By Phil Wood
Considering the sermon by Pat Russell on December 6, 2020
Scripture Reading, Luke 1:26-38 "The Annunciation"
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. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end."
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin!"
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. 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. For no word from God will ever fail."
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled." Then the angel left her.
Yesterday's sermon was given on the second Sunday of Advent, the day we Presbyterians light the candle of peace. All during the coming week we will be intentionally contemplating the peace that was promised by a great multitude of heavenly host on the first Christmas Eve, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those upon whom his favor rests."
But Pat encouraged us to think back to nine months before the wonderful birth of our Savior. These were not peaceful times but rather turbulent, much like today. Think back to that moment when a young virgin named Mary was suddenly confronted by the angel of the Lord. Can you imagine what was going on in her heart at the moment of his appearance? The word peace does not come to mind.
Yet Gabriel spoke peace into her heart. "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God."
In this painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner, there are signs of Mary's initial panic, like the scrunched-up rug, probably from her effort to push away in fear. It seems like the artist was actually trying to capture the exact moment when peace came into her heart: the peace, as Pat pointed out, that transcends all understanding; the peace that is not of our own making; the peace that made it possible for Mary, and for us, to put aside all the turbulence of the times, our fears about the future, and hear that God is about to make something wonderful happen.
This is the kind of deep, inner peace that empowers us to look past whatever obstacles we may see in our path, because what God is up to is worth whatever pain or inconvenience we may have to endure. Surely Mary saw a thorny path ahead for a girl about to become pregnant out of wedlock – and not by the one to whom she was betrothed. But she saw the wonderful thing God was doing. She knew it was worth whatever the cost. She believed with all her heart it was actually going to happen. And she met each challenge, real or imagined, with peace in her heart.
So, in the spirit of going deeper into Pat's message, I encourage you to ask yourself,
what obstacles might be blocking your view of the wonderful thing God is about to do? What challenges might you be able to overcome if you fully accepted the peace that transcends understanding, and lived fully in the expectancy of Christ's coming.
Yes, when God's kingdom comes in all its fullness, there will be the kind of peace that ends all wars, the kind of peace where nobody hates anybody anymore, and there are no more pandemics or political outcomes to be fret about.
But until then we need the other kind of peace that's only available to those on whom God's favor rests, those who take the time to stop and allow God's peace to penetrate their hearts, and who live fully expecting something wonderful to come.
Friends, "No word from God ever fails." Everything we've longed for is going to happen.
Sleep in heavenly peace.