“I PROMISE I’ll be back to pick you up!” So said Jenny Campbell to her three year old Liam. She’d just dropped him off at the Roundhouse Childcare Centre at Fairlight on Monday this week. Jenny KEPT her promise to Liam. But not quite the way she thought. She actually picked him up from HOSPITAL rather than from Childcare.
And rather than coming home with some paintings, and cutting-out, and an empty lunchbox. He came home with some cuts and bruises, and a bandage around a minor head injury.
It all happened when a car careered out of control, travelled across a busy intersection. And ploughed straight into the preschool, bursting into flames.
Liam was sleeping at the time, and was trapped underneath the car.
And even though his mother wasn’t there to rescue him. There were plenty of bystanders who rushed to the scene. And LIFTED the burning car OFF Liam before it could do too much damage.
Liam was rescued. And his mother kept her promise. Although it didn’t turn out quite like she expected.
And that’s often the way it is when WE promise something. We never know what’s around the corner – something that could upset our plans, and stop us from keeping our promise.
But the message of Christmas. The message of these verses from the Bible. Is that GOD keeps his promises, and he rescues us TOO. And he’s a lot more dependable than US. Much more able to keep his promises.
Although if you looked at the way the world is/ you mightn’t think so.
It’s one of the most common problems people have with believing in God. Or at least believing in the God OF THE BIBLE. A God who’s INVOLVED with the world. Who’s POWERFUL. And who LOVES us.
Because people look at the way the world is. The pain. The suffering. The injustice. And they say, “If God’s really there, why doesn’t he DO SOMETHING?”
(slide 5) You see, Liam was one of the lucky ones. Two s, sleeping next to him, are still in hospital in a critical condition. One with burns to 50% of her body, the other with 70%.
And people say, “Where was God when THAT happened?” Why doesn’t he protect the children? Control the car. Stop it catching alight.
Or looking a little wider. Why doesn’t he STOP THE WARS? Why doesn’t he HEAL the CANCERS? Bring the bad guys to justice? Prevent the earthquakes and famines and floods and bushfires.
And it’s a really difficult question. And I don’t have the whole answer.
But I do know SOMETHING. It’s not because he isn’t INTERESTED. Or isn’t POWERFUL ENOUGH.
Because the Bible is FULL of descriptions of times when God DID involve himself in human history. When he DID answer prayer. When he DID rescue, or bring JUSTICE, or PROTECT, or HEAL.
And I know it’s true in MY life. Dozens of times when I’ve seen God ACT. Int into my life, and the lives of people I know. To protect, and guide, and help. Not always in miraculous ways – but he’s acting none the less.
Although in the time of Mary (slide 6), these types of miraculous acts had been pretty few and far between. For about 400 years God had been SILENT. No prophets. No heroes. No judges. No kings. No messages.
And during this time, Israel was pushed around like a tiny school-kid. First by one playground bully, and then by the next. Powerful nations forced them to pay tribute. Controlled their economies, and their government. Restricted their freedom.
First up it was Persia (slide 7). Then Alexander the Great came on the scene. And Greece became the top of the heap. And a of hundred years later, Rome was in the ascendency.
And with each new super power, Israel hoped that their fortunes would change. That THIS would be the new broom to sweep out the old regime. A fresh wind to blow in change.
That THIS TIME, God would hear their prayers. And save his people. Restore the balance. Bring justice to the oppressed.
Because he’d PROMISED to do it. The prophets looked forward to a time when God WOULD return. Return to save. He promised to send a KING. A rescuer. Who would set things to right.
“I promise. I’ll be back”.
Promises like in Isaiah 60 (slide 8)
14 The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet …15 “Although you have been forsaken and d, I WILL MAKE YOU the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations. … Then you will know that I, THE LORD, AM YOUR SAVIOR, YOUR REDEEMER, THE MIGHTY ONE OF JACOB. 17 Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. .. I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. 18 No longer will be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. 19 The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.
What wonderful promises to look forward to!
But each decade came and went. One generation succeeded another. And still the oppressors ruled. Still God was silent. Still God was absent.
Until one day, when an angel appeared to a young called Mary (slide 9). And she lived in a little country town called Nazareth. Away up in the north of Israel. In the middle of nowhere.
And the angel had a message. Look at it there in v28 (slide 9b). “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is WITH YOU”
Not your everyday singing telegram!
God’s been silent for 400 years. And when he DOES choose to send a message, it doesn’t come to a KING, or a PROPHET. It doesn’t come to a WARRIOR.
It comes to a young . A no-one. From nowhere.
And the message begins. That this nobody. Is HIGHLY-FAVOURED by God. And that God is WITH her. Extraordinary!
But if Mary’s a bit confused by THE GREETING. That’s NOTHING compared to the rest of the message. Because the angel continues. V31 (slide 10)
31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 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 the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
They’re familiar words, especially at this time of year. And they tend to wash over us. And so we lose something of what an extraordinary announcement it was.
Was there ever a more momentous message delivered in such a small number of words? Finally, God was going to act. Int into history. And rescue his people. Restore them. And bring in a new kingdom. With a new king. Who would reign FOREVER!
And it’s this king who’ll bring in all the blessings he’s promised. All the promises he’s made through the prophets down through the ages.
And yet, while WE concentrate on the second part of message. Perhaps understandably, Mary’s more interested in the FIRST part – “You will BE WITH CHILD”. Look at v34. (slide 11)
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s the BEING with CHILD that’s got her stumped! It’s like she hasn’t even HEARD the rest of the announcement.
She might be YOUNG, and she might only be ENGAGED. But she DOES know where BABIES come from. And it DOESN’T happen on its own. Without a husband!
But the angel’s got an answer for that. God’s Holy Spirit will OVERSHADOW her. And a virgin, who’d never been with a man, would MIRACULOUSLY have an embryo growing inside her.
And the angel concludes. V 37. Just in case Mary starts to doubt. “For nothing is impossible with God”. (slide 11b)
Nothing is impossible with God!
That’s the answer to people who say “Why doesn’t God DO something?” They think he’s not ABLE to. Doesn’t have enough POWER. But the angel says it straight. Nothing is impossible with God! He CAN cure that cancer. He CAN bring peace in that war. Protect that child. End that drought.
And he IS doing it. Everyday! Sometimes it’s miraculous. Other times it doesn’t SEEM to be. It just seems like LUCK, or MEDICINE, or SURGERY, or other people’s generosity.
But it’s still God who’s behind it all!
But what about people’s OTHER complaint? They think he’s not INTERESTED. Too pre-occupied.
And yet the angel’s saying that God’s HEARD the cries of his people. He’s fulfilling his promise.
It’s just that he’s working to HIS timetable, and not theirs. 400 years, not 40, or 4.
And often that’s our problem. We’ll believe in him, as long as he does things OUR WAY.
We want God to be like our own personal genie. Just rub the lamp, and a parking spot will appear. Rub the lamp, and the job will materialise, the knee will mend, the storm will stop.
And yet, God is SO MUCH BIGGER than that! And his wisdom, and vision, are so much greater than ours!
That’s something the angel’s message makes clear.
But what ABOUT those claims? If you think about it, the angel’s made some pretty extraordinary statements. Look at them again with me. (slide 12)
His name will be JESUS. It’s the same name as JOSHUA. Which means God SAVES. God’s about to ACT, and he’s going to DO IT through Jesus.
(slide 12b) And he will be GREAT. SO great, he’ll be called God’s SON.
(slide 12c) And what’s more, God will give him the throne of his father David. The greatest king there ever was. And yet, Jesus is going to go one better than his ancestor. Because HIS reign will NEVER END. An ETERNAL kingdom.
It would have taken a real leap of faith to believe what the angel said. And yet that’s what Mary did. V38. (slide 13)
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
Bring it on! She says. Who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want God intruding into life? Hearing your prayers? Sending a Saviour?
When all around you / people are saying God’s nowhere to be found. Then he says he’s going to step into your world. And rescue you. Who WOULDN’T jump at the chance.
What do YOU say to an offer like that?
Well, look at what Mary does. Down in v46, she’s SO pleased, she breaks into song. (slide 14)
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
No wonder she’s singing. With all the stuff Israel’s been through, she’s looking forward to God bringing in some justice, restoring the balance.
Look at what she says about God. About how he flips things on their head. V52 (slide 15)
52 He has brought DOWN / rulers from their thrones but has LIFTED UP / the HUMBLE. 53 He has FILLED the HUNGRY with good things but has sent the RICH away EMPTY.
And why has he done it? Because that’s what he’s promised. He’s KEEPING A PROMISE. Look at the next verse. (slide 15b)
54 He has helped his servant Israel, REMEMBERING to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, EVEN AS HE SAID to our fathers.”
And yet, even though Mary’s looking FORWARD to what God will do through Jesus. Notice that she’s actually LOOKING BACK. Looking back in history to what God’s ALREADY DONE. “He HAS performed mighty deeds with his arm. He HAS scattered… and so on”
It’s God’s actions in the PAST which give her the confidence that he will act IN THE FUTURE.
And it’s the same with us. It’s the fact of God stepping into history that first Christmas. Hearing the prayers of his people. Sending a Saviour. That gives us confidence that he’ll do it TODAY. Hear OUR prayers. Change OUR situations.
And we NEED that confidence. Because things obviously still AREN’T perfect. That at the Childcare Centre is proof of that. Perhaps there are things in your OWN life that make you wonder whether God’s really involved.
And yet the message of Christmas is that God DOES care. For Mary and Israel. But also for YOU. He cares SO MUCH he sent his only Son to die a cruel and painful .
He s the mess the world’s in MORE than you. He’s PROVED it.
(slow down) And the good news for US / is that one day God will say “Enough’s enough!” I’ve HAD it. I can’t STAND the pain anymore. I can’t BEAR what people are doing to each other. What they have to put up with”.
And when that day comes, he’ll bring the world to a close. Finish it all up. And set things to right.
I’ve said that’s GOOD news. Well, it’s good news AND it’s bad news. Justice is ALWAYS good news AND bad news.
It’s bad news for the guilty. But good news for the innocent.
And when God’s justice comes. It will be bad news for the powerful who exploit. But good news for the humble. Bad news for the greedy rich. But good news for the hungry.
He sent Jesus the BABY to BEGIN the rescue mission. And he’ll send Jesus the JUDGE to finish it all up.
(slow) And the way you treat Jesus determines whether that day will be GOOD NEWS for you. Or BAD NEWS.
Ignore Jesus NOW, and he’ll ignore you THEN. Follow Jesus, obey him, live for him NOW, and he’ll welcome you THEN.
And just like Mary, that’s something worth SINGING about.