Remember the last time you filled out a job application? You listed your education, your skills, your work experience. Then you hit the final question: “What is it that makes you uniquely qualified for this position?” How do you answer without appearing arrogant? And when I am asked to give a reference for someone, the question I stumble over is “What are the applicant’s weaknesses? Employers assume your availability, but what they really want to know about is your liabilities. Most employers hire on the basis of competence. They look at your skill set and maybe your personality type. Only the enlightened ones care much about your character. But God doesn’t operate this way. In today’s reading from Luke, we learn what it means to say “I am the Lord’s servant comma”
1. No matter who you are, the Lord can use you
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” (Luke 1:26-27)
Mary teaches us God is not as interested as your abilities as He is in your availability. No matter who you are, God can use you. Luke describes an ordinary girl with some serious liabilities:
1.1 Mary was Young
She was pledged to be married. At that time, it was customary for girls to be engaged at 12-13 years of age (around the time of reaching puberty). One reason was to ensure girls maintained their virginity until marriage. It’s very possible that Mary could have been as young as 12-13, or as old as 16 when Gabriel visited her. You and I might think this girl is too young for God to use her, but apparently God didn’t.
1.2 Mary was Poor
We read in Luke 2:22-24 that Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to the temple to be circumcised. They were required to bring two offerings: a lamb for a burnt offering and a dove or pigeon for a sin offering (Leviticus 12:8). If they could not afford a lamb parents could bring a second dove or pigeon instead. Mary and Joseph brought the two doves, because they couldn’t afford a lamb. You and I might have thought this family is too poor to provide for Jesus but apparently God didn’t think so. Mary was young, she was poor, and
1.3 Mary was from Nazareth
Apparently, Mary was a young girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Nazareth was a town with a bad reputation. Remember what Nathanael said when He learned Jesus from Nazareth? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). No telling what this girl grew up seeing and hearing and doing in a rough community like that. Apparently, God didn’t take this into consideration in choosing Mary to be mother to His Son. Mary was young, poor, and from Nazareth.
Enough to make her seem unusable by God. But God chose Mary for one of the most important jobs He ever asked anyone to do. Through God’s choice of Mary, He teaches us: no matter who you are, the Lord can use you. You might think you are too young or old, that you don’t earn enough money or have the talent for God to use you. You might think your background or your past sins might make it impossible for God to use you. Don’t limit God. God chose a poor teenager from a town with a bad reputation to be the mother of the Lord Jesus. She had two vital characteristics God looks for: humility and faith. She knew she wasn’t worthy of the honour God offered her. Yet she was willing if God wished to use her. I am the Lord’s servant comma. Mary teaches us no matter who you are, God can use you.
2. No matter what problems you face, the Lord is with you
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor 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 the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:28-33)
There are some thing you just don’t want to go through alone. We don’t like to go through trouble alone. If you get sick with nobody to look after you, you’ll feel more miserable. If you lose your job, or your spouse or your child, you need somebody to help you make it through. Mary teaches us that no matter what problems you face, the Lord is with you. The angel says “Do not be afraid.” (Luke 1:30) But we wouldn’t blame Mary if she were afraid. What might she fear?
2.1 Divorce by Joseph?
Joseph at first assumes that Mary has been unfaithful to him. What else would he have thought? He decides to divorce her. According to the law, this was necessary to end the engagement. But he is told in a dream that Mary’s baby is, in fact, conceived by the Holy Spirit. But right now, Mary doesn’t know how all of that will work out.
2.2 Rejection by her Family?
Did Mary’s family believe her story that the baby growing inside her was the Son of God? Would you believe that if your daughter told you that story? We are never told anything about Mary’s parents’ reaction to her pregnancy. But it’s very possible that they didn’t believe her story. Imagine the gossip in Nazareth. They would have accused her of adultery. Mary would be shunned by her family and friends. But Mary believes God is with her, even if those closest abandon her.
2.3 Death by Stoning?
According to the law, this was the penalty for adultery. By New Testament times stoning was rare, but it was still a possibility especially in rural communities where the village elders apply the law. The message from the angel totally changed Mary’s life. She was getting ready to be married and live a normal life. But now her life would be anything but normal. How could she be calm as she faced all of the problems that her pregnancy would cause? She would cling to the words the angel spoke “The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28). Mary faced the shame of divorce from Joseph, being deserted by her family, and stoning by the elders. But the Lord was with her. One of the titles given to Jesus is “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” One of the great themes of the Old Testament is the concept of God living with His people in the Temple. Jesus is our Temple, our Immanuel. He is
“God with us.” Ingrid Trobisch writes “If we can live one day with Jesus, we can live every day with Him, each one as it comes.” Jesus came to make God’s presence a conscious, living reality in your life. Human life was meant to be lived in the power of God’s presence, God’s spirit filling us, empowering us, equipping us. Whatever problems you are facing –whatever worries and fears are harassing your –don’t be discouraged. No matter what your problems, the Lord is with you. Give your problems to Him and trust Him to work them out, and He will, just as surely as He worked them all out for Mary.
Two lessons from Mary: First: No matter who you are, God can use you. Second: No matter what problems you face, God is with you.
3. No matter what the Lord promises, He can and will do it
“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.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:34-38)
The birth we celebrate this month, was the result of a supernatural conception. When we talk about the virgin birth we mean that Jesus was conceived in the womb of His mother Mary by a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, without a human father. Now that didn’t sound any more normal back then than it does today. So lets address the question: Why is the virgin conception so important?
3.1 Salvation is possible because its God’s Initiative
The supernatural conception is an unmistakable sign that salvation is the work of God Himself. Our salvation is his sovereign initiative. And this is evident at the very beginning of Jesus’ life. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not Joseph.
3.2 Salvation is possible because Mary’s Son is Divine
Jesus was both fully human and fully God. He had to be in order to be our Saviour. Only a human being like us could be a ransom sacrifice to pay the price for our sins; Only a perfect divine being could pay for the sins of the world. Salvation is possible because Mary’s son is divine.
3.3 Salvation is possible because Jesus is our Saviour
The virgin birth reveals that Jesus Christ is qualified to be our Saviour. He laid aside his eternal glory and majesty to be born a human being. The virgin conception of Christ is therefore tied both to who He is, and what He came to do. As Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us – he would die for his own sin; as God alone he would not have been able to. Incarnate, both Son of Man and Son of God, he could and did. The supernatural conception of Jesus shows that salvation is God’s sovereign initiative, that Jesus is divine, that Jesus is our saviour. Now lets look at Mary’s reaction:
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
The real issue is not whether a virgin can conceive; the real issue is whether anything is impossible for God. Whatever God promises, He delivers. No matter what He promises, He will do it. What promises of God are you tempted to doubt? The same Lord makes that same promise to you as he did to Mary. The writer to Hebrews assures,
“For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
The Apostle John wrote,
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)
Do you read promises like these and say, “Not for me, not now, not after all I’ve done.” But those are divine promises. It doesn’t matter how impossible they seem—there is absolutely nothing that is impossible with God. Our response must surely be the same as Mary’s, “May it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
4. Application Time
Mary may have been very young but she wasn’t naive. She may have been quite poor but she wasn’t desperate. She may have come from a rough community but she wasn’t callous. You may or may not be able to identify with her in these. But there are four things we can learn from Mary.
4.1 Mary Surrendered her life to God
I’m sure Mary had her own dreams and wishes for the future. But, Mary was willing to lay surrender that for what God had planned for her. “I am the Lord’s servant, May it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).
4.2 Mary Praised Almighty God
Her words overflow with reverence and adoration or loving worship for God. God’s name was precious and sacred – “the Mighty One has done great things for me, holy is His name.” (Luke 1:49)
4.3 Mary Memorised the Word of God
This may explain why Mary possessed faith, godly reverence and a willingness to surrender herself to the Lord – Mary knew the Scriptures. Not only did she know of the promises made to the Jewish “fathers” or Patriarchs (Luke 1:55), but she actually quotes word-for-word from Psalms 103 & 107. Mary knew the Scriptures, reverenced the Scriptures, quotes the Scriptures, which, no doubt, shaped her inward life and outward behaviour.
4.4 Mary knew she needed a Saviour from God
Some churches teach that Mary was born sinless. They elevate Mary to the status of Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, co mediator, co-redemptress who remained immaculate all her life and like Jesus ascended to heaven. Mary knew otherwise. She knew her need for salvation. In her song to Elizabeth, we will look at next week, Mary sings, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47).
The baby boy she would deliver would one day die on the cross to deliver even her. Mary knew she needed a saviour. This is why she could say, “I am the Lord’s servant comma.” So what’s with the comma?
Like Mary, we need to learn to put a comma after the affirmation “I am the Lord’s servant”. Because it is an unfinished sentence. Because it is not a statement of faith but a step of faith. See the difference? The sentence is not complete because our life is not over, therefore our service is unfinished. When an opportunity for service is presented, in the notices, in the e-news, in the scrolling ads, learn to say “I am the Lord’s servant, how may I help?” “I am the Lord’s servant, what would he have me do, share or give?” “I am the Lord’s servant, use me.”
Can you say “I am the Lord’s servant” comma? You can when you recognise you need a saviour from God. You can when you confess Jesus to be the Son of God. You can when you surrender your life to the will of God. And there is no better day to do so than Advent Sunday. No matter who you are, the Lord can use you. No matter what problems you face, the Lord is with you. No matter how challenging the future, what God has promised, he will accomplish, if you can say “I am the Lord’s servant…” now finish the sentence. Lets pray.
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With grateful thanks to T. Michael Crews, Scott Coltrain, Jonathan McLeod and Chuck Swindoll for ideas and material used in this sermon