Therefore, my loved ones, just as you always obey me, not just when I am present but now even more while i am away, carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes. 14 Do everything without grumbling and arguing 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt. Among these people you shine like stars in the world
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her
Our Down to Earth Advent series is drawing to a close with this fourth Sunday of Advent. It all began with Down To Earth Love- unconditional love freely given to us, and a call to live likewise. The second Sunday out topic was Down to Earth Humility- where we adopt the attitude of Christ, emptying ourselves for the sake of God and others. Last week (at the 8:00 Service) I spoke about Down To Earth Lifestyle- a lifestyle of paying attention to God, listening and following. This week we are going to explore Down To Earth Obedience.
What does the word “obedience” bring up for you? I know for me it reminds me of growing up. We were taught early on to follow rules. Many of the rules were very practical, keeping us from injuring ourselves. Don’t touch a hot stove. Don’t put tweezers in a wall socket (true story!). Don’t, don’t, don’t! As I got older the rules got more serious and, sometimes, more obscure in their motivation. Much of the time punishment or the fear of punishment was the primary motivation for obedience. I keep remembering Buggs Bunny, the cartoon character, saying, “If I dood it I did a whippin. I dood it anyway!”
Paul is calling us to obedience in verses 12. “Therefore, my loved ones, just as you always obey me, not just when I am present but now even more while I am away, carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Paul’s call to obedience is not motivated by a fear of God or of punishment. Notice in verse 13 the way Paul describes that obedience. “God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.” “Obedience is not about punishment; it’s about saying a big “yes” to God.” A beautiful example of a big “yes” is Mary. Turn to Luke Chapter 1 and the encounter that Mary has with the Angel Gabriel. Mary was a teenager at the time. Her family was not rich by any means, and she was probably involved in helping the family make ends meet. She was betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter. She was probably stressed with all that was going on. The news the angel brought was not “good news” at first. It would mean, at best, being excluded from family and society. BUT, Mary’s big “yes” in the middle of the mess is recorded in Luke 1:38. “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Even with her questions and reservations she chose to say “yes” to God and God’s plan.
There is a path to obedience – to saying “yes” to God’s call on your life. First, is a call to remember. We are to remember the many ways God has led us in the past. When you look at how God has led this church over the years it is truly marvelous. The people who have said yes and become tools in the hands of God are too numerous to count. In our own families we can see how God has had a hand in leading us. Janna and I would not even be here if it hadn’t been for God’s guiding hand. A “practical stop” on the way to Billings to represent Marriage Encounter at the Yellowstone Annual Conference session introduced us to this amazing town. Two more years of intentionally stopping in Thermopolis on our way to Billings led us to look into housing costs and availability. That series of “yesses” has now led to being available to interim here while the church seeks a Presbyterian pastor.
Mary might have been remembering what God had done for the Israelites throughout time. During Moses’ encounter with God through the burning bush, in x. 3:7-8, “… the Lord said, I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and board land, a land that’s fill of milk and honey… .” I can imagine Mary taking great comfort in that bit of memory. She well knew the oppression of the Roman government. Luke 1:32-33 paints a picture of deliverance. Christmas is a story of deliverance from fears and from darkness. The whole world would be saved through birth of Jesus Christ! What are the moments in your history where you have seen God at work in your own life or in the life of the faith community? When God calls you to a new “yes” remember how he has worked through things in the past.
The second piece of the path to obedience is trust! Paul says, in Philippians 2:13 – “… for it is God who works in you to fulfil his good purpose.” We not only remember past provisions of God, but trust in the unchangeable God for the present and the future. If God is for us, who can be against us? We find ourselves living that trust when we say “yes” to the call of God.
One image that comes to mind as we progress in relationship with God is dating. We often dabble in trust. ‘Lord, I’m going to start here and let’s just see where it goes.’ You don’t invest too much too soon. You test the waters before jumping in.
Mary didn’t test the waters. Knowing our God, Mary had the opportunity to say no to the whole process. Notice that in Gabriel’s description in Luke 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” It was not a “done deal” until Mary said yes.
The best relational picture is of our relationship with God is marriage. In marriage there is a full-on commitment! In good times and bad times and all the in between time we are committed to love, honor and cherish of spouse. We don’t enter into a conditional arrangement. We are in it for the long haul, blessings and challenges alike. With all of the uncertainty that must have been swirling around in Mary’s head, she still said yes to God, trusting that God had all the outcomes in the palm of his hand.
How do we know we are trusting? Our attitude is probably the best indicator of our trust. The question is, “Can I thank God even in the middle of the mess?” Can I thank God even before I see how things are going to work out? This is not a “fake it till you make it” or “put on a happy face” kind of attitude. It is truly being authentic with ourselves and with God. Just listen to the Psalms of lament. The Psalmist is truly open and authentic with God – ‘Things are tough. Why is it taking you so long to answer?’ But even in the lament, in the midst of the good, bad and in between, the Psalmist recognizes the power of God to take care of things. Gratitude is the key. “It is through gratitude that we lay open our hearts to God to do some major surgery – cutting away the anger, bitterness, and resentfulness while pouring God’s Spirit into our hearts.” [Rachel Billups, Ginghamsburg]
Mary was most grateful. Just listen to Luke 1:46-49. Mary has gone to stay with her cousin Elizabeth. As they greet and the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps at the presence of Mary and the child she carries in her womb, Mary pours out her gratitude in what we refer to as the Magnificat.
“ Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49 because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50 He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
In Philippians 2:14-15 Paul points to the ultimate purpose for obedience. “Do everything without grumbling and arguing 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt. Among these people you shine like stars in the world … .” God wants us to be blameless and pure even in the midst of the corruption that surrounds us. He says, “Among these people you shine like stars in the world.” It is our witness. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 5:14-15, “You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house.” Down To Earth Obedience is “shining” in this world in order to represent God for all to see. “You will shine like the stars in the sky.” – for all to experience the incredible birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Will you say a resounding “YES” to the God of new birth? Amen.
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Pastor Paul Grossman