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12-19-21 “Loved!”

“Loved!” (Luke 1:39-55)

Advent C / Faith; Love; Christmas / Lk 1:39–45

Sermon type: Textual-Topical

Proposition: The one who comes to believe the message of Christmas is blessed, in the here and now, with hope and peace and joy, and the message of Christmas is–you are loved and your destiny is love, and this destiny motivates us to live lives of love in the here and now.

Introduction

Set in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Finding Nemo is the tale of a clownfish named Marlin, and his heroic search for his son Nemo. Marlin’s past is filled with calamity—including the tragic loss of Nemo’s mom and siblings in a ferocious barracuda attack. Ever since, Marlin lived timidly, fearing another dreadful thing would happen. He played it safe, never trusting, never risking.

His apprehension made him overprotective toward Nemo, hovering over him incessantly. His worst fear was realized when Nemo was trapped by a deep-sea diver and taken to Sydney. The anxiety-ridden dad set out on an epic journey to rescue his son.

In his travels Marlin met a lonely fish named Dory, and his fears isolated him from her. He was so afraid of making a bad choice he dismissed her advice, and second-guessed her opinions. Dory was more trusting and willing to try, even at the risk of failing. She had faith. Marlin had none.

The two found themselves trapped in the belly of a great whale. Marlin, in frustrated fury, pounded against the slimy walls until he fell limp, worn, and dejected.

Dory cooed with motherly tenderness, “Are you okay? There, there, it’s all right; it’ll be okay.”

“No, no, it won’t,” was Marlin’s reply. “I promised [Nemo] I’d never let anything happen to him.” If he could only have been more vigilant, more cautious, and somehow taken even fewer risks. If only”

Dory responded, “Huh, that’s a funny thing to promise.”

From PreachingToday.com Source: Finding Nemo (2003), by Pixar, written and directed by Andrew Stanton, produced by Graham Walters

I. The Darkness is Real — Faith Doesn’t Deny Reality

1. MARY IS OUR EXAMPLE, but Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father) had reasons for his doubt. His life, in the eyes of many, was a failure.

NIGTC (a. The Prophecy of John’s Birth (1:5–25))

To be childless was a great reproach (1:25) and possibly a sign of divine punishment; to have children was a sign of blessing (Gn. 1:28; Ps 127, 128).

2. Mary had reasons to doubt. From the perspective of this world she was nobody.

3. We have reasons to doubt. We fall short of what we know we should be.

II. Faith chooses to See Reality through the Lens of God’s Promise

1. MARY IS OUR PARADIGM (3rd person)

All the People in the Bible: An A–Z Guide to the Saints, Scoundrels, and Other Characters in Scripture (Zechariah the Father of John the Baptist)

Because they were both old, Zechariah doubted. He could not believe that Elizabeth would follow the same destiny as Sarah and the mother of Samson, who had both borne children in their old age, so he asked for a sign. The angel said that the sign, because of his unbelief, was that he would be struck deaf and dumb until the child was born. When he emerged from the temple and could not offer the usual prayers for the people, all who saw him believed that he had seen a vision (Luke 1:8ff.).

NIGTC (a. The Prophecy of John’s Birth (1:5–25))

A late rabbinic comment observes that whenever Scripture says that someone had no child, later one was born to her (Gn. R 38 (23c) (c. AD 300), in SB II, 71). So here the implied parallelism with Abraham and Sarah and other OT couples prepares the reader for the possibility of a miracle.

2. God’s been speaking to humanity his promise. What is that promise? Summarized in Titus 1:2–”the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time”

Steve McQueen was a top-billing actor who led a life as tough as the ones he portrayed on the screen. Success filled his life until alcohol and a failed marriage left him empty. In his despair he attended a crusade led by one of Billy Graham’s associates. McQueen made a profession of faith and requested an opportunity to speak with Billy Graham. A connecting flight in Los Angeles allowed Dr. Graham to spend a couple of hours with Mr. McQueen in the actor’s limousine. The great evangelist shared numerous scriptures in his quest to give spiritual hope and confidence. Steve McQueen struggled with the thought of God giving eternal life to a man who had such a checkered past. In Titus 1:2, Steve McQueen found his hope: “the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago.” He requested something to write down the verse, but Billy Graham gave McQueen his Bible instead. Later, Steve McQueen died in Mexico while seeking experimental treatment for his terminal cancer. He passed into eternal life with his Bible opened to Titus 1 and his finger resting on verse 2. Regardless of our past, we have the hope of God’s eternal promise.

* Ike Reighard, 1993 SBC Pastor’s Conference

3. Faith clings to God’s word.

New Interpreter’s Bible, Volumes I–XII (Commentary)

The mark of the redeemed is that they live out of the knowledge of God that has been given to them. Darkness is dispelled by the revelation of God’s being and God’s grace toward us.

III. The Result is the experience of Blessing in the midst of this World of Trial

1. There is a blessing in believing. MARY IS OUR MODEL

2. Mary knew: God was thinking of her (Lk 1:48), He had done great things for her (Lk 1:49), He is merciful to whoever fears him (Lk 1:50), He is not fooled and sets things right (Lk 1:52-55), He keeps his promises (Lk 1:55).

3. In the life of Jesus and the Apostles’ it leads to prayer, power, and purpose in the midst of this world and it’s trials.

“He who has a why can endure any how.” – Frederick Nietzsche

4. Eternal life is the divine life and it’s being worked in us now.

2 Peter 1:4 “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature

Romans 5

James 1:2ff “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

2 Cor 4:17 “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor 11:25 beaten with rods etc)

Conclusion

Michael Gerson, a former presidential speechwriter, delivered a sermon at Washington National Cathedral in which he talked about being hospitalized for depression:

Like nearly one in 10 Americans — and like many of you — I live with this insidious, chronic disease. Depression is a malfunction in the instrument we use to determine reality. The brain experiences a chemical imbalance and wraps a narrative around it. So, the lack of serotonin, in the mind’s alchemy, becomes something like, “Everybody hates me.” Over time, despair can grow inside you like a tumor.

But then you reach your breaking point — and do not break. With patience and the right medicine, the fog in your brain begins to thin. … Over time, you begin to see hints and glimmers of a larger world outside the prison of your sadness.

I think this medical condition works as a metaphor for the human condition. All of us — whatever our natural serotonin level — look around us and see plenty of reason for doubt, anger and sadness. A child dies, a woman is abused, a schoolyard becomes a killing field, a typhoon sweeps away the innocent. If we knew or felt the whole of human suffering, we would drown in despair.

The answer to the temptation of nihilism is not an argument — though philosophy can clear away a lot of intellectual foolishness. It is the experience of transcendence we cannot explain, or explain away … there is this difference for a Christian believer: At the end of all our striving and longing we find, not a force, but a face. … God’s promise is somewhat different: That even when strength fails, there is perseverance. And even when perseverance fails, there is hope. And even when hope fails, there is love. And love never fails.

Source: Michael Gerson, “I was hospitalized for depression. Faith helped me remember how to live,” The Washington Post (2-18-19)

Christmas is the gift of love. Jesus is the face of love into which we gaze. He is not an argument, not a philosophical rationale, he is the face of God. He is a person, the personal God with us, in this world, here and now, and this love is the source of our faith and hope and peace.

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