Rev. Sandy Johnson
The Mystery of Christmas: “I am the Lord’s Servant”
We continue the Mystery of Christmas today with a very mysterious story indeed, it’s almost unbelievable. The next scene of our mystery opens with almost a duplicate of the story from last week. An angel appears declaring, “Do not be afraid!”, scaring the heck out of the person, then the angel assures them of their favor to God, tells them something frankly outrageous about an impossible birth; declares to them what to name the baby, and then foresees the child’s future, quoting scripture. The person then asks the question, how? A sign is given, the angel disappears and then the scene closes. It’s a wrap!
Mary and Zechariah’s experience with the angel Gabriel is similar but there are also some key differences in our story this morning. The first story last week, began with Zechariah and Elizabeth’s fervent desire to have a baby. For years they had prayed this prayer, “please Lord, let us have a child.” And not until it was utterly and literally impossible, [Elizabeth was likely in menopause,] did God make it possible. I heard once that God is never late but he is rarely early. Can anyone relate to that?
Unlike Zechariah’s, Mary’s experience with the angel was completely unanticipated, totally out of the blue. John would be born to parents past the child bearing years; Jesus to a virgin girl, betrothed, but not yet married. Jesus would be born to a girl who just became a woman, John to a woman whose woman parts frankly had quit working many years ago. John would be conceived by loving parents, Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Although both baby boys would have great significance in the world, our scripture this morning makes clear that it is John who prepares the way for Jesus; and make no mistake about, the baby Mary is to birth is the long awaited Messiah.
This story takes place a month past our last story. We can presume that Elizabeth is past her fifth month, that is where we left off last week. Mary is then given a sign from the Angel Gabriel. He invites Mary to check out his story. Go see your relative Elizabeth, even as an old woman, she is now pregnant. This proves that if God can do that with Elizabeth, what the angel is telling Mary, is also to be believed.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Let’s begin again at the beginning. Who is this young woman Mary? And why is she chosen to be the mother of the Savior? What is special about her? We know that she lived in the small town of Nazareth. As small towns go, this was a smaaaaalllllll town. I am guessing like Searchlight. It was so small that the historians of the day never mentioned it even existing.
We know from archeological evidence that Nazareth was a rather poor village, near a larger town that was quite affluent. There is evidence that many in Nazareth lived in limestone caves, the most inexpensive form of housing in the first century. It didn’t require much in the way of building material, just carve about the side of the mountain and there you have it. This was a sure sign of Mary’s poverty. Nazareth is mentioned in scripture when one of Jesus’ first disciples, Philip told his friend Nathanael that he had found the Messiah and he was from Nazareth. Nathanael’s response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was THAT kind of town.
Nazareth was home to a spring that came up from the ground, that’s why the settled there, because there was a water source. These types of springs were known in biblical times as “living water.” “Is it merely a coincidence that God, who called himself the “fountain of living water,” might have chosen the spring of Nazareth as the place where Mary would become pregnant with a child who would one day refer to himself as the giver of living water (John 4:10)?”
Even the name Nazareth has significance to our story. The name comes from the Hebrew word which means “branch” or “shoot.” “Sometimes when a tree is chopped down, a shoot will grow from the stump, allowing a new tree to spring up where an old one has died. In Hebrew, that shoot is called a netzer. Why would the people who founded this village have called it “the branch?” Throughout the history of Judea, destruction came to both the northern and the southern regions. Prophets spoke about the re-emergence of Israel and described this resurgence as “being like a tree that had been cut down, but which would sprout up again. Israel would be led by a messianic figure called “the branch,” so Isaiah 11:1-4, 6 says.”
11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
[Jesse, you remember, was King David’s father],
and a branch [netzer] shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him… 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…
[And in those days] 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”
“Netzer” was a promise of what was to come, it was hope in a dreary world. Although Israel had fallen, she would rise up once more. This small town of Nazareth would deliver to Israel, the Savior of the World. This was a clear sign that there are no hopeless causes with God. “They may have chosen this name as a way of articulating their hope that one day the Messiah would come to Israel.”
God made the choice to choose this small nondescript town in the middle of nowhere to do his best work. He could have gone just an hour’s walk away to the town of Sepphoris and entered into a luxurious villa and selected a more “worthy” candidate to birth a king. But that’s not the kind of God we love and serve. He reached down into the lowest rung of humanity and esteemed one of his finest. God doesn’t see status or position. God sees what is in our hearts.
“The setting of this story tells us that God looks for the meek and the humble to use for his greatest purposes. God chooses the least likely among us to accomplish his most important work. God chose a slave people to be his chosen people. God called the youngest of Jesse’s seven sheepherding sons, David, to become Israel’s greatest king. As Paul says to the Christians at Corinth, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). James says it this way: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).”
The stage is set, the location is secure. What about the Leading Lady? Who is Mary and why was she given center stage? This young girl, probably no more than thirteen years old, was likely uneducated and as a resident of Nazareth we can presume she was from a poor family. Yet she held a devote faith in God and was chosen because she did not come from noble birth. “Her qualifications were that she was humble, she had a heart for God, and she would be willing to offer herself wholly to God.” I wonder if we are? This theme is repeated many times in scripture, God choosing unlikely servants to change the world. “God chose Abraham and Sarah to bring forth the chosen people. He chose Moses, a fugitive from the law, a man who stuttered and was tending sheep, to be the lawgiver and deliverer of Israel. He chose David, the shepherd boy, the youngest and scrawniest son of Jesse, to be Israel’s greatest king. And he chose Mary, a peasant girl from Nazareth, to bear the Messiah.”
Jesus learned this lesson also, growing up under Mary’s care. He humbled himself repeatedly during his ministry. “The entire Christmas story is, in part, a story about the reversal of values in God’s kingdom. Mary, a peasant girl, was chosen to bear the King. Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. The first people God invites to see the Christ are the night-shift shepherds. [Talk about low!] This story is a call for us to humble ourselves before God.” Humility is often overshowed by pride though.
“Pride is a dangerous sin. It eats away at our soul. It convinces us that we are better than others, we deserve more, and we are above the law. It convinces political leaders and CEOs that they can do as they wish without repercussion. But these people are eventually humbled, aren’t they? The author of First Peter wrote about pride, “’God opposed the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6). God opposed the proud and they will eventually fall.”
So what of the rich, the affluent, the highly esteemed? I look around this room and don’t see anyone here who resembles the poverty that Mary came from. Even those in our congregation with the lowest income would still be considered affluent by first century Nazareth standards. What is God saying to us, here in this room today?
I think the message is that we are to humble ourselves before God. Philippians 2:3-5, 8 says:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus… 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
“This is a call to humility. It’s easy for pride to sneak into our lives, especially when we come from a place of privilege. For some of us, that privilege is based on race; for some it’s socioeconomic status; for some it’s the fact that we live in the United States and not someone where else. We begin to think that the world revolves around us and to treat others as though they’re beneath us. It can happen at the shopping mall when the cashier is a little flustered and can’t quite get it right, and finally you get your turn and treat the cashier poorly. Why? Because you can – because you’re the customer and that person is just an employee or waitperson at the restaurant or your spouse or your parent or your child or your neighbor.
“The passage from First Peter reminds us that God opposes the proud. One thing I’ve noticed is that you’re going to be humbled one way or another. You either humble yourself, or God will do it for you.” That is something my mother has always said to me, “God will always keep you humble.” I debated telling you this story but God convicted me to do so. Some of you may remember the day a few months back when I was to fly to Phoenix overnight for the series of ordination interviews. I got up early and jokingly told myself that I was going to wear my “lucky” panties. I know this is horrible that I’m talking about panties in church, but they were my favorite pair! As we drove to the airport I realized that I needed to get to the bathroom and fast. JJ dropped me off at the curb and I made a mad dash to the nearest restroom. I almost made it. My lucky panties weren’t so lucky after all. Thankfully I had a change of clothes since I was spending the night. I was immediately reminded that although I was soon to be approved for ordination, I must remember to always be humble. God made sure of that. Will you humble yourself, or will you wait for God to do it for you?
God is looking for a few folks, humble, devout, with hearts filled to overflowing with his gracious Holy Spirit. We are called today to share this mysterious story with others, to be ever ready to share God’s love, to be constantly reminded that what is impossible for man, is possible with God. Let each of us respond the way that Mary did to the Angel Gabriel when she said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”
Let us pray: Gracious God, here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let each of us here this morning say these words, here am I. Give us the courage to take a stand and surrender our will to God’s, to turn from prideful people to humble servants, just like Mary did. I pray this all in Jesus name. Amen.
 Hamilton, Adam. The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem. Abingdon Press, Nashville. 2011. Page 17
 Ibid, 19
 Hamilton, Adam. “The Journey.” Page 21
 Hamilton, Adam. “Not a Silent Night.” Abingdon Press, Nashville. 2014. Page 95
 Hamilton, Not a Silent Night. Page 96-97
 Ibid, 97
 Hamilton, Not a Silent Night, Page 98-99