We all have our favorite Christmas movies. In fact, a recent poll rated the top 50 Christmas movies of all time. It came down to three. I’ll tell you the three but I want you to vote and see which one is your favorite. The top three were: “A Christmas Story,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Christmas Vacation.” One of the movies listed in the Top 50 was “Home Alone.” It’s the story of 8-year-old Kevin McAllister who is accidentally left at home when the family goes on a Christmas vacation overseas. The writer of Home Alone was the late John Hughes. When you think about it, he had a difficult task. He had to convince you that this was possible—that people could actually leave their young son home alone and go on an overseas vacation. I think he did a good job of that. Now, how many of you have ever watched Home Alone a second time? Or a 50th time?
When we watch it the second time we watch it differently than the first time. We miss many of the nuances of the story because we already know what’s coming. You might even be tempted to fast forward through the first part of the story to get to the part when the potential robbers come over to the house. That’s where the fun part begins. However, when we watch it again, we can become so familiar with the story that we can miss some of the best parts. The reason I bring this up is because I think the same is true of the Christmas story. If we’re not careful, we can bring so much knowledge and awareness of this story to the Christmas season that we aren’t able to see it with Fresh Eyes. As a result, we could potentially miss some of the powerful nuances of the story. If we could somehow approach the Christmas story in a fresh way, I believe we would see some new and interesting aspects of the story.
This is why we are doing a series called Fresh Eyes: Seeing Christmas in a New Light. We are going to look at some specific characters in the Christmas story and point out some nuances and plot twists in the story that you might not be as familiar with. In doing so, we believe we are going to see some very helpful, practical and inspiring new insights into this amazing story. And as we do, I think we will be reminded in a fresh way how much God loves you and me.
When we look at the Christmas story with Fresh Eyes, one of the things we see are some different plot twists to the story that seem highly unlikely if you were making this story up. Such as, Why doesn’t the Son of God get a room in the Inn? Doesn’t God have connections? Why a manger? Why does God allow Joseph and Mary such a difficult long journey only to be denied a room? Why such humble beginnings? Wouldn’t it be better for Jesus to have been born with connections like, say, Moses?? That would have been a strong beginning and would have gotten everyone’s attention. Why do the angels appear to the shepherds? Why not appear to the prestigious, connected and powerful?
When we begin to look at the Christmas story with Fresh Eyes, we begin to realize that we probably wouldn’t write it this way. This is an important point because if we’re honest there are times in our own lives when we wonder what God is doing, wouldn’t you agree? We’ve probably all had times in our lives when we think, “God, why are you writing the story of my life like this?” If you’ve ever been there (and if you haven’t yet, it’s probably coming), the Christmas story is a great reminder that God always writes better stories than you and I ever can. If we could somehow wipe our memory banks clean and ask ourselves to write the story of how God’s Son would be brought into the world, I guarantee you this: We wouldn’t write the story the way God wrote this one.
There are some ridiculous plot twists to the story of Christmas. You have a scandalous pregnancy. You have a husband considering leaving his wife because she’s pregnant. You have a manger. A smelly manger. It seems like poor planning because no one called Travelocity.com to book a room at the Inn. (I wonder if someone in heaven got in trouble for that oversight.)
I don’t think we would write the story this way. Our story would involve prestige, great contacts, power, heroes, things would work out well. The circumstances wouldn’t be as tough as they really were. That’s how we would write the Christmas story. Do you know how I know that? Because…that’s how we attempt to write our story. We want our stories to work out, have great circumstances, great connections, and great things happen. We wouldn’t write the Christmas story the way God wrote it, because many times we don’t agree with how God is writing ours.
There are plot twists, events and circumstances that happen in our lives which cause confusion. And we look up and wonder, “Whoa, this isn’t supposed to be part of my script! NO, I was supposed to get married by the age of 30. I was supposed to be financially independent by now. I was supposed to own a home by now. I was supposed to be a grandparent by now. I was supposed to have gone to college by now…”
Over the past six weeks as we were looking at the story of Esther, there were all kinds of plot twists, exciting, and maybe a bit outrageous. But, if we think about it, our lives have their own share of confusing plot twists. This is where life gets confusing, doesn’t it? The same is true with the Christmas story when you see it with fresh eyes. Perhaps the reason God wrote the Christmas story in such an unusual fashion with lots of plot twists and turns, is that He knew. He knew your life and mine would feature their own ridiculous twists and turns. Our lives would feature their own crazy cast of characters who go the by the name of “Mom and Dad” or “My Spouse” or “Ex-” or “Former Business Partner.”
God knew. It’s why He wrote the story the way He did. He knows we live in a broken world. He knew. And Christmas is an invitation, a reminder that God can be trusted with writing the story of your life. Today, we’re going to hear from someone in the Christmas story who knows what a plot twist like this can look and feel like. This person knows what it’s like to be blind-sided. This person knows what it’s like to face drama, uncertainty, fear and confusion—the kind of confusion that deals both with life and God. And yet, in the middle of this uncertainty, what this person said is a gift to you and me. In fact, my hope for you today is that you will carry these words with you and speak them over and over in your life when you face a plot twist and a changing turn in your life. These words bring peace in the middle of uncertainty. They bring hope in the face of fear. And they allow you to see the Christmas story with fresh eyes. These words can be a prayer allowing you to see your story with fresh eyes of faith and hope.
God can be trusted. God is here. And God is on the move.
WELCOME to the Christmas story…..
I am going to ask you to get your Bibles and turn to the Gospel of Luke. If you are using a pew Bible, our passage begins at verse 26 is on page 1588. Tradition tells us that the writer of Luke was a physician that traveled with the Apostle Paul on some of his missionary journeys. His Greek writing was of the most refined in the Bible. He was writing to a Roman official or a group of educated people. He says, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3). With that we get some extra details that are not included in the other Gospel accounts. It is likely that he actually spoke with many of the people we read about it Jesus’ inner circle. That is quite possibly true with today’s passage. Beginning at chapter 1 verse 26.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, 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.
Verse 29 says that Mary was “greatly troubled.” How often does an angel appear to you and call you highly favored? It’s a bit unsettling to say the least. Now, there are three very famous Biblical birth announcements. Abraham/Sarah. Zechariah/ Elizabeth. And then Mary. The first two were met with skepticism. Watch how Mary responds….
30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:30-34)
Mary asks a very good question. In fact, it’s a great question. “How will this happen since I am a virgin?” What Mary understands is that this news has instantly put her life in jeopardy. In those days, women who were unmarried and became pregnant could have been stoned to death, legally. This isn’t necessarily good news for her, especially as an unwed teenager.
One of the most uncertain times in my live is when I arrived in West Texas, specifically Odessa. Once I got there it was not at all what I had been told to expect. I had been working for a hospital in Charleston, SC that was owned by a parent company that owned a hospital in Odessa. I was told that the Human Resources, or HR, department in Charleston would talk to the HR department in Odessa, kind of a pre-introduction and help me get settled. Because I wasn’t high enough in management, I could not transfer, but I was assured that it would not be a problem getting a job at the hospital in Odessa. I arrived and dutifully reported to the HR department in Odessa, and they hadn’t heard a thing about me.
One thing that you have to understand about Odessa, Texas is that it is oil country. They do cattle ranching, too, but the primary industry that drives the economy there is oil. When I arrived, oil was selling at $12 a barrel. It cost at least $14 a barrel to pump it out of the ground. Incidentally, it is currently $57.76 a barrel and hit a peak of $128 a barrel in July of 2008. In any case, in 1999 unemployment in Odessa was through the roof, but somehow I never saw that statistic when I was researching the area online. I had no place to live. I had no job prospects. I walked into a Methodist Church and talked with the pastor. She was very kind and supportive … and offered no consolation whatsoever. Of course, she had a whole congregation of people who were suffering.
I had felt called out there. I planned it to the best of my ability. It felt like a complete disaster. I wish at the time that I had known that Proverbs 16:9 verse that we’ve been looking at the last several weeks. “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.” (NRSV) I started off trying to find a church. There are many, many Methodist churches in that part of the country. I started off at the church where I met with the pastor. I kept moving forward. I kept looking for God. I actually found the story of Abraham inspiring and comforting. “Go to a land that I will show you.” That’s all that God said. He didn’t say what Abraham would find when he got there. He told Abraham to move to a dry, dusty place. I moved to a completely different place because that is what the Lord directed, a dry and dusty place. I kept trying to do the best I could with what the Lord gave me.
35 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. 36 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. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:35-37)
Verse 37 is a place where you can see the Christmas story with Fresh Eyes. “For nothing is impossible with God.” (CEB) Nothing.
In Odessa, despite all of the unexpected complications … Plot twists … I managed to get a job at that hospital that I not only was good at but where I rose quickly through the ranks. I found a great apartment I could afford. There was one benefit of oil being so low – low rents. I found a church home where I could grow and thrive. Is that God being faithful? Because my life seemed to improve dramatically? I didn’t have every wish fulfilled, but it was pretty good.That is not God being faithful, except for maybe the finding of a good church home part. God is faithful by being with us and loving us, no matter what is happening, God is with us in the thick of it, and will be there to catch us when we fall.
If you find yourself in a situation like this today, I want to point you to what Mary does next. She speaks a prayer of faith over her situation. It is this very prayer I want to give you today. This comes straight from a very perplexing plot twist – a virgin teenage girl is pregnant with God’s son. It’s crazy. You see, you look at the Christmas story and everything is all “Silent Night” and calm and bright. But look closer. This is a crazy plot twist of a story. And as Mary begins to step toward all of that, she says this sentence, this prayer—which is a gift to you and me…
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)
I wish that I had the spiritual maturity that Mary shows here, but I struggle with it when things don’t go the way I would write the script.
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)
How do you respond to uncertainty and fear? When you want to react in fear, respond in faith.
The best possible advice I can give you today is to speak this prayer over the plot twists and uncertainty in your life: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be done to me according to your word.” (AMP version) This was incredibly confusing to Mary. In fact, it was quite a confusing journey at times for 33 years all the way to the Cross. And then things got really interesting the following Sunday. Let’s be honest. Mary had quite a crazy, wonderful ride, but one of the things that sustained Mary was remembering what the Lord had spoken to her. She leaned into this. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be done to me according to your word.” Here are just a few of the examples of what the Lord has spoken over you, what He says about you:
- I am a child of God. (John 1: 12)
- I am God’s workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10)
- I am totally and completely forgiven. (1 John 1:9)
- I am God’s Child. (Galatians 3:26)
- I am Jesus’ friend. (John 15:15)
- I am a whole new person with a whole new life. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
- I am a place where God’s Spirit lives. (1 Corinthians 6:19)
- I am totally and completely forgiven. (1 John 1:9)
- I am created in God’s likeness. (Ephesians 4:24)
- I am a citizen of Heaven. (Philippians 3:20)
- I am greatly loved. (Romans 5:8)
This is what the Lord says about you. This should be the basis of how we view our stories, our circumstances and our lives. It leads us to our bottom line today:
When you don’t understand what God is doing, remember what God has spoken.
You are loved by God. You are a child of God. You are in the presence of God. You are forgiven by God. When we remember and live by these words, we can join Mary and say this prayer as well: “May it be done to me according to your word.” This is a very short list of the statements God has said over you. When the plot twists come, when the sudden turn of events happen, who will you trust? When decision time comes and you can follow Jesus or you can follow the crowd, who will you trust? Will you start writing out your own version of how things will end? Or will you trust God? Will you react in fear or respond in faith? When we see the Christmas story as all is calm and bright, it sometimes distances the story from reality. But when we see it through the eyes of a trusting teenage girl who has been given unbelievable news and in the middle of it she speaks faith and promise over that news—that’s when we find the Christmas story as personal, relatable, and helpful. Today as we close, I want to spend some time praying for those of us who are facing a plot twist of uncertainty in our lives. I want to pray for God to do what only God can do – to bring us hope, strength and peace. And at the conclusion of this time, I’m going to ask all of us to pray this simple prayer together: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Lord, when those things happen in our lives that we don’t understand that we would not choose for ourselves those plot twists that you allow or even put in our lives, help us to go to you to trust in you. This holiday season can be challenging for many of us. So much to do, so many expectations to meet. All of the swirling emotions so intense that even when it’s good, it can feel like too much. Missing loved ones that are not with us for whatever reason. Feeling alone while it looks like everyone else is with friends and family. Help us to remember that we can always go to you with whatever is on our hearts. We can offer it to you, and you will take it. You will bind it up. But also help us to be inspired by the faithfulness of Mary and respond as she did. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be done to me according to your word.” Amen!