Well, today was one of THOSE days. When we reached the point in the service where I began the service, I couldn’t find my notes, I couldn’t find my manuscript, and I really didn’t try to find my PowerPoint. But, I knew the PowerPoint was also in the master PowerPoint for the whole service.
As I got ready to start the sermon, I couldn’t find my notes at all and my manuscript was a blank page. So, I made the quick decision to preach from the PowerPoint. With the exception of a couple typos. Well, I thought that was the case until the battery on machine controlling the projector, which was running. I was about 3/4 of the way through the summer when I noticed there was nothing on the screen. The computer was running on battery and the battery died. I decided to wrap it up.
So, I promised to post the manuscript and here it is.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “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[b] 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 your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38, New International Version)
Many times, when we look out at society and we see the people that are around us we can see those that are anti religion. They don’t just desire freedom of religion, they seek freedom from religion. We might call some of these people false prophets or a knock off Jesus. We can see it easily in people like Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, and Westboro Baptist Church, to name only a few. We see them but fail to see the love for others that is the Scriptural litmus test that helps us evaluate people, particularly leaders who try to convince us to follow.
Or, there are those who, despite what the Bible says to the contrary, know Jesus is coming and they even know when it is going to happen, despite what Jesus said. Often these people will grow to great lengths to tell you all about it. I have a simple theory as why these people are wrong. Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour but God above. If one of us did somehow figure it out, God would have to change the day and the hour because now someone besides the Father knew.
There is a third kind of knock off Jesus and they are perhaps most dangerous of all. They are also the ones that seem sweet and innocent about all this. This is a person who is willing to trade in a full-grown adult or youth or even a child for a different version of Jesus telling us what we can’t know, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love and strength, for a different version of god that misses out on a full understanding of who God is.
There is an example I want to share with you this morning from a recent movie. I hope that when I say this is just about the dumbest movie, I have ever wasted two hours watching, you won’t be offended but it is how I feel. The movie does, however, have one redeeming scene in it, though Cindy argues against that point.
“I like the Christmas Jesus best .” that was what Will Ferrell said in the movie Talladega Nights. Ferrell plays a stock car driver named Ricky Bobby. “dear tiny Jesus,” he says as he begins his prayer at a family meal. “Golden fleece diapers, with your tiny, fat, bald- up fist…”
“Jesus did grow up,” his wife reminds him. “you don’t always have to call him baby.”
“I like the Christmas Jesus best when I’m saying grace,” Ferrell’s character says, and he continues his prayer, “dear 8 pound, 6 ounce, newborn infant Jesus. Don’t even know a word yet. Just a little infant, so cuddly, still omnipotent… thank you for all your power and your grace, dear baby God. Amen.”
We might, (or might not laugh) at Ferrell, but the truth is, he’s right. We like the Christmas Jesus too. We love to sing those carols like, “away in a Manger,” and “go, tell it on the mountain!” and “silent night.” we love those Christmas pageants with glittery stars and shepherds and wise men.
We like the Christmas Jesus best. We love Christmas period think for a minute about how many more people come to church in these Sundays before Christmas then will be here for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services. The truth is we love the baby Jesus, but we don’t like that that Jesus up on the cross. We don’t like the crucified Jesus period now that Jesus that rose again? He’s OK, but our favorite, at least for most of us, is the baby Jesus. Most of our congregations even decorate better for Christmas than we do for Easter.
If you ask people their favorite holiday, the overwhelming majority will say Christmas I can actually prove it, well sort of. As many of you know, I put a survey out online this week and asked folks about their favorite Holidays. The choices were New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King day, presidents day, Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Halloween, veteran’s day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and your birthday (I know, the last one isn’t really a holiday but I wanted to see what the response would be ). Christmas was the overwhelming first choice . Easter was second and Thanksgiving was third nothing else even comes close the only one that surprised me was veteran’s day got one vote.
We like the Christmas Jesus best. I knew that before I gave the new that before I gave the survey, I just wanted a little data to back up my hypothesis.
But what if this tiny infant is a bit of a knock off? Not a fake, but a version that’s not quite as valuable as the original. The problem with knockoffs is, that they can take our focus off the real thing.
In the high fashion world it seems that there is a war raging between designers and manufacturers who create knockoffs. A designer dress will cost you say $750. Then along comes someone like Seema Anand who creates a copy of that same dress you can buy for say, 260 dollars. That’s still too much for me and for read over there but it works and sometimes it can happen so fast that the knockoff is available before the original.
Is this a problem? Some say “no” because the designer clothes are so expensive. Fit that $750 dress into your Christmas budget period if you do you definitely didn’t listen if you do you have more money available for your Christmas budget than I ever would
And why pay $3980 for designer jeans if you can get something very similar for about $139.67? Designers think it is such a problem that they are seeking extensions to the Copyright laws into the clothing manufacturing. Knockoffs will remain big business for the foreseeable future.
It seems to me that this is the challenge for us at Christmas time as well, to separate the knockoff Jesus from the genuine article. We don’t want a dear tiny Jesus in Golden fleece diapers to distract us from the one who is the son of God.
Our lesson this morning gives us a glimpse of the original Jesus, and you can tell he is the real deal, when you hear words like Favored One, “Emmanuel,” “Jesus,” “Son of the Most High,” and “Servant of the Lord.” if you don’t hear those names, you just might be looking at a knock off.
The first one mentioned is “Favored One.” Gabriel calls Mary this saying, “greetings, Favored One!” later, he says, “don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. What an amazing gift this is, to be favored by God, excepted an supported.
John Wesley struggled with this idea for many years as a priest in the Anglican church. How could God except him. Then one day as he was listening to someone read the introduction to the to Paul’s letter to the Romans he said, he felt his heart strangely warmed and that he knew that Christ had died, even for him. That discovery allowed Wesley to move forward in his work, work that eventually led to the creation of the Methodist church.
The second name to look for is Emmanuel. It is true that this name is not mentioned in the lesson, though it is in Matthew’s gospel where Matthew writes, “look, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” the promise of Emmanuel is powerful. It means that God is with us now and always, through stress, sickness, conflict, confusion, failure , frustration, despair, social distancing, wearing a mask, and even death. Remember Paul’s words, nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” that is the guarantee of Emmanuel.
So where is the name in our lesson? If it doesn’t appear, are we dealing with a knock off? No, it is there, just kind of hidden. When Gabriel arrives he says “Greetings, Favored One! The Lord is with you.” The Lord is with you … God is with us. The message to Mary and to us is that God is with us always.
A little girl who grew up in the home of an atheist where no one ever spoke of God once questioned her father about the origin of the world. “where did the world come from?” asked the three year old period her father replied with an explanation that was materialistic but then he added, “however, there are those who say that all this comes from a very powerful being. They call him God. At this point the little girl began to run around the room in great joy Ann shouted, “ I knew when you told me what you told me wasn’t true; It is him, it is him! He is here! He has always been here!” a 3 year old understood Emmanuel, God is with us.
TThe Angels said, “and now you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” this name has a clear and specific meaning at, “God saves.” there is nothing subtle about it. The name “Jesus” announces that God is working through his son, to save us from sin and death.
Theologian Leith Anderson visited Manila several years ago and was taken, of all places, to the Manila garbage dump. 10s of thousands of people make their homes on that dump site. They have constructed shacks out of the things other people have thrown away. They send their children out early in the morning to scavenge for food in other peoples garbage so they can have family meals. People have been born and raised on the dump. They have had children and raisded their families on the dump. They have died on the dump, many times without Without going anywhere else, even into the city of Manila . They are not alone. Americans also live on the dump. They are missionaries who have chosen to leave their own country to communicate the love of Jesus Christ to people who otherwise would never hear it. That is amazing, but not as amazing as the journey our savior made from heaven to earth. The son of God knew what he was doing. He knew where he was going. He knew what the sacrifice would be. He journeyed to earth on a mission to save the human race. Born to save. That is so Jesus.
4th, Gabriel promises Jesus “… Will be great, and will be called the son of the most high, and the Lord will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” the son of the most high is not a powerless baby with tiny, fat, balled up fists – he is the mature son of God, with power and authority to rule like his ancestor King David. “he will reign over the House of Jacob Forever and of his Kingdom there will be no end,” says Gabriel.
Will Ferrell is right when he calls Jesus omnipotent- not powerless, but all powerful. So are we prepared to take orders from the son of the most high God? It’s easy to worship a baby who asks nothing of us but a diaper change. But are we willing to praise the King who gives the directive, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you?” are we going to adore the ruler who says, “if anyone strikes you on the cheek offer the other also?” are we likely to bow gracefully to the one who commands, “give to everyone who begs from you?”
One of my favorite Christmas songs actually began as many songs do as a poem this particular one by Helen Steiner-Rice called, “The Christmas Guest.” the poem is about an old cobbler named Conrad whom God promises to come and visit on Christmas Day. When Christmas Day arrives, Conrad is visited three times period first by a beggar with worn out shoes and ragged clothes. Conrad gave him a pair of shoes and a warmer coat. Next was an elderly lady carrying a load on her back who only asked for a place to sit and rest. Conrad gave her a warm Cup to drink and allowed her to rest in the warmth of his home. The third time was by a lossed, crying child. Conrad calmed her fears and helped her home once again. But when Conrad returned home Christmas is over and the Lord had not come to visit, or so Conrad thought. He knelt and prayed and questioned why God had not fulfilled his promise. God answered Conrad that he had kept his word because God had come not once but three times and each time rice writes, he “… Found the warmth of a friend. Of all the gifts love is the best and I was honored to be your Christmas guest.”
Remember, while not the baby Jesus, it was Jesus nonetheless who said, “for as you’ve done it to one of the least of these, you’ve done it to me.” it is much easier to worship a powerless baby. But if we love our enemies, do good and lend without expectation of return, living with generous hearts, we will be acting as obedient servants of our powerful King. Obedience is going to be an expectation of an authentic son of the most high God.
At the end of today’s lesson, Mary asks Gabriel how she can possibly become pregnant, since she is a Virgin. Gabriel speaks of the role of the Holy Spirit and the surprising pregnancy of Marys council cousin Elizabeth, and he concludes with the words, “nothing will be impossible with God.” when asked, “if you could select any one person across all of history to interview, who would it be?” talk show host Larry King said he would like to interview Jesus Christ. When asked, “ what would you like to ask him?” King replied , “I would ask him if he was indeed Virgin- born. The answer to that question would define history for me.” friends, it did define history because Jesus was indeed Virgin- born. That is right, he was Virgin- born because nothing is impossible with God.
Mary then took a deep breath, then makes a huge leap of faith, “ here I am , the servant of the Lord ; Let it be with me according to your word.” Mary says “yes” to what God wants to do in her life, and this decision reveals that she is the “favored one” willing to put her complete trust in God. She calls herself the “servant of the Lord,” and in so doing becomes a model for the rest of us.
Pastor Phil Le Master writes that it was nearing Christmas and he received a phone call from a man who indeed needed to talk to a counselor. Le Master met him at the church office where the man told lamaster of his tale of woe. A decade earlier he had killed his wife in a fit of anger, was convicted of manslaughter, and spent several years in prison. He and his wife had a daughter who was in the custody of his former in-laws. He had not seen her since the crime period now, as Christmas neared, his heart ached. Tears streaming down his face, he lamented, “ I could pass her on the streets of this city and not even know who she was.” Le Master said what he remembered most about the session, however, was that the man said that he remembered most, however, was what the man said when he first walked in, “Now preacher, let’s just leave Jesus out of this, OK?” as the man sadly went on his way that day, Le Master said that he thought to himself, “that’s the whole problem period you’ve left Jesus out of everything.”
It seems to me, that if we’re not going to follow an authentic Jesus we might as well be like that man and leave Jesus out. If, however, we are going to follow an authentic Jesus, we need to be a servant of the most hi God. This means finding favor through faith, believing that God is always with us, trusting Jesus to save us, and showing obedience to the son of the most high. Serving God as Mary did begins with saying “yes” when we see the names favored 1, Emmanuel, Jesus, son of the most high.
We come together this time of year every year and we celebrate the birth of a baby but we need to remember at the same time that there is far more we know about the last three years of that life then there is the first 30. This is a man who was born, who died for us, and who rose again for us. He died for their forgiveness and he gives us the gift of grace. Anything else might as well just be a knockoff.
Seeking the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved