Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Is Not Your Birthday 03

Living God's Mission

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! 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 favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” -Luke 1:28-31, 34

Our Christmas traditions have sanitized the Jesus birth narrative by removing the event from its biblical and historical context. Jesus was born in a stable, a cave where animals were kept. And where there are animals there is also dung, which in turn brings flies. The setting of Jesus’ birth was not sanitary and it doesn’t get better from there. Jesus spent his earliest years as a refugee in Africa escaping the genocide that Herod was committing in Judea against children aged two and under.

In turn the Gospel of Luke makes it indelibly clear that walking in the way of Jesus is neither safe nor predictable. Sometimes we have the idea that when we do right, wrong is not supposed to show up. And if we are faithfully following Jesus, then life isn’t supposed to get messy, but it does.

God’s favour cannot be earned. God comes when we are doing everything wrong. God comes when we are doing nothing. God comes whether we are being naughty or nice. Why? Because God loves us and we are highly favoured. Look at the situation from Mary’s perspective. She had worked really hard to do what was right, yet it seemed like wrong still showed up. This God miracle of the birth of the Messiah was in the context of an unplanned teenaged pregnancy with all the emotional grief that would entail. How emotionally prepared would a 12-15 year old be for this life experience. God’s blessing would only continue to bring pain into Mary’s life – all the way to the foot of the cross.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Maybe you have done everything you know how to be faithful to God and true to your family, and then you are notified four weeks before the holidays that your job will be discontinued. Or your husband tells you that he doesn’t love you anymore and wants a divorce. Or your four year old is diagnosed with leukemia. No where does the Bible say that a life of faith will always make sense or follow a predictable path.

Read II Corinthians 11:23-30:
Why do you think God would allow Paul - a great servant of Jesus - to go through so much persecution and to endure so much suffering? 

God’s love and favour on us doesn’t mean that the path of faith is going to be neat and predictable. Life gets messy, but in the midst of your mess - God shows up. No matter what you are struggling to overcome, no matter what life issues have come your way, God promises to show up. Christmas is God’s vivid reminder that amid the uncertainty, God shows up to bring peace, purpose, joy and wholeness.

So why did God choose Mary? Mary had proactive faith. A person with proactive faith doesn’t live in the paralysis of doubt and disillusionment. Instead they actively pursue God’s redemptive purpose and presence in the midst of any situation, even when it doesn’t make sense.

The Holy Spirit is with you right now to be your helper through any situation, including the messy ones. When life isn’t making sense, the power of God will be a shadow over you! That gift, however, is often experienced in pain and suffering. Just remember, God’s promise may be delayed but it will not be denied.

Life is not about staying safe and living comfortably. The call to follow Jesus is
a call to give your life to him and to join God’s mission in healing the souls of the world. The real rewards are found in the joy and peace that we experience through serving others in Christ’s spirit.

1. What is your vision of a perfect Christmas? What imperfect circumstances will you face this year that will challenge your ability to celebrate Christmas fully?
2. What emotional and social pressures do you think Mary felt in the months and days leading up to Jesus’ birth? How well do you think you would have handled the situation as either Mary or Joseph?
3. How should Mary’s experience of that first Christmas influence the way you approach the holiday season?
4. Has life ever smacked you down even though you were trying to do everything right? What was your initial reaction to God, and how did you get through it?
5. How can you celebrate Jesus in the midst of your struggles? How can God use your current struggles to help others this upcoming holiday season?
6. Name one promise of God that you can stand upon even in the midst of trials and life troubles.

This week focus on helping someone you know that is struggling in life and/or faith and commit to praying for them, asking them how you can help, and following through with help and encouragement. 


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