Saturday, 25 December 2021

Five Magnetic Points of Christmas - 5. Transcendence - Colossians 1:15-23

 AUDIO

STUDIOCAM




         •        Introduction

‘Is there anybody there?’ 

It’s the sort of question you ask … perhaps the sort of question you hear asked in a play or a film … when you’re pretty sure there IS, but you can’t actually see them clearly or be totally sure that there is.

But you really think there probably is.

And it’s been one of the biggest questions posed by human beings from the earliest times.

So ancient peoples tried to make a stab at the ‘Anyone there?’ question with images of birds and beasts that they venerated, sticks and stones that they set up, ceremonies and rituals involving the stars and the planets.

You see, human beings do have these basic yearnings still implanted in their fallen human nature that are the remnants of the relationship with God we were created to be in, but which are now cracked, smashed and distorted and yet still not totally shattered and ready to be swept up by secularism’s dustpan and brush.

This fifth and final ‘Magnetic Point’ from Dan Strange’s analysis of where our contemporary society yearns for God asks whether there is a way beyond the realm of our normal everyday this-worldly experience … the question is whether there is anyone there but the desire is for transcendence.

Now, at some level or other, most people have a pretty strong hunch that beyond our current reality lies a greater reality.

This greater reality gets constructed in different ways, but it is always thought of as involving a SUPERIOR power.

“There is also a sense that humans stand in some sort of relationship to this higher power, or at least, that they should. This understanding creates the expressed desire to seek connection with this power - but what is it? Who is it?”

(Dan Strange p. 75)

Now, we are not ancient people trying to work out whether an animal or a planet is the transcendent reality, but we inhabit a secular 21st. century culture … so what is on the menu of contemporary beliefs that seek to address this issue of whether there’s anybody there?

         •        The Menu of Contemporary Beliefs

There’s a pretty full board of beliefs that seek to address this question, which come up with a fair. range of answers.

Here’s a taster …

            •          Scientism

I suppose we’d say that ‘Scientism’ is the view of the world which says that genuine knowledge of reality has to be determined by physics, chemistry and biology .. stuff like that.

Now, of course, we can argue about that a fair bit around issues of the Naturalistic Fallacy, of whether there are things that are not able to be proven scientifically but are nonetheless real (like love and art and things like that) … and we can point to the sort of emptiness and purposelessness that many find this belief system brings to them … but what we are highlighting here is simply that this approach which says no Higher Power can be measured within the criteria of material science so it doesn’t exist is a response to this yearning to know a Higher Power and that the response it makes is to deny the possibility of what the human heart yearns for … it just outright states that not being scientifically measurable or observable (within its own criteria) no Higher Power can exist.

            •          Religiosity

All the while there are people telling us that our society is now completely secular, there are others telling us that it is also very deeply religious … though perhaps not in the ways that it was.

As James K. A. Smith has said: 

“The secular is haunted”

So, in our secular age, 55% of respondents in a Survey of Religion claimed they had been protected by ‘a guardian angel’.

Minorities of people who say they are atheists or agnostics are thoroughgoingly so, and the view that life is thoroughly meaningless is a minority view amongst people of that persuasion.

(Strange p. 78 has the data on this).

So, Western culture seems in our era to be disenchanted with the institutional church, for sure … but where God or some ‘Higher Power’ is concerned it is not so much ‘dis-enchanted’ but ‘differently-enchanted’.

They may or may not believe in God or a range of ‘gods’, but they definitely do seem very much for the most part to have a vague belief in some form of ‘spirituality’ … an openness to ‘the transcendent’ … even if it’s only a sense of ‘connection’ to people or nature or music or art that makes life something more than simply a sum of the parts.

As Strange puts it: “They can’t quite close the door on religion completely shut, and there remains a dissatisfaction and restlessness.”

(Strange, p. 78)

 

         •        Behold your God!

You see, the Bible doesn’t just say: ‘Yes, there IS a Higher Power - now off you go and see if you can solve the puzzle’

The Bible says: ‘Yes, there is a Higher Power, not an ‘it’ but a ‘who’, this is Who He is and let me show you what He is like’!

            •          The Image of the Invisible God

All along, as we’ve been looking at these Five Magnetic Points we’ve been working on the Biblical basis that there is still enough of the image of God in mankind to have these five yearnings within us … even those of us who are still suppressing the truth in our preference for things that aren’t good and therefore still longing for God but looking determinedly away from where He may be found.

Even while Romans 1:18-20 remains the case for much of modern humanity … there are still yearnings for the state of the relationship with God that we were created to fit into.

And yet in SPITE of that, as Romans 1 puts it there:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,  since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

(Romans 1:18-20)

But - in spite of all that - God has reached out once again at the point of this human turning from where He - the Highest Power - may be clearly known to address the point of our yearning to know the Higher Power … at the point of humanity’s search for transcendence.

And what we have in the real Christ of Christmas is God’s definitive reveal of Himself.

The Higher Power we yearn to know and worship … maximally absolute and maximally personal (or in theology-speak both transcendent and imminent) has reached down to us in our yearning, by His grace, to SHOW Himself.

And He did it when Christ came as the Word (the revelation of God) made flesh (amongst us and with us … Immanuel)

Paul spells it out for us as he describes the real Christ of Christmas in Colossians 1.

You want to know if, Who and what like the Highest Power is?

‘Look ye here!’ says the Apostle …

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation

— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. 

This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”

(Colossians 1:15-23)

Very briefly, then, Paul is telling us in this passage here Who He is (vv. 15-19) and there’s what He has done (vv. 20-23).

You want to know Who He is and what He does?

There He is then … the true Christ of Christmas, the revealed answer to the deepest yearnings of your soul for transcendent reality.

You see, people live thinking their deepest yearnings are the things that keep you in the dark … to which you look away from God whilst yearning for all that He is.

Here is the GENUINE Higher Power … and the visual representation of Him is found in Jesus.

Let’s just look at this quickly …

            •          What is an ‘image’?

Way back in the Old Testament, in the Garden of Eden, we are told that human beings - male and female - were created to be the image of God in Creation.

It doesn’t actually say ‘IN the image of God’ back there, it says ‘AS the image of God’.

Human beings were to be God’s regents, almost, His servants but His stewards representing Him in the work of nurturing His Creation and standing in some derivative and subordinate way in that relationship with all of His creatures.

But we know human beings weren’t content with that, with accepting God’s view of what was right and wrong for and in His Creation and things went rapidly downhill from there.

Well, unique amongst the people of the ancient world, the worship centre for the Old Testament people of God had no ‘images’ in it.

There WAS an inner sanctum in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and then the Jerusalem Temple, where the most intense presence of God on earth was symbolically found … but at its focus the Holy of Holies had not an idol image but the MERCY SEAT above the Ark of the Covenant where atonement was made annually for God’s fallen image in humanity.

Humanity was supposed to reflect God’s character to the world and be the image of God in Creation.

The God of the Old Testament was to be invisible save for the people of God Who reflected His image in His world.

But humanity went freelance and freestyle and things went wrong from there onwards … hence the image-empty holiest place with just provision for the marred image being made there.

            •          What does this MAKE the ‘image’?

What this makes God’s image on earth is marred, spoiled and a poor reflection … and yet provided for and covered by a symbolic Temple ritual of atonement, until the fulfilment of that sacrifice should come.

Now jump forward with me a few thousand years to what Paul writes about the coming of the actual sacrifice and the state of Eden being restored.

            •          Who He is, vv. 15-18

            •           Christ and Creation, vv. 15-16

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”

            •           Jesus - the Image of God

Paul begins this hymn about Christ with pointing to Christ’s true revelation and representation of God and His will.

Humanity was made and placed in the Garden way back in Genesis to be and to represent the image of God.

We’ve gone over how that went wrong.

But here comes Jesus, the proper man of Luther’s old hymn ‘A safe strong hold our God is still’ … the PROPER man.

Humanity as humanity was created to be and the Temple of God’s Spirit as the prototype of the new humanity that He was about to create and bring into being.

Humanity as meant to be and now taken to a fuller, further level is now incarnate in the God-man Christ Jesus.

Genesis 1:26-28 gave us this background understanding of the nature of humanity as it was created: 

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

 

So God created mankind in his own image,

    in the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

 

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Here, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit Paul writes that this proper humanity is back, but redeemingly, the first born of many brethren in Christ.

We do have to notice that the first Adam was created ‘in’ or ‘after’ the image of God … but is not identified AS the image.

But Jesus goes further and IS the very image of God here.

In the words of David Pao in his Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament:

“… through Him God’s nature and will are made known.”

(Pao p. 95)

            •           Firstborn of all Creation

This points to Christ’s supremacy above all created beings.

The idea of firstborn can be a reference to being born first … but it tends to be (as in Ps. 89:27 etc.) an indication that all the power and authority in the household or amongst the Kings of the Earth or whatever adheres to that individual.

Pao: “The title ‘firstborn’, therefore, points to the unique and incomparable identity of Jesus Christ.” (p. 95)

 

            •           Creation’s Creator, beneficiary and ruler

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”

Colossians 1:16

Paul is again highlighting the supremacy of Christ by describing His role as the UNIQUE agent of Creation.

And Creation is IN Him, BY Him and FOR Him.

You don’t get more transcendent than the Creator God … ‘wanna see Him?’ (asks Paul).

Here He is - they named Him Jesus!

            •           Christ and Providence, vv. 17-18a

Now having said that, it therefore follows in Paul’s logic that …

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

In Him all things hold together.

Do you ever wonder, given how daft people are, or how wicked or evil or just plain short-sighted human beings seem capable of being, humanity hasn’t smashed itself to bits many times over already?

In Him all things hold together.

He didn’t just make it, He sustains it.

And His might is the key to how He can achieve this.

His Name is Jesus.

Ultimately to put the block on our own self-destruction, He has stepped in to take preservation one step further … to redemption

            •          What He has done, vv. 18-23

So now Paul brings us forward from this extensive revelation of Who the Higher Power is to this thorough-going exposition of what He’s done:

 

            •           Christ and the New Creation, vv. 18b-19

“he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him”

What Christ incarnate has done is to house Deity in humanity.

Now, it was the Scottish Minister Henry Scougall (1650-1678) who wrote the book: ‘The Life of God in the Soul of Man, or, The Nature and Excellency of the Christian Religion’ to help a friend suffering with doubts, but the phrase goes back through a number of Puritans like Thomas Watson to John Calvin himself …

Paul is telling us that if you look at the real Christ of Christmas you see there in Him ‘the full life of God in the soul of a human being’ … and He is the pioneer of putting the Divine image back into the hearts of humanity.

Which is precisely the point of His coming … to put the life of God into the souls of redeemed and God-reconciled human beings … reconciled to God by His own shed blood.

You want to find the transcendent?

More - do you want to know it in yourself?

We know Who He is and can know Him … but will you PLEASE look at what it is that He does?

            •           Reconciled believers to God, vv. 20-22

“through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

 

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 

 

22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—“

 

Alienated humanity is in Christ RECONCILED (for the first time since the sad events with snakes and apples in a Garden, after generations of darkness and sadness and pain) to the transcendent God through the self-sacrificial work of the Son.

Through His physical body.

Christmas and Calvary.

To present His people HOLY … conformed to the right will and purpose of God for His human Creation.

Without blemish … somehow once more unspoiled and fit for the life of sacrificial service to God that is both our proper purpose, reasonable worship and destiny … in the interests of Humanity’s well-being and flourishing.

More - free now because cleansed in conscience and free from eternal accusation.

There is just one rider to Paul’s argument, revelation and proclamation of the reconciliation of humanity with the Transcendent here …

            •           If they stand firm in the Gospel, v. 23

“if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”

Simple.

Redemption has been GLORIOUSLY accomplished and applied. 

But there’s to be no more wandering off like you did in Eden.

         •        Conclusion

In our run-up to Christmas this year, then, we’ve been looking at some of the yearnings of the human heart that … even in our secular society … draw reluctant people back towards God.

The image of God that the Lord created mankind with is spoiled and marred and people seek things to meet their yearnings in other directions than Him.

But the image of God in humankind is still strong enough, in its last vestiges but still present, to draw people a little way towards the God Who meets those yearnings.

The trouble is people by nature still look away determinedly from Him – as they did at Eden – and living as His image in His world … and the effect of that is that those yearnings are not resolved and are not met in restored relationship with Him.

Now what God did at Christmas – through the real Christ of Christmas - was to provide and to highlight the way back.

Today we’ve concluded our preparation for Christmas by addressing the question … the question that blatantly bugs an awful lot of OUR people … ‘Is there anybody there?’

And the answer we find in the Christ of Christmas is that there is more than a Higher Power, there’s a Person reaching out to you.

As we said earlier:

The Bible doesn’t just say: ‘Yes, there IS a Higher Power - now off you go and see if you can solve the puzzle’

The Bible says: ‘Yes, there is a Higher Power, not an ‘it’ but a ‘who’, this is Who He is and now let me show you what He is like’!

Paul in Colossians 1:15-23 has summarised and condensed what the earlier Scriptures show us in the description they offer of Jesus, His life and His work.

So the question is whether there is any transcendent reality of the sort that we long for.

‘Is there anyone there?’

Yes, and this is Who He is … and the fact that you even ask the question points to the reality that He WAS there, and now you miss Him.

You miss Him very much.

Make Christmas the time that you welcome His presence again and are welcomed by Him as you come back.

 


Saturday, 18 December 2021

Five Magnetic Points of Christmas - 4. Destiny

 AUDIO - the sermon podcast


STUDIOCAM - from the sermon recording ... click the links




Transcript

        Introduction - the issue: WHO is writing the script?!

I was being interviewed in an after-church meeting by a good man I know who was the chair of the missions committee.

He had taken my prayer letters for ages and in fact knew me as a very new believer … a friendship that has gone on for decades.

He was a high flying civil servant in Wales and managed a huge staff within the organisation.

He’d obviously been a bit puzzled for a while and was genuinely concerned about how I managed the range of things my prayer letters referred to.

So - trying to get me to see (no doubt) the craziness of my regular work schedule - he asked me in front of the crowd that had turned out about what strategies I used to manage my time.

Now, that’s a no-no for me.

I do have a plan for each day … but I have to be able to respond to crises and fresh issues of people’s need.

I’m afraid I made a witty response to him and diverted attention away from the issue.

Here’s the thing.

I have to live with the fact that I have choice, and the fact that I am NOT in fact the master of the universe, able to control my life as I chose.

There is my plan, and then there is THE plan.

Of course, then, in common with most people alive, I have a problem at the radical edge of the intersection of my plans and God’s, my choices and what appears to be my destiny.

Now, where my time management is concerned, I’ve had to resolve it along the lines that I’m working on His time not mine … He is the One Who ‘pays my wages’, and He controls whatever comes across my path each day … and yet I also have some responsibility to ensure that I take every chance to serve Him as I’m working on His time.

There’s a huge human yearning going on here which the real Christ of Christmas addresses for us.

So on this the last Sunday before Christmas, we’re going to open up the issue that we’re addressing, set it in the context of our identity as human beings and then look at a well-worked example of how it is resolved in the experience of Mary and the Angel in Luke 1.

Here’s the question for today then - it’s very simple: my life can be thoroughly confusing, just exactly who is writing the script, and what about putting in ad libs?

                 Humanity: made for decision AND destiny

Who IS in control in my life?

We know that there are various agencies at work in this internet age to influence the way we feel, think and react.

Psychological Operations people have, we’re told, been working on our response to the pandemic from offices in Downing Street … just to cite a probably benign and helpful example.

Is it even POSSIBLE to live without serving a master of some sort?

Would we WANT to?

On the one hand we WANT to be in control of our lives, possibly THINK we are in control of our lives and probably manage and manipulate things so that we create at least the illusion that we are in control … 

But is there a way to be in control, or am I actually under the control of something or somebody else?

People are often bugged in the background of their thinking by this, and the issue becomes markedly more critical at times of life-crisis.

This is the fourth ‘magnetic point’ that both Hermann Bavinck and Dan Strange identify as deep longings of the human soul that lead us on to yearning for what the authentic Christ of Christmas addresses for us:

Destiny.

The way we control it and by it are controlled.

The thing is … Destiny isn’t really an ‘it’.

                 Humanity: safe in the hands of one Shepherd

From the very beginning of human experience, God gave humans a unique responsibility as stewards of His Creation … to care for it by shaping it, working with it (not just living ‘off’ it) and to make a home out of it using the imagination and creativity we’d been given when we were created in the image of God.

That’s great … but we’re only stewards.

God is the owner.

He is in charge, He is (as we say) Sovereign.

We have responsibility, but it is a delegated responsibility.

He gives us the blueprint to work from and the framework to operate within.

However, as we know, humanity has fallen foul of the temptation to go freelance.

More than that … not just freelance but freestyle, redrawing the blueprint we were willing to work to and attempting to go it alone with our own plans, plans that were not anything like a ‘world as-built’ drawing.

They don’t match the realities here and so our re-drawn plans do not fully work.

Dominion over Creation got replaced by domination and trust in our Creator got replaced by over-dependence on created things.

But deep down … we can see it isn’t working.

So, humanity seeks structure, meaning, significance, role … in other things.

As Dan Strange puts it in that book I’ve been recommending throughout our run-up to Christmas: 

“The problem with these alternative sources of meaning is that they don’t give us the control we want … and so when these ultimate explanations don’t give us the big picture meaning and security we need, our reaction is to assert our mastery in the little things, and over things we know we can control.”

(Strange 132-133).

In a world that OUR plans don’t completely fit, the fruit of all of that doesn’t taste or smell particularly good at all.

So here we are, thrashing around in a sense of unease about just who (or what) is writing the script.

We’re stuck between on the one hand some sort of recognition of dependence on the will and the mastery of another and on the other hand the rebelliousness that leans across from the passenger seat and seizes the steering wheel, without access to the pedals and all the other things it takes to properly get control of the car.

So here humanity sits, striving to be in control, but without the means to take it up fully, wondering WHO on earth is writing this script.

And that’s where Mary, just before first Christmas, has got a thing or two to teach us …

        Mary - the well-worked example of freedom, Luke 1:26-38

The hugely famous incident with Mary and the angel Gabriel in Luke 1 contrasts the human experiences of independence and dependency.

Mary has a will of her own, but so does the Lord Who speaks through the angel … and how these are to be reconciled is a major theme of what is going on.

                      An unwanted Providence, vv. 26-29

 

“ 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 favoured! The Lord is with you.”

 

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”

 

We’re really familiar with those words, of course, and it’s easy then to miss the shock-value of what had just taken place.

                                  Mary’s situation

Mary’s place in society is not a prestigious one.

Here’s a young unmarried woman.

She is not said to be of any particularly prestigious family line … and she’s from a backwater in Palestine … a small town in a part of the Roman Empire that was in itself quite a backwater.

And an ANGEL very suddenly turns up.

This is a major disruption to her quiet little world.

She’s already disturbed by the visit she’s received and the words of an ANGEL telling HER she is highly favoured (by implication of course, highly favoured by God).

This rocks her world.

And then that angel’s reassurance has some very unsettling content to it …

                      An un-assuring reassurance, vv. 30-33

“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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.”

Don’t be afraid?

That, under the circumstances, is a very big ‘ask’!

Even Zechariah … experienced priest of mature years … has needed reassurance when he met an angel in a similar way in Luke 1:13.

You are going to have a baby

When that message came to Zechariah and Elizabeth, no doubt it was a very welcome promise.

For Mary … a betrothed virgin and a godly girl … this is just too much to bear!

He’s going to be a very great person

Mary lived at a time and in a place under a violent repressive invader when keeping your head down and living quietly was most desirable.

It’s the nail that sticks up that gets hammered (in the words of the Chinese poroverb) and under the repressive Roman regime in first century Palestine, ambition wasn’t a very good trait to nurture.

But look … the angel told Zechariah that John the Baptist was going to be somebody great.

Here Gabriel expands substantially on that for Mary’s baby.

Your baby will be the Messiah

Isaiah 9:7 has already spoken of the coming Messiah in these terms as Mary would very well know:

 “Of the greatness of his government and peace

    there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

    and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

    with justice and righteousness

    from that time on and forever.”

And as all those thoughts kicked off in her head Mary is well aware of the verse that comes before it …

“For to us a child is born,

    to us a son is given,

    and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Mary … this girl who grew up in Nowheres-Ville is getting told she’s going to get caught pregnant and the baby she has will be the prophesied Messiah-Saviour, King of the Kingdom of God.

Significantly for us please notice this.

Mary is NOT being asked how she would feel about this, as if this were an option she might consider, or as if she were being offered an audition for the part.

She’s been told she is going to fall pregnant when pregnant was NOT something she wanted to be … betrothed but not yet married?

Pregnant is the LAST thing she wants to be!

The reassurance of the angel is sounding quite un-reassuring!

In fact the message is totally outrageous.

So even though she’s been told something very authoritatively from the mouth of the Angel Gabriel, Mary’s going to dare to raise her voice in faithful objection …

                       A faithful objection, vv. 34-37

Mary’s OWN will kicks into action … here it comes:

““How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

 

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.”

Mary’s a good girl, but she knows her biology.

Now look, those who don’t like the thought that God can circumvent the so-called ‘laws’ of chemistry, physics and biology try to make out that the word for ‘virgin’ here, and especially in Isaiah’s prophecy, can also simply mean ‘a young woman’ haven’t dealt with the context of this verse.

In fact, it’s a bit clearer than that.

… since I “have not known a man”, says Mary. 

The expression in the Greek text is a euphemism for sexual relations. 

Mary seems to have sensed that the angel’s declaration had an element of immediacy to it which excluded the possibility he was describing her having a child with Joseph. 

What we’re saying is that while many modern translations of this passage have this phrase “since I am a virgin,” the Greek word for virgin is not used in the text.

This is all about Mary having a baby NOT in the usual way.

But our point is this … what’s being proposed to Mary is something that her own will would resist and cry out against.

She really isn’t that sort of girl, the responsibility she’s being given is really burdensome and the potential trouble it would bring her in first century Palestine was something to be avoided like the plague.

How do you reconcile it when you thought you were in control but then you are NOT in control, when you seem to have the right to make your own choices in life, but then it seems you do not?

How do you reconcile human freedom and destiny?

In short just WHO is writing the script?

The angel is telling Mary some really tough things to hear.

Her older, married, childless cousin Elizabeth could welcome such news, but in her very different circumstances Mary’s human nature could be expected to rebel against this announcement of her destiny really riotously.

How does Mary reconcile the tension … now here’s the point.

This is the big point here for us.

                       Faithful submission to the Father, v. 38

“So Mary said, “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word.” 

Then the angel departed from her.”

It all comes down to this issue … ‘Mary, just WHO do you think you are?’

And it’s going to come down to this in life for you and for me too.

Mary is confronted with a message from God conveying an unchosen and an unsettling destiny.

But Mary’s self-image is that of a servant of the Lord.

Not of herself … a servant of the Lord.

That is the self-image she embraces.

That is what Mary has actually CHOSEN to be.

And life for Mary now is a matter of working out all the consequences of that.

Really, this does seem to be Mary’s settled view of herself, because she describes herself in her famous song when the Saviour was born in v. 48 using exactly the same term, and goes on to use it again of God’s ‘servant’ Israel.

This chapter is full of Isaiah, by the way, and Isaiah’s Servant Songs about the Messiah that they prophesy are both powerful and well-known.

The Messiah Himself was to be the Servant of the Lord, and that’s definitely good enough for the young Mary too.

She bore Jesus for us … the GOOD Shepherd of the sheep.

The Shepherd is the one (in the Eastern way of shepherding) who LEADS.

What we’re saying … pretty much what Mary is saying or will say when the significance of Jesus becomes clearer … is that Jesus is the One Who calls the shots.

He leads, but we follow (that’s a choice … a back-to-Eden choice as it happens because that’s how it was when things were going well back there!)

And we chose to follow for a host of good reasons but the reason we’re not trapped by His leadership, His writing the script, is that He is the GOOD Shepherd.

So we’re not simply a nameless person in a teeming mass of humanity to Jesus.

Dan Strange puts it like this:

“Time and again in the Gospels, we see how Jesus demonstrated perfect dominion over His Creation in the miracles He performed. But He did so in a way that was not oppressive but loving.”

Strange cites various miracles of healing and deliverance from dangers both physical and spiritual in origin.

There are lots.

But that message comes across probably most clearly in that when humanity’s choices got us into horrible trouble, God sent His own Son to sort it out when we couldn’t do that for ourselves … we were powerless to so He sent the real Christ of Christmas.

That is the heart of the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd that we can therefore TRUST.

What Jesus shows then as He progresses through His earthly ministry is that the world isn’t just a chaotic and meaningless place governed by either tin-point cruel deities or a grindingly impersonal ‘fate’ making us into puppets getting our strings pulled.

Of course, the Bible demonstrates that there is a sense in which we are both in control and under control … there is human responsibility within Divine Sovereignty.

You see it (for example) in Acts 2:23 where Peter is preaching to the Jerusalem crowd at Pentecost that had quite possibly cried for Christ’s blood the previous Passover … or at least heard the cries of those who did:

““Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

So here’s the sort of conclusion we’re coming to about this …

                 Conclusion

The bottom line is that the simple, God-favoured girl from Nazareth that Gabriel appeared to in Luke 1 had got this enigma … one that has had the best theologians and philosophers stumped … absolutely mastered and solved.

As Dan Strange puts it “Far from needing to feel trapped by shadowy forces or a cosmic fatalism, the Christian view of destiny is liberating because we believe that our good God has an unfolding plan for our lives, and that through all the ups and downs and twists and turns, we will get to the destination He’s promised. We can trust His plan because we can trust Him.”

(Strange p. 135)

Here’s how to live in peace resting in God’s will and in our destiny.

Our destiny is to do as mankind did at first in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were conscious of the destiny … the blueprint, the role … mapped out for them, and CHOSE to fulfil it because it was the will of their good God for their lives.

And that’s what Mary comes back to in Luke 1:38

Here is your blessing-verse to help you through Christmas, and here is the liberating destiny (both those things) that the real Christ of Christmas now brings to you:

““I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” 

Then the angel left her.”

Luke 1:38

Why did the angel then leave her?

Because with Mary’s choosing and embracing the daunting destiny that her good God had given her, Gabriel’s job was done.

Mission accomplished.

Area call: all angels to return to base.


 

 

DIY Sunday Service Kit - 26/06/22 - Testing the 'Voices' and matters of 'Legacy'

  Welcome to the DIY Sunday Service Kit for June 26th., 2022. The matter of the sort of legacy we might leave and what it might be worth get...