t live by sight or emotion or intuition. We live by faith; we are sure of what it is we hope for and we are certain of the things that we cannot see, despite the things that we do see happening in our lives.
Are we always happy with the way things are? No. But as Christians we can live and survive and even thrive through the upside down things of life because we know that God is still at work in our lives, that He is still in control, and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God doesn’t make our lives upside down; He makes all things possible through Christ who gives us the strength we need to survive the upside down times of life.