God's Time

CALL TO WORSHIP: Luke 1: 30-38

HYMN 175: LIGHT OF THE WORLD -StF.

PRAYER OF ADORATION: Today we are going to think about the journey that Joseph and Mary made, when they went to Bethlehem. But the more that we think about the story, the more we realise that many other journeys are involved as well. So in our prayers, we will think about travelling.

Let us pray.

Gracious God, as we read the scriptures, we hear of all kinds of journeys, made by different people. We praise You for their richness and variety, and for the many ways in which You have worked in and through people’s lives.

We praise You for those who have listened to Your voice and obeyed Your call to travel, leaving familiar places and people behind, in order to do something new for You. We praise You because when You call people to serve You, You go with them by Your Spirit, so that they are never alone.

We adore You for Mary and Joseph who heard You speaking to them, and travelled to Bethlehem, trusting in Your faithfulness. We thank You too that today’s story was just the beginning of a journey. That journey continued in the story of the life of Jesus.

He, too, heard Your call, left His carpenter’s bench behind, and trusted in You for everything. His journey took Him to the cross, but by His death, He gave each of us a new start, so that we might begin a new journey with You.

And so we praise and thank You for bringing us here today as part of our own journey. As we listen to this old familiar story, help us to hear it in new ways, so that we may learn more about Your love for us in Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen

TALK FOR ALL: WHAT A SURPRISE (LUKE 1: 26-38)

The blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived on the earth. Try to picture in your mind how big a blue whale is. An adult blue whale can be 90 to 100 feet long. This is far longer than the length of most houses. Blue whales weigh 100 to 150 tons – 200,000 to 300,000 pounds – bigger than the biggest dinosaur that ever lived. Its heart alone weighs 1,000 pounds – the size of a cow. Are you getting an idea of how big a blue whale is?

Blue whales are also the loudest animal on earth. When they come to the surface and blow water into the sky the sound is louder than a jet airplane. Underwater the rumbling noise they make can be heard for hundreds of miles.

Now imagine that you are in a boat and you see a blue whale swimming by and it blows a spout of water forty to fifty feet into the air, making the loudest sound you have ever heard. How do you think you would react? How would you feel? I think you would feel very surprised to see and hear something so large and powerful. You might also feel frightened.

Thinking about how you would feel if you saw a whale might help you understand how Mary, who was to become the mother of Jesus, might have felt when an angel came to her. She saw and heard something very powerful. The angel, Gabriel, who was sent by God, told her she was going to have a baby boy, and he was to be named Jesus. The angel said Jesus was the Son of God.

Mary was frightened by what she saw and by the words she heard and she was also very surprised when angel, Gabriel, told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (1:30). That means that God was pleased with Mary and had chosen her to be the mother of our Lord.

So the baby, Jesus, was born and we celebrate his birthday because he was sent by God to surprise us and fill us with his love.

“For everything spoken by God is possible” (1:37).

HYMN 98: YOUR LOVE IS AMAZING – StF

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING

Almighty God, You call us to travel with You; but we confess that we are not always prepared to go where You lead. For putting all kinds of obstacles in the way of following Jesus, Lord, forgive us.

For deciding where we should be going without asking You, Lord, forgive us.

For forgetting that we are never alone on our journey, Lord, forgive us.

Thank You Lord, that to all who are truly sorry, You say ‘Your sins are forgiven’. Help us to hear those words, and to allow Your Holy Spirit to guide us, so that we may travel in Your way. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

READINGS: LUKE 1: 26-38

HYMN 187- THE ANGEL GABRIEL FROM HEAVEN CAME– StF

SERMON: GOD’S TIME (Luke 1:26-38)

Back in the 1920’s, a young girl named Lois Secrist felt a call to the mission field. However, she did not follow that call. Instead, she got married and stayed home. Many years passed. Her husband died, and Lois again felt the call, but she was hesitant. “Lord,” Lois said, “I’m too old to go now. I can’t do this.”

But God kept calling her, and finally Lois answered. She left in her eighties, moved to the Philippines, and established an orphanage, a home for 35 children who otherwise would not have a home. Where did these children come from? Some had been abused by their parents. Some were living on the streets. Who knows whether these children would have survived had it not been for the orphanage?

When Lois decided to answer her call, she found no denomination willing to provide financial support. They told her what earlier she had told God: “Lois, you’re too old to go now. You can’t do this.” But she went anyway.

Lois found people who would help. She answered her call. In doing so, she has saved 35 lives. 35 children are safe and healthy because one old woman believed
that with God, nothing is impossible.

Did she miss a call early on? There’s no point to that question now. What matters is that she heard a call in old age, and chose to respond in God’s time to make a difference in 35 lives.

There’s the story of one old woman. Now let me tell you another story, this one about a young woman, a girl really. She’s a nobody in a nowhere town. She lives in a society that honours men and honours old age, but does not respect females or the young. She has several strikes against her.

On the other hand, she’s engaged to be married, and looks forward to a quiet, obscure, domestic existence there in the little nowhere town where she was born. She hears a call, and it shatters her expectations.

One day a strange figure appears before her, this girl who rarely lays eyes on anyone she does not know. This strange figure does not treat her as an inconsequential teenager. “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

The girl is so startled that she looks behind her to make sure the stranger is not speaking to someone else. Nobody else is there.

“What silly language,” she thinks. “This stranger is mocking me.” She faintly recalls Bible stories where such language is used. At the burning bush God says to Moses:
“I will be with you.” An angel addresses the hero Gideon: “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” Jeremiah the prophet is consoled by God: “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

But really! “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” Nobody uses language like that with a teenage girl in a nowhere town. The stranger keeps talking. He tells her not to be afraid, for she has found favour with God. She’s going to have a baby, and she’s to name him Jesus, a name that means “the Lord saves.” This won’t be just any baby. He’ll be great. They’ll call him the Son of the Most High, God himself.
And God will give him the kingdom of his ancestor David, and he will reign, not just for a lifetime, but forever.

A baby! She knows she’s not about to be a mother. She’s a virgin! The girl finds herself stuck between the simple fact of her virginity and the stranger’s powerful message. She wants the stranger’s words to come true, but cannot imagine such a thing. Not even in the holy city Jerusalem do virgins have babies.

Confused, she asks how this can happen. The stranger replies
that she will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Thus she will be herself another tabernacle, another temple. Her child will be holy, God’s own Son as well as hers.

If this were not enough, then the stranger mentions Elizabeth, the girl’s elderly relative. Elizabeth is pregnant. Barren, old Elizabeth, of an age when other women are great-grandmothers, is about to have a baby! She’s three months from delivery. 

This girl from a nowhere town had it all figured out in her teenage mind. Marry a decent guy named Joe, settle down, have some kids, live like most every other woman she knew. A stranger with a startling message was not part of what she intended for her life.

Least of all did she ever imagine herself becoming pregnant before marriage. Her nowhere town has a zero tolerance for single mothers. The very few girls who end up that way know that their lives have been ruined. She is smart enough, afraid enough, never to let that happen to her. And what would her fiancé say? She imagines his good, decent face overcome by disappointment and rage.

But the stranger’s voice has to it the sound of heaven, the ring of truth. He speaks for one far greater than himself.

She knows she can refuse. Dim memories come to her of Moses trying to back out, saying that he was too poor a speaker to lead the Exodus; of the Israelites bellyaching out in the wilderness, wishing they were slaves again; of Jonah, heading to Tarshish in a vain attempt to run away from God.

Better memories come back as well. Abraham’s statement, “Here I am.” Isaiah’s response, “Here I am.  Send me.” The child Samuel, years younger than her, responding to the call with “Here I am.”

A call! That’s what it is! The stranger’s words are no joke, no lunacy, but a call from the Most High like those of figures from the past, only this time it comes to a teenage girl in a nowhere town. She’s free to refuse, of course, while as she pauses, angels hold their breath. She recalls the last thing the stranger said: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

In the subdued voice of a nervous teenage girl she says: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

All the common sense, the peasant prudence inside her had said: “You can’t do this. You’re too young.  You’re not married. You’re just a girl. This guy must have come to the wrong address.” But she went ahead anyway.

 It did not turn out to be easy. Telling Joseph, and him not believing her at first. (Who could blame him?) That horrible donkey ride to Bethlehem, the birth in the stable, then running away to Egypt. The local gossips who kept too close track of her son’s birth-date and her wedding date. The time the boy got lost in the big city. Years later, his execution as a criminal.

Yet all along she could not let go of her heart’s belief that answering the call was the right thing to do. It had not come at a good time. But it had come in God’s time.

She said yes. And so can we.

HYMN 186: TELL OUT, MY SOUL, THE GREATNESS OF THE LORD– StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION:  Today, our actors are going to help us with our prayers of Intercession.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and set your people free.

Let us pray.

Let us look at the wise men first of all. They were educated, rich, perhaps even powerful. Lord, we pray for powerful people in the world today. We remember Herod, and we know that people do not always use their power well. We ask that You will help those who are leaders in our country and our world. We pray for our Queen, Prime Minister, and for others who make decisions that affect many lives. Help them to remember that they are there, not to lord it over others, but to serve.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and set your people free.

Now we look at the shepherds, ordinary people, with a job to do. We pray for our own community; for our schools and places of work; for the shops that we visit day by day. We ask that You will bless them, and help busy people to find time for You at Christmas.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and set your people free.

Now we look at the angels. They are God’s messengers. We pray for the church all over the world; For the other churches in our town, and for this church. We ask that all those who believe in You may be messengers who share the good news of Jesus.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and set your people free.

Now we look at the donkey. It’s the sort of animal that is often laughed at, sometimes ill treated, and not thought to be very important. We pray for people who are made to feel that they don’t matter; for people who have no home or no work; for people who feel forgotten because they cannot get out of their homes. Help them to remember that they are important and precious in Your eyes.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and set your people free.

Now we look at Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. We pray for our own families, for those we will see at Christmas, and for those who will be far away. We ask that You will be with them and bless them. But we also pray for ourselves. Mary and Joseph had another journey to make, but they made it taking Jesus with them. As we continue our journey into Christmas, may we remember that Jesus travels with us, not as a tiny baby, but as our Lord and Saviour, calling us by His Spirit to follow Him.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and set your people free. Amen

HYMN 212: O COME, ALL YE FAITHFUL -StF

BLESSINGS: Lord, today we have watched again as Mary and Joseph have gone on their journey. Help us to remember as we leave, that You travel with us. The Blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon us and remain with us this Christmas time and always. Amen