Life... More Than It Seems

Luke 1:26-38 In the sixth month, 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 be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 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 the house of Jacob 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 upon 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. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

It was just about 5 o’clock on a late, late fall day when a young couple pulled into Knoxville, Tennessee. For the last half hour to hour their baby had lost it. Very patient for the first ten hours or so of travel, the infant had - well - had it. It had been a long day. They had left home that morning. And it was home. It was where their family lived. Their sisters. Their brothers. Their moms and dads. At 3 am they had packed up everything they owned and began to drive until it all unraveled in the mountains of Tennessee. Exhausted and spent, they pulled into a Cracker Barrel in Knoxville for dinner.  

Stories like that happen all the time. And it seems like that’s all they are. Human stories. They’re stories of life trajectories that change dramatically or stay incredibly the same. They’re stories about people who do life. And that’s seems like all it ever is. Just people who live, make choices, and end up where they end up. But Luke the evangelist is here to tell you that life’s not the way it seems.

You can’t miss that when you read what Luke has to say about the Christmas account. Christians have sensed that on some level for a long, long time. Matthew is not the go-to Gospel for the children’s Christmas pageant. Mark doesn’t say anything about the Christmas account at all and John spends his time teaching Christmas more theologically than historically. And then there’s Luke. Luke is a beautiful, detailed, intimate history of how Christmas intervened in very human stories, in very human lives.

The question is why. Why would Luke have a great need to give us these detailed, intimate looks into very human lives? Mary’s story shows us. Luke tells us she was, “A virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph.” (v. 27) Just think of it. A young, young girl. And I do mean young. Our best guess is that she was 14-16 years old. She had barely gotten started with life. And she was engaged. You can just imagine her young dreams for her future. She was thinking to herself, “I can’t wait to get married. I want to have five little rug rats. I’ll be their mom and the wife to their dad. And Joseph will build us a homey little place where we can live attached to his workshop. It’s gonna be good. It’s gonna be nice. I can’t wait.”

It didn’t quite play out like that. I don’t think it’s too far from the truth to say that Mary’s early dreams were shattered. She doesn’t end up anywhere near a home attached to Joseph’s workshop. She’s found shuttling her swollen, pregnant body over miles and miles seemingly on the whim of a ruler who called for a census. She’s found giving birth in the most bacteria ridden, depressing birthing suite you can image. She’s found to be a political refugee, chased out of her home country because someone wants her precious son dead. Somewhere along the way, she must’ve been found at the funeral of her youngish husband, Joseph. And then that gets compounded when she’s found watching the boy she held in her arms get convicted and hung on a cross.  

That’s the Mary that Luke could very well be interviewing here. Did you know that? Some scholars believe Luke is capturing for us here parts of an interview with Mary. That’s probably not far from the truth. Luke started off his Gospel by telling us, “I myself have carefully investigated everything.” (v. 3) Isn’t it possible or even likely that he sat down with Mary? You can just imagine this serious researcher sitting down and telling the older, wizened Mary, “So tell me everything you know about Jesus and his life.” And so she does. She tells him about the angel Gabriel who showed up to a much younger version of herself. She tells him about the care Gabriel showed her when he gently called her by name to reassure her and only then told her about The Gift, the grace of God she would carry in her womb. She tells him that she was so overwhelmed by all of it that the only response she could manage in the moment was: “I’m the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.” (v. 38)

I know. I know. You’re thinking, “Ya know, if Gabriel showed up to talk to me, I’d be pretty overwhelmed too.” Except the presence of the angel is totally beside the point. Other times in the Bible we hear about how an angelic presence powerfully affects people, but not here. Here the only thing that we see impacting Mary are the promises that God makes to her. You will bear a child as a virgin. Call him Jesus, the one who saves. Call him the Most High God. The Holy Son of God will be born. That’s what did it. That’s what overwhelmed Mary. God was promising to intervene in her life. Himself. And Luke brings that story to life. Probably taking words from a personal interview with Mary herself.

So personal. So intimate. A story of how God intervened and arranged and planned to bring his Son, Jesus, into the life of Mary. But why? For you. So we can see ourselves in Mary’s story. Because there is a part of us that fears Darwin is right. There is a part of us that thinks life is hard and random, chaotic and difficult. I used to regularly visit a woman who was in her late 80’s. Every time I visited her I heard the same sad story. She’d say, “Pastor, my husband died early. I took care of my mother only to get robbed of my inheritance. I barely made minimum wage most of my life. Now I have heart failure.” It was the same story every time. She was a spiritual Darwinian. Deep down she believed that she had gotten the short end of some random stick.  

And worse yet, sometimes we sense we deserve a life trajectory like that. We sense that the chaos of our sin deserves chaos in return. We sense that for every time we’ve left someone in the lurch, God leaves us in the lurch. And we rationalize that every time we view our lives as something we control and we own that God says, “Well, if that’s how you want it, then that’s how you’re going to get it. I’m out.” And so when the twists and turns of life come they are only affirming what we already knew. God has checked out of our lives. At least, that’s how it seems.

But life isn’t as it seems. It’s so much more than that. Mary wasn’t whisked coincidentally away to Bethlehem to give birth in a bacteria ridden stable. God made sure she landed there so he could keep his promise that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. She didn’t become the victim of political intrigue when she and her family ran away to Egypt. She became the protective mother who made sure that Jesus would live to sacrifice himself for us. She didn’t become the devastated mother when Jesus died. She became the believer who saw her sins forgiven with her own eyes. Do you see it? Life isn’t as it seems. It’s so much more than that. God saw to it that Mary’s life was organized around the gospel.  

Did you notice that in Gabriel’s message to Mary? The very first thing he tells her about the child that she would have is that he would be called Jesus, the one who saves. That bit of information did a whole lot more than save her the trip to Barnes and Noble for The Book of Baby Names or end the debate with Joseph over who gets to pick the name. It told her who he was.  

Some of you know that Melanie and I adopted our daughter, Elliana. What you might not know is how she got her name. We were on the search for one on short notice. We had found out hours earlier that we would get to adopt her and so at 3am on the drive home we hopped on Google looking for names. We came across Elliana. It’s actually Hebrew for, “God answered.” “That’s perfect,” I said to Melanie. And it stuck. Her name will forever remind her and us of the special role she plays in our lives. After seven long years, God answered with her. Jesus got a name like that. He’s Jesus. Jesus means the one who saves.

It’s only then that Gabriel tells Mary who else Jesus is, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (v. 32, 33) This tiny child would have a throne. He would be a king. He would be a king to reign forever. Oh, and if you didn’t catch it the first time then Gabriel makes sure you get it. He’s a king with a kingdom that will never end. That’s some pretty serious ruling. Do you see what that means for you? The promise here is that every little or big happening in your life is something that Jesus guides and somehow uses to save you. The inconvenient stoplight, the marriage proposal, your move to Aiken, and that cold you just got… Jesus will use it all to save you. Jesus has organized your life around the gospel.

Do you see what that means? Jesus didn’t return chaos with chaos. He didn’t leave us in the lurch for leaving others in the lurch. He didn’t look at our attempts for ultimate control and say, “Ok.  I guess I’m out.” Jesus physically entered human history. He was conceived in the womb of a young woman named Mary. He was born Jesus, the one who saves. And he became so mighty with his forgivingness and so royal with his control that he redeems every decision and every detail in our lives and somehow weaves it into a plan for you to know him better.  

So, yeah, the next morning my family and I turned the key in the ignition and left Knoxville for Aiken. But that was never just a human story. It was the King’s story. It was from the very moment we got here. I remember how I got to share the gospel with my insurance agent and her family. I remember the joy it brought them. I remember grabbing breakfast with a man who was just dying to find a place to be fed with the Word. I remember meeting a man at the gym and telling him that I wanted to start a church where the gospel would live. And I mean really live. And his eyes lit up as he said, “I’ve been looking for a church like that in Aiken.” I remember showing up to a club event one day and then afterwards have a woman come up to me and say, “I’ve been looking for a church.” I remember texts and e-mails and phone conversations. And I remember people who have quietly been behind this church from the very start and are rejoicing to see it take flight today. I remember it all.  

Life isn’t as it seems. In fact, this moment is much more than it seems. It seems like an historic moment. It seems like the launch of a church, but please don’t sell it short. It’s a whole lot more than that. It’s sacred. It’s divine. It’s a moment where Jesus is extending his royal, saving reign. That’s not hyperbole. That’s truth. And he’s going to do it the same way he has for a couple thousand years now. He’s going to gather people around the truth of his gospel. And he is. Want proof? We’re more than Melanie, Elliana, and I. We’re not three anymore. I’m not sure what we are, but we’re definitely not three.  

Plus, there’s you. I’m not sure what events and people collided in your life to bring you to this moment. Perhaps some were good. Perhaps some were difficult. What all had to collude to bring you to this moment? Was it all just luck? Or did Luke show you something in Mary’s life? Was it a cosmic whim that she ended up pregnant with the Savior of the world? Was it just happenstance that she carried him safely away as a refugee to Egypt? Was it just coincidence that he died on a cross? Or did Jesus plan for you to hear his Word and his gospel today. You tell me. Life isn’t as it seems. It’s so much more than that.  

This is what I can tell you. I can tell you that here today is a young pastor and his family who one year ago today officially began the work of building this church. An awful lot of dominoes had to fall just right to make that happen or I wouldn’t be here. But here I am. That’s true for you too. But here you are in this moment, with this group of people, and hearing this sermon. Maybe that was strategic. Maybe that was organized. Maybe, just maybe a King ruled the little and big events of your life so that this gospel moment could happen. And for what it’s worth, maybe that King made sure you arrived just in time.  We launch today.  Amen.