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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas Preaching

I'm out this year. No preaching for me. I've been out of the pulpit now for nearly two months. After 10 years of preaching with one other 5 month hiatus, it's still weird. I still feel antsy on Saturday nights and I still feel tired on Mondays, all for no good reason. But Sunday afternoons have been great. I can watch a whole football game.

During Advent I preach the same sermons every year in some form or another about The Theotokos, that is, the God Bearer, the Mother of God, the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary). And I preach it today on my blog.

It was John Weborg who taught me that the early church considered the BVM to be the first disciple of Jesus. She was the first human to submit her life to Christ.

Did you know that the early church considered Mary to be the first disciple of Christ and prototype of the first believer?

Consider this: just by the very act of obediently accepting her commissioning by God to be pregnant with Jesus, the early church therefore declared that she was the first person to ever put her life in submission to Jesus’. In that way she was and is a perfect model of a disciple.

She submitted her life to Christ. Not just her thoughts. This was not just a mental ascent to say, “OK God I’ll play along.” Mary made a vow and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” meaning she was ready to submit all to her God.

Those of you who know anything about pregnancy know that you submit a lot to the child that is in-utero. A woman’s body is overtaken and all sorts of things begin to happen:

That child for one takes up a lot of space that a woman’s bladder used to enjoy. Besides the frequent trips to the bathroom, there is an morning sickness, an uneasy stomach toward certain foods, cravings for weird food, frequently hungry, etc.

But also expectant moms are frequently tired as the baby saps a lot of nutrients and energy from their body. In case you did not know, mother’s also can have difficulties sleeping because there is really no comfortable way to sleep with an extra 20 pounds protruding from your stomach and having something kicking you in the ribs.

Friends, I want you to stop and think of someone you know that has had a baby. What happened to them? Think of all the changes that happen. We often times just think of the end result -- the baby -- but before any baby comes there is nine months (or more accurately 40 weeks[or more]) of weird changes to ones body chemistry, to one’s bones, one’s hair, finger nails, body shape and weight, personality, ability to sleep, etc.

Mary underwent an enormous life change. Did you ever stop to think that maybe Mary had dreams for her life? Maybe she hoped for a great marriage -- she was betrothed and probably looking forward to her new life with Joseph. Maybe they had talked about what they hoped their future together would entail. Maybe she thought he was a fantastic guy and she was head over heals about him. Maybe she liked children and wanted to have a big family. No doubt she had all sorts of hopes and dreams for her life just like you and I have. But those dreams were abruptly interrupted and put aside. She submitted even her dreams and hopes to God.

Mary also stands out to us as one who submitted her life to the "unseen" Christ. She had not heard his preaching and seen his miracles. But in faith she gave her life over to serving him.

Mary was not a property owner. All she had were her clothes, her body, her will, her dreams, her family -- her being. Most of what she had were intangible things of enormous value. Yet she submitted even these most valuable treasures. She gave literally everything she had and submitted it to God for his Son.

Early Christians are quick to point out that before she was pregnant -- she submitted her life to God’s will. No negotiating with God -- she just gave him all that she had.
Mary’s discipleship, -- when I say say ‘disciple’ I am meaning ‘one who is a fully devoted follower of God’ -- Mary’s discipleship precedes her motherhood. Before she is a mother she is a disciple. Her identity is in God first.

When we introduce yourself to someone that is often the time we begin making a statement about our identity: I’m a father or mother; or I’m related to so-and-so; or I am a student in 10th grade; or I go to or graduated from a certain school; or I’m an engineer, a truck driver, a business owner; or I live in Black River; or I go to the Evangelical Covenant Church.

All of those things we list off are secondary. They ought to be preceded by the fact that we are disciples. As a disciple of Jesus Christ it is where both we and Mary find our primary identity.

Mary was a RISK TAKER all through the life of Jesus:
Consider the enormous risk she took. Angels coming to speak to people just don’t happen every day and this angel had a very difficult, scary message. Would people believe her? Especially her beloved Joseph. Would she disgrace her parents, Joseph and his family?

Mary risked her public opinion poll ratings BIG TIME. She risked the relationships she treasured most. She risked being ridiculed by the community. But she said, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

This was also a financial risk. Did the angel mention anything about who was going to pay for this ordeal? Who was going to supply the child with food, clothing and shelter? The Angel made no guarantees and she wasn’t yet sure how Joseph would react. She knew he could divorce her.

Mary risked having her heart be broken by loving this child. Simeon, who was in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to be dedicated, spoke to Mary and said that her soul would be pierced with a sword.

Mary had a baby but it was only on loan to her. She was its mother. She loved that baby. That baby cooed and made cute noises. She nurtured and cared for that baby all the while knowing that her heart would be pierced. Mary risked loving a child that she knew God had plans for.

Giving birth and raising Jesus were not Mary’s only risks:

Mary was there in tears at the foot of the cross when Jesus was hanging there suffocating, beaten and bloodied, in anguish and suffering, -- dying right before her eyes -- she was there.

Remember, as Jesus hangs on the cross he is a criminal -- charged with treason against the Roman state and heresy against the Jews. He is in essence public enemy #1.

But Mary faithfully risks her own reputation and safety again as she weeps over her son, the criminal before her was the same son that God gave her when she had said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Just as when she was pregnant and facing public shame, she did so again at the cross, facing the public shame of being the mother of a public criminal -- a mother who loved that public criminal.

The risks of her discipleship did not end there:
In Acts chapter one we read of Mary sitting in the upper room with the disciples and other believers. She sat there in the midst of the same people who had once claimed to be followers of Jesus but deserted both him and deserted her while she stood at the foot of the cross, and they scattered and denied being associated with Jesus. The same crew that betrayed Jesus, she now stood in there midst as part of the newly forming work that God was doing.

Again she risked public scrutiny. But even more greatly she risked forgiving and trusting these unfaithful people who had betrayed her Son.

Friends, if you did not know it: Mary was truly a disciple. Mary was an unbelievably strong woman. Mary was truly a model of Christian discipleship.

She gave everything she had and submitted it to God. Literally everything.

She found her identity in God. She was a disciple before she was a mother.

She took enormous risks to follow God. No matter what it would cost her -- she risked it all and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Mary made that statement about 10 months before Jesus was born. In only 7 days from now we celebrate his birth again. But today is no different. The same God that sent his angel to approach Mary, now approaches you today and he says,

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by, “ declares the Lord.” (Jer 29.11-14)

Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eart with him, and he with me.”

What will you say? Have you ever given your life over to God? Have you ever said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Maybe you have been a Christian your whole life and are a member of a church — grew up in church, gone to Sunday School, been to church camp, and done all or most of things that church people do. Even at some point you look back and reflect on a time when you gave your life to following Christ. Remember, Mary was a devout Jew already and now God was approaching her about something new.

I wonder if today you would consider recommitting your life to Christ, just like Mary did. If today you would for the first time or tenth time say to the Lord, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Will you submit all you have? Your reputation? Your job? All your belongings? Every dream, hope and desire? Would you allow God to interrupt your life?

Perhaps you read this message and you know that you have never spoken to God to give him your life. As you can see, Mary’s life was not pain free and your’s would not be either if you chose to follow Christ. But Mary had one thing that almost all of humanity craves -- a reason to live. Mary was on a mission to serve God. He had plans for her and now God has plans for you.

If right now you will decide to say to God, “I am the Lord’s servant.” which is the beginning of the his plans, he will begin a great work in you that will change your life and rock this world.

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