Saturday, December 16, 2006

The God who intervenes

LUKE 1:26-38

We have to allow God the right to break into our lives

That is what happens here. God breaks into history.

As someone (Peter Larson) has pointed out: "Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin's womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked "No Entrance" and left through a door marked "No Exit."

And God breaks into history by breaking into the life of a young girl, probably not much older than 14.

Mary, no doubt, had her life planned. She was going to marry Joseph. She would - if God gave - have children. She would live in her home town, Nazareth, and be a carpenter's wife. She would never be rich; she would never be famous; she would never be powerful. The best she could look forward to was that her children would look after her when she grew old.

But God breaks into her world. An angel appears to Mary. And her life is set on a radically different course.

I would like us to look at these verses for a few moments because I believe they teach us what can happen when God breaks into our lives.

1. He assures us of his love: (v28)

I remember hearing someone say that in every appearance of an angel to people in the bible the first thing they say is: "Don't be afraid".
[I don't know whether that is true - you can let me know.]
But I guess that an appearance of an angel - when we know that it is an angel (and the bible does teach that angels come to us when we are not aware) - must be quite scary.

Gabriel is no different. "The angel went to her and said, "Greetings you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you". And in v30, the angel says, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God"

But angels say "Don't be afraid", for a reason. They do not wish us to be afraid. They have not come to blast us.
They have been sent by the God who loves us.

He loves us because he created us. And even though we reject his love, he continues to love us. And God chose a non-people, a nomadic tribe, a slave people, to be his people - so that through them he could show his love to all people. But they rejected him. So God sent his prophets to call people to come to the God who loves them. But they were rejected. So God sent his son Jesus: 'For God so loved the world'. And God continues to come to us - continues to speak to us - because he loves us and longs for us to respond to his love.

God's first word to us is 'Yes'. The bible teaches us that.
It is not a yes to what we do.
It is not a yes to how we live.
It is not a yes to the false gods we put in his place
But he says yes to us.

And when God comes to us, breaks into our lives, he comes because he loves us. He will not break into your life simply to destroy. And even if what he is saying to us is hard, even if it is a message of judgement: it will be a message that is spoken because he loves us and he loves other people.

[And baptism is a very visible seal of his love: it is God's way of declaring that we have been washed clean; that we are united to Jesus; that we are welcome members in the family of God.]

2. He gives us a purpose: (v31f)

Mary's purpose is very specific. She is told, "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his Kingdom will never end"

It is frightening: there is a high level of risk for her. This could potentially destroy her relationship with Joseph, wreck her reputation and destroy all her hopes and plans. And in a society that considered sex outside marriage as a crime potentially punishable by death, it was a scary thing to be called to do.

But it must also have been very exciting.
What parent has not dreamed that their child will become great or famous; that their child will make a difference to the world?
And Mary is told that her son will be the one who God promised would come, and that he would reign for ever.
And she must really have wondered: "Why me?"

The angel is in effect saying: "Mary, your child is going to be big news. You are going to be the mother of God (not eternally - in the same way that Jesus is eternally the Son of God - that is the mistake that many people make), but in time".

And the purpose that God gave to Mary was that through her, blessing and salvation would come to all people.

God never blesses one person instead of another
He blesses one person for the sake of the other

And when God breaks into our lives, he gives us a purpose.
It may not be quite as dramatic as the purpose he had for Mary.
But he blesses us so that we can bless others

And the blessing lies in the fact that Jesus will be at our very centre

I do not know where God will lead you, or what God will call you to do. But I do know that, as we follow Christ
there will be risk: God grows us by moving us out of our comfort zones
there will be personal cost
there will be excitement (God uses the desires that he has given us, so long as they are submitted to him)
there will be blessing for others

3. God invites us to come into relationship with him

Mary is not purely passive. She does not say 'yes' straight away. She asks a question: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (v34)

In this case, the angel does not answer Mary's question directly. The angel simply says, "The Holy Spirit will come on you".

There is no explanation, no super-natural biology lesson. What the angel does say is, "It will happen because God has said it, 'for no word from God will ever fail' (TNIV translation of v37). The angel is inviting Mary to trust the word of God.

And when God breaks into our lives he does not want us to simply be passive. Prayer is about a real encounter with a living God. Sometimes he will answer us; sometimes it will seem that he is silent; sometimes he will open our eyes and show us new things. And we will be invited to trust the word of God.

4. God invites us to trust Him

Mary submits to God. She says, "I am the Lord's servant; may it be to me according to your word".
She trusts that it will happen
And she trusts that God will look after her and look after his child

She could have said, "No". Sarah in the Old Testament laughed when she was told she was going to have a baby. Zechariah told God he was off his rocker when the angel informed him that Elizabeth his wife would have a baby.

But Mary said "yes"

And when God breaks into our lives, we have a choice. We can say No or we can say Yes.

I do not know how God will break into your life, and I do not know what God is calling you to do. To each one of us it will be unique: it might be about forgiveness or saying sorry. It might be about putting a relationship right.

It might be that he wishes to take you through fire and testing, to lay us aside for a time so that we can focus afresh on him.

Or it might be that he is calling you to commit your life to him, to make a new years resolution about your personal bible reading or a daily time for prayer; it might be the call to spend time with him (retreat), to make a declaration for him (confirmation or reaffirmation of baptism vows).

Or perhaps he is calling you to do something new, to step outside your comfort zone

Whatever, we can trust him. Glyn Evans wrote: "God must reserve for Himself the right of the initiative, the right to break into my life without question or explanation. That shattering phone call, that disturbing letter ... may indeed be the first stage of God's interruption in my life. ... Since God does the initiating, He must be responsible for the consequences".

I do not know what it is that God is calling you to do. But I do know this:
God loves you
God has a purpose for you
God desires a relationship with us
God would bless you, so that you can bless others.

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