Katja Heesterman, a young adult at Miramar Baptist, delivered this sermon at Christmas last year. Miramar Pastor Phil Coates thought it worth sharing with Baptist readers; we agree.
We are called to perform signs and wonders. We are called to have access to all the power of heaven and earth. We are miracle performers. In reading the Christmas story again, I was struck by Mary, the mother of Jesus, who rode a donkey demurely down to Bethlehem.
I think of Mary and I think of someone quiet and submissive and gentle and peaceful. That’s the image I get, probably from the numerous films that depict her that way. But what about Mary the woman of faith, the performer of miracles, the bold and courageous?
Luke 1:26-56 looks at Mary’s reaction. Usually we’re in the middle of doing something natural when God puts a supernatural opportunity in front of us and all we can do is react.
The angel says to Mary, “Do not be afraid,” yet she was troubled and afraid. At that point she hadn’t been told anything about Jesus; it was the presence of the angel that frightened her. I find that comforting. I am reminded that Mary wasn’t “ready.” She was a young girl who was scared when an angel turned up. Even the mother of Jesus was scared.
Mary wondered what kind of greeting this was and wondered what was happening. She didn’t know what was going on and she didn’t understand.
I’ve been watching Downton Abbey, which is set around the time of the First World War. The cook begins to go blind and so the Lord sends her to an eye hospital where they are going to operate on her. There’s a shot of her sitting in the hospital room looking terrified. She didn’t understand the processes or methods that the doctors were about to use. Not knowing terrified her.
We are the same. We have so much access to information and knowledge. We have laws now that mean someone in the situation of the Downton Abbey cook must be given information about everything that is going on. We are afraid of not knowing because we want to be in control. The problem is that our fear of not understanding is bigger than our faith that God does understand and does know what is going on.
Mary says, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” Mary thought it was impossible. Do we limit God to what is possible? Do we pray for natural things to happen supernaturally instead of praying for supernatural things?
Mary had the testimony of all the Old Testament but none of that is a precedent for immaculate conception. Not only was Mary faced with a humanly impossible feat, but a humanly impossible feat that no one had witnessed before, that no one thought would happen.
When I pray for someone to be healed, I find it encouraging to know that it has been done before, by Jesus and by Christians over 2000 years. Maybe that makes it a little easier.
But then the challenge is John 14:12 – “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done and even greater works because I am going to be with the Father.” And in that verse we are taken right back to Mary’s position. That verse says, yes, you will do what you have seen, but you will also do what you have not seen. You will do what you cannot possibly imagine could happen. We are back looking towards the impossible that we cannot predict or explain, which we need to have faith for.
Mary could have said, “I’d rather stick with manna and dried up seas and burning bushes because I’m comfortable with that.” She could have declared the testimony of what God has done and said, “Yes, God will do that again.” But she looked at the testimony of what God had done, and she looked at what he hadn’t done yet but said that he would. And she said she was going with that.
Do we stand before God and ask for something we’ve never heard of before? Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now all glory to God who is able through his mighty power to work within us to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”
Do we ask for the things we know have been done before? Do you stand before God and say, “Do something bigger than I can think of”?
Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” Mary obeyed. She could have said “no,” but she didn’t.
Whenever God tells me to do something I always manage to think of really good excuses for not doing it. Sometimes it is, “but it’ll look silly.” Often it’s, “I’m too tired.”
If we are so worn out from being busy that we are too tired to obey God, then we need to get less busy. If we are so worn out from loving people that we are too tired to keep loving them when God tells us to, then we need to stop loving from our own strength and resources and start loving from God’s resources.
Thirdly, we need to come before God with a “what can I do for you?” attitude, not an “I am worn out and I need to be loved” attitude.
Maybe in that moment Mary thought of those same excuses. Maybe she was tired. Maybe she thought people would laugh at her. She probably thought, correctly, that people would ridicule and reject her. But Mary said “yes” because she thought about God and not herself. She said “yes” from God’s strength.
For me there’s a lot less at stake. Going and praying for a stranger on a bus is unlikely to get me stoned or quietly divorced. Offering to heal someone is unlikely to transform the entire plan for my life. At worst it’s going to get me into a situation where my faith is attacked and I have to defend it. Should I fear that? No, because God will not let me be attacked more than what I can handle.
But if those things were to be the case – if my life was in question, my relationships, friendships, if my plans were in jeopardy, would I still obey? That’s what Mary said yes to. She said yes to everything changing, to not knowing how her life would go from there. She may have known it was going to be radical, uncomfortable, controversial, it was going to alienate her, and her family wouldn’t like it. But she still said yes.
Mary praised God in faith for what was yet to happen. She glorifies the Lord and rejoices in him as her Saviour. She is rejoicing in him saving her before she has given birth to the one who will save her. She is thanking him in advance for what he has not yet done but what she has faith he will do because he promised.
And she speaks of God being mindful of her and how she will be called “blessed” because God has done great things for her. She has faith that she will be blessed.
Then we get to verse 50, and what does she say? She speaks about the testimony of what God has done. In verse 50 God is extending mercy. In verse 51 he is scattering the proud. In verse 52 he is lifting up the humble. In verse 53 he is filling the hungry and sending the rich away empty.
She is testifying of God’s justice. Don’t we testify of what we want to see happen, what we want more of, what we rejoice in seeing?
Why at this moment, when she is pregnant with the Messiah, does Mary speak of God setting the world right by turning our systems upside down? Because that is the impact that Jesus has on people. Jesus makes you value giving food to the hungry and lifting up the humble. Jesus makes you want to turn everything unfair in this world on its head.
Mary was impacted by Jesus. Are you impacted by Jesus at Christmas time? Or are you impacted by the world?
Mary spoke of what God did throughout history and what Jesus was going to do. Give. Give love. Give time. Give energy. She was infected by the desire to see that happen.
Mary was afraid, didn’t understand and knew Jesus was impossible. But Mary said yes. And it changed her future, her marriage, her world view, her comfort and her lifestyle.
I want to have faith like she did. I want to have an openness, a readiness to follow God’s lead like she did. I want the opportunity to bring a piece or two more of God into this world. Do you?
• Edited for length