About 20 years ago my nephew told everyone he wanted a robot for Christmas. Now we had no idea where this idea came from. There were no robots on TV, no robots in recently released Disney movies and no robots that he would have seen somewhere so we had no idea what it was he wanted or what we were even looking for, but for the next month everyone in the family searched for a robot. Many of us will spend the next month looking for that robot or doll or top selling xbox game that our children and grandchildren want. We will also be looking for the perfect gift to buy for someone who has everything and doesn’t really need a thing and if you are like me, we will be looking for all these gifts to be on sale for less than $20. Many of us will be spending the next month searching for that perfect present to give to our family and friends, but what we really should be looking for this season is the perfect presence.
While we have turned this entire season into a frenzy of presents that can be bought, wrapped and placed under a tree, God wants this to be a season where will experience the power of His presence, a presence that will last for more than a few minutes or days. God wants us to experience the power of His presence that can fill us with hope and joy, and a presence that can change our lives and through us be able to change our world. As we journey together through this Advent season, we want to invite you to experience something more this Christmas than just the rush to buy presents; we want you to experience the power of God’s presence because that’s how this entire story started. Let’s go back to the beginning of the Christmas story found in Luke 1:26-38.
So the story starts with the presence of God coming to a young girl named Mary. From what we know, Mary was just an ordinary girl. While she lived in Nazareth, she most likely worked as a servant to one of the wealthy families in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. From what we are told, there is nothing extraordinary about Mary that God would have chosen her. She wasn’t overly spiritual. She hadn’t been spending hours a day in prayer in fact she probably spent most of her days working. Like most young girls of her day she received no formal religious training or education so we can assume that she had not been able to read God’s word for herself. She was just an ordinary girl engaged to man named Joseph. And yet through the angel Gabriel God revealed his presence and his plan to this ordinary girl.
Now let’s just stop here so we don’t miss this. Sometimes the familiarity of this story means we don’t see the power of it for our own lives. The Christmas story begins with God revealing his presence and plan to a very ordinary girl. If we stop and think about it, God always reveals his presence and plan to ordinary people. There was nothing special about Abraham that God should have called him to the be the father of God’s people, in fact Abraham turned out to be a coward at times and he often struggled to trust God in difficult situations. And while God chose Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt, he was not an eloquent speaker and because of his deep insecurities Moses asked God to send someone else to speak for him. Generations later God chose David to be the king of Israel, even though David was the youngest in his family and ended up struggling with all kinds of sin in his life. It seems that God doesn’t just delight in revealing his presence and plan to ordinary people, he loves inviting those ordinary people to be part of his plan. God chose barren women like Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth to bring about his chosen servants and then through Jesus God chose ordinary fisherman and tax collectors to be the building blocks of the church.
So what we see at the very beginning of the Christmas story is that God chose an ordinary person to bring about his purpose and plan. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad God chooses the ordinary because it means that there is hope for someone like me. I can relate to being ordinary. I was a very ordinary kid. There was nothing special about me growing up. I was not a stellar athlete; in fact I was too fat, too slow and too uncoordinated to do much of anything in sports so I was always the kid chosen last in gym class. Since sports weren’t my thing, I tried to excel in music. In 4th grade I began to play the violin and by the time I got to Junior High two years later, I was pretty good, but I wanted to be in the band, so I started playing the tuba.
Now the tuba was good for me because it was an instrument my parents didn’t have to buy and since I was a big kid at the time, the tuba seemed perfect. For six months I immersed myself in learning how to play the tuba which meant that I never touched the violin. When I was finally asked to play the violin in a school orchestra they were trying to start up, I sat down, opened up the music and was totally stumped. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to put my fingers on the strings to make the notes. I had totally forgotten how to play the violin. While I picked it up again in time and even played it for a few years after that, I was never as good as I was in 5th grade. I was a very ordinary high school musician. You know the type, so ordinary that after 2 years in college I couldn’t play any musical instrument at all. So I can relate to being ordinary. I was an ordinary musician, an ordinary student and a very less than ordinary athlete.
And yet I am here today because, believe it or not, God does choose ordinary men and women. God reveals his presence and plan to ordinary men and women which means that God reveals his presence and plan to each and every one of us. If you are sitting here this morning thinking that you are not able to experience the presence and power of God, think again. If you are sitting here today thinking that God doesn’t have a plan to use your life for his purpose and glory, think again. God is right here and what the story of Mary shows us is that God delights in revealing his presence to those who feel ordinary and even unworthy. God loves to use imperfect and flawed people to bring about his purpose, which means that today God is longing to use us and he will, if we will just say yes.
Again, that is what we see in the Christmas story. God revealed his presence to a very ordinary girl and then he shared with her his plan for bringing the Savior of the world into the world, but then God made it clear that his plan included her, look at Luke 1:31-32. The angel told Mary that she was the one who was going to give birth to a child who would be called the son of the Most High and it would be her son who would be the Messiah and Savior of the world. That was God’s plan and all God needed was for Mary to say yes. All God needed was for Mary to allow the experience of God’s presence and power to fill her life. I believe that in this coming season of Advent and Christmas, God wants the same thing from us.
While we are out searching for the perfect present, God wants us to surrender ourselves to his perfect presence. God wants us to say yes to him and then open ourselves up so the power of his spirit can overshadow us and fill us. If we will do this, if we will stop looking for gifts long enough to receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, we can expect a miracle to take place in us and through us because that also is the message of the first Christmas story. When Mary said yes to God’s plan it meant that she was now expecting God to do a miracle in her life. Since Mary was a virgin she was not going to be able to bring the Messiah into this world on her own so when she says yes to God’s plan she is expecting God to do a miracle in her life.
I’m not sure I have ever thought of it this way, but every time we say yes to God, we are expecting God to do a miracle in our lives because saying yes to God means we are allowing God to do in us and through that which we can’t do on our own. Whether it is the miracle of forgiveness, the miracle of healing and strength, the miracle of hope in the midst of hopelessness, peace in the midst of pain, delight in the midst of despair, life in the midst of death whenever we say yes to God – God’s presence brings a miracle of power and life that we can not produce on our own.
When Mary said yes to God – God’s presence brought her the miracle of life. What is the miracle of God’s presence you need today? Is it forgiveness for sin that seems too great to overcome? Is it hope in the midst of a situation that seems beyond your ability to change? Is it a sense of purpose and direction for a life that seems to have stalled? Is it for a light to start shining in the darkness that seems to have overtaken everything? Is it a deeper faith and trust in God’s complete and unconditional love? Is it the ability to see that even in the midst of death there is life and life eternal? What is the miracle that God’s presence can bring to your life today?
The Christmas story begins with Mary experiencing the presence of God and then expecting God to do a miracle in her life. That’s still the Christmas story for us today.We experience Christmas when we open ourselves up to the presence of God and then expect God to do a miracle in our lives. Mary’s experience of Christmas, the coming of Jesus, begins when she says yes to God’s presence so the miracle can take place. Our experience of Christmas begins when we say yes to God’s presence so a miracle can take place. Can we simply say yes to God today?
Now when Mary said yes, she knew that the miracle that was about to take place wasn’t just for her, it was also for the entire world. The miracle God was going to do in her life was going to change the world and I believe that the miracle God wants to do in our lives is also never just for us. God does miracles in our lives to also help others. For example, when we experience the miracle of God’s forgiveness it awakens within us a desire to share the love of God with others who struggle with sin or struggle to see the value and worth in their lives. When we experience hope in the midst of a situation we thought was hopeless it gives us the strength to work for change in other situations that seem impossible to overcome like world hunger and the need for people to have clean water and basic medical care. And when we experience the miracle of God’s purpose and plan for our lives when we thought there was nothing God could do with an ordinary person like me, we empower and excite others to search for God’s purpose and plan for their lives. And it is all of us doing what God has called and empowered us to do that changes the world.
The miracle God wants to do in our lives is never just for us – it is to help bring life, hope and a deeper faith to those around us. So every time we say yes to God’s presence, we should expect a miracle and every miracle brings more of God’s presence into the world and it is God’s presence which changes our world. That’s really what this entire season is all about. An ordinary girl said yes to God and expected a miracle in her life. That miracle was Jesus who brought the fullness of God’s presence into the world for everyone to experience and it was the fullness of God’s presence in the person of Jesus that changed everything. So if we want to truly experience Christmas then today and everyday during this season we need to search for God’s presence and then expect a miracle.
Experiencing Christmas ~ Expect a Miracle
1. Search for God’s presence. For the next 4 weeks:
• Take 5 minutes each morning to pray.
• Take 5 minutes each evening to read the gospel of Luke.
• Find 5 ways you can give that will make a difference.
• Find 5 people to encourage and help.
(We’re calling this the “Take 5 Challenge”)
2. Expect a Miracle. What is the miracle you want God to do in your life?
3. Share God’s presence. God’s miracles are never just for us. Begin to think of ways the miracle of God’s presence in your life can help the lives of others.