1. What is God asking you to do or believe this Christmas?
2. Is there something in your life that feels like an interruption that may be an invitation from God?
3. How does fear tend to manifest itself in your life – doubt? “What if” questions? An addiction? What can you do to recognize it when it appears?
Merry Christmas everyone! I’m Pastor Peter and Speaking of a thrill of hope, I’m thrilled you’re here at Hope City this morning.
I don’t know about what your house is like these days, but as we’ve gotten closer and closer to Christmas, my kids have gotten more and more excited about opening Christmas presents all together and spend time together as a family! Some of you are on the edge of your seat because you can’t wait to open your presents.
This reminds me about a mob family, don’t forget that I used to live up in NJ. A Mobster had a little boy and at Christmas he sat down at his desk to write a Christmas list to Jesus! And the little boy wrote,
Dear Baby Jesus, I’ve been a VERY GOOD BOY ALL YEAR. So, I want a new…
He looks at it and thinks, that’s not true! He crumples it into a ball and throws it away. He gets out a new piece of paper & writes: “Dear Baby Jesus, I’ve been a PRETTY GOOD boy for MOST of the year, so I want a new…” He looks at it & thinks– that’s not true either! —crumples it up & throws it away.
Then he gets an idea. He goes into the family room—takes a statue of the Virgin Mary. He puts it in the closet & locks the door. He takes out a third piece of paper & writes:
“Dear Baby Jesus: If you ever want to see your mother again…”
HEYYO… All the Italians in the room are like… You better watch out… Bada Bing, Bada Boom…
Look, none of us are angels, But Angels do play a key role in the Christmas Story. In the Bible, Angels were sent by God to deliver the Message from Heaven about the birth of Baby Jesus to his mother Mary. And today, I want to read the original Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, that’s found on page 698 in the Bibles around you. And we’re going to learn 3 LESSONS from the Angel’s message to Mary that I hope will encourage your heart today!
26 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.”
This sounds like a wonderful greeting! Who wouldn’t love this, But Mary wasn’t flattered… she was frightened! According to verse 29, she was freaking out!
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.
Now why would Mary be freaking out? Well you got to know something about biblical angels.
In today’s world, when people hear the term “angel,” I think they picture something like this. A Precious Moments Little Baby Angel sitting on a cloud playing a harp. Or skipping along with kittens wearing a little halo. But that’s not how a real angel is depicted in Scripture. In the Bible, Angels look more like this. They’re Mighty, Fearsome Warriors! Powerful creatures—capable of destroying an entire city. Yet tender & sensitive enough to protect a newborn child.
So, let’s set the record straight: Angels are NOT people who’ve died & sprouted wings. Rather, they’re spiritual beings created by Christ—who live in God’s presence & do His will. They PROTECT the helpless… and DELIVER God’s messages.
And yet Mary was greatly troubled … What do you want with me?? But the angel Gabriel puts her at ease in verse 30:
30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
Why would Mary be afraid?
Well, remember: Mary was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph.
She’s probably all amped up and dreamy about what’s happening! She’d be scrolling through Pinterest, trying to find all the creative ideas to make her wedding perfect. She’s locking in her new Instagram handle– @mrs_mary_joseph
And then suddenly, this angel interrupts her plans, leaving her to catch her breath! 2,000 years ago, a girl Mary was touched by an angel and 2000 years later we learn 3 things. First thing, if you’re taking notes:
God’s INTERRUPTIONS are often INCONVENIENT.
Aren’t they? God’s interruptions often come at a moment when we least expect it, and when we don’t welcome it—Because it messes up our plans!
Leah’s Nail in the foot Story: Christmas Time last year…
Our Kids were off at a friend’s house… Tiffany and I were finishing up some last-minute Christmas Details for HCC and we get a frantic call…. YOU NEED TO COME GET LEAH NOW… And all I can hear is sobbing in the background. The kind that puts you into Transformer Mode… You know it dads… You can be all calm and cool and then you find out that one of yours is hurt and all logic and reason go out the window, it’s GET ME TO MY KID NOW. GET OUT OF THE WAY. We start to protect and provide.
Well we rush over, and I walk in and find my little girl curled up with a nail sticking out of the bottom of her foot. We rush her to Urgent Care and the Dr’s do their very best to figure out exactly what’s going on in her foot. They’re unsure… they don’t know if it pierced her bone, and they were taking so much time… And I thought to myself, I’ve got so much more to do for our church! For our first ever Christmas EVE service… THIS IS THE WORST TIMING EVER!
Like that, God’s INTERRUPTIONS are often INCONVENIENT.
Often we have a different plan & schedule for how things are going to happen in our life & family.
Don’t forget: Mary was “highly favored” by God–We all want the Favor of God, the Blessings! But many Christians don’t like the idea that God may allow something to happen to them they weren’t expecting. Or ask them to do something that might wreck their picture of the “perfect” family, marriage or life.
IOW: we want to be close enough to God to get the good stuff – right? I want the promise of Heaven… I want His blessings… but I don’t want to be so surrendered that God has total access to every area of my life, because if I completely surrendered everything to Him …
- He might make me CHANGE my lifestyle.
- He might make me open my home and FOSTER KIDS.
- Give up something I ENJOY like food, alcohol…
- MARRY someone who doesn’t look like my IDEAL!
I don’t know if you’ve ever had thoughts like that. I’m talking about real life today. The rest of you holier-than-thou angels just sit there & polish your halo. The rest of us are going to talk about real stuff, ok?
Sometimes we feel FEAR: What if I give control of my whole life to God—and it doesn’t go the way I planned? And FEAR can cripple our thoughts.
Some people say that, “Fear is the absence of faith.” I would argue that fear is actually faith. It’s just faith in the WRONG THINGS. Fear is putting your faith in the “What Ifs” of life:
- What if I lose my job?
- What if someone I love gets cancer?
- What if I never get married?
- What if …. What if… ?
Pastor Craig Groeschel says, “Fear is placing our faith in the worst-case scenario.” It can drive us to a point of irrational panic. In fact, the best definition of FEAR is:
FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real That’s what fear is.
The good news is, though, according to 2 Timothy 1:7, if you’re a follower of Jesus:
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.
Why do we get afraid of God’s plans for our life? Or what He may ask us to do? Number one: God’s INTERRUPTIONS are often INCONVENIENT.
Number two, if you’re taking notes: What we call INTERRUPTIONS, God calls INVITATIONS.
God interrupts Mary’s wedding plans… and says, I’m inviting you into a BIGGER & BETTER STORY for your life. I’m inviting you into My Global Story of bringing Salvation to the whole world! And you know what? You see that pattern of DIVINE interruptions all throughout Scripture:
- What did God do with Moses? He was out in the desert watching sheep—and God interrupted with a burning bush, and invited Moses to become the deliverer of God’s people.
- In the New Testament, Saul was off killing Christians, God interrupted his flow with a light from heaven, and turned him into PAUL… the Greatest Apostle to the non-Jewish world & author of much of the NT you hold in your hands.
For thousands of years, God has been interrupting the well-laid plans of ordinary men & women with an invitation to something BIGGER and BETTER than we can imagine.
I believe there are many of us here today who shake off God’s invitations, calling them “interruptions,” when God is really trying to do something new and different in our lives. And I don’t know how this will play out for you, but if you’re sensitive enough to see what we call “human interruptions” as a possible “divine invitation,” God might take you somewhere new or different… to do something special that you could never have arranged on your own.
Some of you here today weren’t church people at this time last year. But what happened? Someone interrupted your plans and invited you to church and kept bugging you to come. You were like, “No thanks, not interested. I don’t have time.” But finally, you said, “I’ll come.” Because that’s the way Hope City people are. They don’t take no for an answer. They just keep inviting & inviting… and don’t go away.
And so, you came to church, and thought, Oh, I’ll just endure it, and get in and get out, and then something happened. You were touched by a song… or the message seemed like God was speaking directly to you. And your heart started to soften, and you found yourself being drawn to God…
And one day you bowed your head and asked Jesus Christ to forgive your sins & take control of your life. And you sensed the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit– and something in you was dramatically changed & different. And what you thought was an interruption was an invitation to something bigger and better.
In Luke 1, an angel of the Lord appears to this girl, who has the next 10 years all planned out, and says, “I’ve got something better for you.” And it’s SCARY at first…
30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found FAVOR with God.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if God’s got some favor to dish out, I want some of that action. I want Heaven’s blessing. But notice: God’s favor isn’t exactly what Mary thought it would be. She’s thinking: God gave me favor? That means he’s sending Joseph & me on a honeymoon to Hawaii… yay! But wait… That’s not it.
If you’re taking notes, the third thing we learn is that 3) God’s PURPOSE is greater than your PLANS. His purpose for us is often so much richer than what we had planned out for ourselves. You see this in verses 31 through 33. The angel Gabriel gets specific & says:
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.”
Translation: Mary, you’re going to give birth to a King. His name will be Jesus. His Father will be God. And He’ll be a Savior to the whole world.”
And you can only imagine this teenage girl, as her emotions swing back and forth. Think about it. I mean, there must have been a moment where she’s blown away, like: I’ve been hand-picked to be the birth mother of God’s Son. And then – boom! – her emotions swing! What are people going to think? Say about me?
So, on the one hand: FAITH – Oh, my gosh…I’ve been chosen! On the other: FEAR – Oh my gosh, what could happen to me? FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real. Putting your faith in the “What ifs?”
The Bible says God has plans to bless you… plans to prosper you… to give you a hope, and a future, and every now and then… He will intentionally allow what you might call an “interruption.” But from His perspective, it’s an INVITATION to something higher and better, because His purposes are always GREATER than your plans.
The Angel appears to Mary… announces God’s eternal purpose for her life… and she replies in v 34:
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
Oh yeah, that little detail 😉 For Mary, pregnancy seemed impossible. How could this be? That’s our natural reaction anytime God tells us to do something that seems impossible.
For me, it would be like an Angel saying “Peter, you’re going to win the NYC Marathon next year!” Ummm… I’m not exactly built for speed. I mean: I run… But I run on Dunkin’! Starbucks really… if we’re being nit picky… That’s what Mary’s saying right here. “I’m a virgin… HOW WILL THIS BE? Virgins don’t give birth to babies. It’s impossible.” Absurd.
It’s like an angel saying to football fans: “The BUCS will win the Super Bowl this year.” HOW WILL THIS BE?
Let me be more real-life: If you’re single & hoped to be married at this point, it may seem relationally impossible. You’re getting older, wanted to start a family, but now you’re in your 40s or 50s… and time’s ticking. HOW WILL THIS BE?
But there will be a time, I promise, for every follower of Jesus, that God is going to ask you to have faith & believe Him at His Word. And you may look at it and say, “I don’t see how that’s possible. [PREACH THIS]
I don’t see, God, how You’re asking me to forgive someone, after what they’ve done to me. HOW WILL THIS BE? I could never forgive them for what they did to me.”
God, I don’t know how You’re asking me to be generous here at the end of the year—to give to the Xmas Offering. I’m living paycheck to paycheck right now… HOW WILL THIS BE? I don’t see how it’s possible.”
Or “God, I believe you could heal this person I love. But the doctors said, “It’s medically impossible. Prepare for the worst.” HOW WILL THIS BE? That’s what Mary says.
And you know what? She’s right. Humanly speaking, it’s impossible. But this is where FAITH in God overcomes FEAR every time. Verse 35, l
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…
In other words, this doesn’t depend on you! This is a God-sized promise. That will require the SUPERNATURAL POWER of the HOLY SPIRIT to fulfill!
And then Gabriel says these words. Let’s read verse 37 out loud together…
This is the King James Version:
For with God nothing shall be impossible.
Did you hear that Christmas Promise? Nothing is impossible for God! I don’t know who came to church for this moment, but there’s someone here today—and this is God’s PERSONAL PROMISE TO YOU. Maybe this Christmas, your family is facing an impossibility. And you need to know that what seems impossible with man is absolutely and completely POSSIBLE with God. Or you need to know that we serve a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present! One spoken word, and God can step in… intervene… and change your whole life!
And God may ask you to believe something that seems unbelievable… or to do something that seems beyond your ability… and the truth is, you couldn’t do it on your own because without faith, it is impossible to please God. And so, I want to ask you today a very Simple Question: What is God asking you to DO or BELIEVE this Christmas? Because if you’re a Christian– you’re a follower of Christ– you have His Holy Spirit inside of you. And the HS loves to give birth to new things that bring glory to Jesus!
For some of you, the answer’s immediate. You already know it, but you’ve spent the year resisting it. Others of you, it may take a few moments, or a few days, of praying, “God, what do You have next for me? What are You directing me to do in 2019?”
- For some of you, it’s going to come to you: I’m supposed to volunteer with Hope City Youth and invest in the next generation…
- Maybe He’s going to ask you to Foster a child this next year or support a Foster Family.
- Maybe He’s asking you to Serve our Church on the Roadies and help setup and tear down so that way we can create environments for people to get meaningfully connected to God.
What is God asking you to do or believe this Xmas? It may even seem beyond your ability… but don’t forget: With God nothing is impossible!
Now listen: When you have the answer to that question. This is key. If God is asking you to take a step of faith, this is the most important part. You must realize: OBEDIENCE is your responsibility; OUTCOME is God’s.
Outcome is always and only the responsibility of Your Father in Heaven. Obedience is yours.
For the last few weeks, our Church Family has been praying about our year-end Christmas Offering. Every December, we give above and beyond as a church to help people in the next year. This year we have set a goal of seeing $35,000 come in to increase our services to Families, our Care for others, as well as reaching beyond our walls to serve the Foster Care Community and help start new churches just like ours in 2019.
Last week I got a letter in the mail that stopped me in my tracks. It made me just close my eyes and pray and thank God…
Read the letter…
I felt God saying, “Have I provided in the past?” YES!
Do you believe that my heart is BEHIND the NEXT GENERATION? YES!
Do you believe that my heart is for the Foster Kid? ABSOLUTELY!
Then why are you afraid? “Well, what if we don’t reach our goal by December 31st… What if… What if… What if…“
Remember: FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real BUT— Nothing is impossible for God! My heart was flooded with peace as I read this letter. I want to be part of a church that walks by FAITH (not FEAR) at Christmas!
And I don’t know how this will play out for you, but there’s going to come a moment when God is going to ask you to trust Him. Just like the Angel asked Mary… God is asking you this Christmas: Will you be obedient?
Will you surrender your WHOLE LIFE to Him, just like an innocent, teenage girl did, 2,000 years ago? I love Mary’s reply to the Angel in verse 38. Final verse:
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
You know how one version translates it? “God, may all your dreams for my life come true.”
Isn’t that beautiful? She looks at the angel and says: “I am the LORD’S SERVANT.
And even though I don’t understand & don’t have all the details…. I can trust Him with the outcome… Because I know my God is good… and loving and completely trustworthy.
And if He interrupts me with something inconvenient, then I want to surrender myself to whatever God wants. Because His ways are higher than my ways. His purposes are higher than my plans.
So, may all God’s dreams for my life come true. Because, ultimately:
OBEDIENCE is my responsibility… the OUTCOME is God’s.
Would you PRAY with me?
Father, I pray today that the power of Your Holy Spirit would overshadow every Man & Woman under the sound of my voice. And help us to be obedient to do, God, whatever You’re calling us to do this Christmas. Amen.
With all heads bowed for prayer, earlier I asked the question:
“What is God asking you to do or believe this Christmas?” And some of you know what that is. You need strength to obey or follow God. If you’re here today and you’re facing a situation (challenge or decision), and you want to obey. But you need God’s strength. And you’d like me to pray for you… would you LIFT YOUR HAND HIGH RIGHT NOW, so I can see it? (Raise your hand high if you’re committing to obey God—do whatever He asks—and let me pray for you!)