This is the sermon preached by Carol last week, as promised!
By Carol Folk
Preached at Center Moreland and Dymond Hollow UMC's, Dec. 16, 2007
Waiting…that’s not a word many of us like, is it? The statistics about waiting are staggering. Someone somewhere has compiled the figures which indicate how many minutes (and hours) we spend waiting in specific places over the course of a year. But, we still don’t do really well, do we?
I once heard a poem about a young boy who couldn’t wait to be a teen-ager, then in his twenties, then thirties, etc. When he was old, he wished he was young again. Like many people of our day and age, he wasn’t satisfied to live in the moment.
What are we waiting for? The retail stores at this time of year are waiting for us to spend our hard-earned money with them.
Children aren’t always patient are they? I often think of my two children beginning a trip with the words, “Are we there yet?”
During Advent, waiting comes to my mind; it is a time of waiting, isn’t it? Waiting for the celebration of the birth of our Savior.
I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading the book, A Bethlehem Christmas, by Charles Swindoll. In this book, Swindoll tells the stories of Mary, Joseph, and Gabriel in the first person. For me, this book really makes the characters in the Christmas story come to life. He tells us of a young lady who comes from a close knit Jewish family. Mary’s father, Eli, was a stone mason and the family lived in the tiny village of Nazareth. Most of the residents of the town were related, but the town was often used as a base for Roman Soldiers, due to its location. It was a small town, but outsiders often looked down on the Nazarites because of their contact with the Gentile soldiers.
Swindoll’s account tells of Mary meeting Joseph, who was a carpenter from Cana, about two hours from Nazareth, and even though their marriage was arranged, the two fell in love.
After the marriage contract was signed, Mary and Joseph had to wait 12 months for the marriage feast to take place. It was during this time period that an angel appeared to Mary and informed her that she was the “Favored One.” The angel tells Mary that she will become pregnant and bear a Son; not just any son, but the Son of the Most High. Mary suddenly realizes that the baby that she will bear will be the Messiah, the Son of God. Mary had been waiting for one thing, her marriage, but now she knows she is being used by God to bear His Son.
Can you imagine the emotion of Mary’s family, and Joseph, when she told them that she was fulfilling the promise of God that was told to them in Isaiah? We’re told that Joseph left the house and wasn’t heard from for three months and Mary’s father decided that it would be best for her to leave town. Mary went to visit Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, who was up in age, but also pregnant. Elizabeth realized as soon as she saw Mary that she was to be the Mother of the Messiah. Mary found comfort in Elizabeth and stayed with her for several months.
After about three months Mary returns home and her father surprises her by taking her to Cana to be re-united with Joseph. Joseph had spent the same three months looking for answers in the temple and praying that he would be led in the right direction. Joseph revealed that an angel had appeared to him during his time in the temple and confirmed what Mary had told him, that she was to be the mother of the Messiah.
I love the way that Swindoll expands upon the ever familiar story of Christ’s birth to the virgin Mary. Mary & Joseph go to Bethlehem , which was Joseph’s ancestral city. Bethlehem was teeming with visitors from near and far and Mary and Joseph were left with a stable to use for their lodging. Swindoll tells us that Mary calms herself while Joseph is away by singing songs from her youth, and, when the baby finally comes, they tear Joseph’s tunic into strips of cloth to wrap the child in.
Can you imagine the shock that Mary & Joseph felt when they were visited by a band of shepherds? Shepherds were treated as outcasts, but they had been given a message of great joy by an angel and were directed to where the baby was laying in a feeding trough. They came looking for the Messiah, the “Son of God.”
Swindoll’s book has made it much easier for me to picture Mary and Joseph in very rough surroundings holding their new baby, the baby that would die for our sins.
And Mary, the new Mom, was left to ponder the meaning of what it would mean for her son to be the “Son of God.” How could she have known what that would mean during the course of His life?
God had prepared Mary & Joseph from their youth to be parents of His Son—they both came from devout families and took their responsibility seriously. How would we react to a challenge such as the one Mary & Joseph were given?
What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for Christ to come again before we spread His love to others? Are we waiting for God to appear to us in a dream before we show forgiveness to someone who may have hurt us? How can we make a special effort during this Christmas season to show Christ’s love in a way that makes His love real to someone that doesn’t know Him?