Luke 1:26-38 – The Holy Spirit Will Come on You

Pentecost by Jen Norton

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! 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 favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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,and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

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. 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. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (New International Version)

It is good that the Daily Lectionary has us considering these verses of Scripture outside of the Advent season. In this time of year, in which we focus on the Spirit, we need to remember that these stories, and our faith, are meant to be held throughout the entire year.

Most of life is lived in the mundane, even in times of uncertainty. For the most part, our everyday lives involve going about our business and dealing with the daily grind. That’s because we are common ordinary people. So, we can especially relate to Mary because she is rather plain. 

To put Mary’s life in our contemporary vernacular, at the time of this encounter with the angel, she is of junior high age but has never attended school. She wears mostly clothes from Goodwill, and occasionally can get some from Wal-Mart. She cannot read because girls of her day rarely did.

Her parents make all the decisions that affect her life, including the one that she should be married to an older man named Joseph. We don’t know if she even liked him. Mary lives in a small town that most people cannot even point to on a map. 

One night, into the bedroom of this young girl comes the brightly beaming divine messenger Gabriel whose name means, “God has shown himself mighty.” Mary stands there in her ratty old flannel nightgown, her life very quickly moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

The juxtaposition could not be more pronounced: a mighty angel and a plain teen-ager; a messenger of the Most High God and a girl barely past puberty; a holy angelic light which beams in a simple candlelit bedroom; an awesome power encountering complete vulnerability.

Mary, compared to Gabriel, is defenseless, fragile, and overwhelmed. She’s in way over her head. That’s why we can relate to her. We can get our human arms around Mary. She is like us. She has faced life with little power to make it turn out the way she planned. Forces beyond her have rearranged her life and altered it forever.

Descent of the Holy Spirit by John Lawson

Mary is the Matron Saint of the Ordinary. We can totally understand why Mary responds the way she does. Mary’s initial reaction to the angel Gabriel was to be greatly troubled. She was disturbed and shaking in her hand-me-down slippers.

The angel confidently told Mary that she had found favor with God. This scenario didn’t happen because Mary had some extreme spirituality. Instead, God simply chose her to be the mother of Jesus.

Mary needed to come to grips with what was happening to her. This was well beyond anything she could have expected.  Becoming pregnant with the Savior of the world was not even remotely on her radar. 

She immediately sensed the crazy disconnect between what was being told to her and who she was. After all, she was a plain ordinary girl from the hick town of Nazareth and was being told that she would raise a king.  Maybe somebody in heaven screwed up. Maybe Gabriel got the wrong girl. Maybe his Google map sent Gabriel on a wild goose chase.

Relating to Mary, we can totally understand that she would question how in the world all this was going to happen. Not only is Mary ordinary and far from royalty, but she is also very much a virgin. Nothing about any of this made any sense.

But, then again, this is the very sort of thing that the wild and seemingly reckless Holy Spirit would do.

The angel let Mary know that God specializes in the impossible. There is nothing outside of God’s power. There’s nowhere we can go, no place on earth, no situation whatsoever, that is beyond God’s ability and reach to affect divine power.

We very rarely get straightforward answers to our questions about God. Yet, Mary asked a question and got a straight answer: She really can be pregnant with Jesus because the Holy Spirit will come upon her, will overshadow her with power.

If the story were to end there it would be a great story. However, the Spirit’s work goes well beyond effecting the miraculous. The Spirit also brings about faith.

God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us.

Romans 5:5, GNT

Mary believed the message and submitted herself completely to God’s will. We may completely understand if Mary simply said in her plain ordinary way that she was not prepared for this. We would totally “get it” if Mary pushed back on what the angel said to her. We could relate if Mary just dismissed the angel’s presence as a hallucination from using some bad chickpeas to make the hummus.

Yet, Mary not only believed; she also humbly submitted herself to what was happening. And this is what I believe we need to relate to most about Mary – not her being just a plain ordinary person in a non-descript village but stepping up to the calling she received.

We, too, have received a calling in our lives. We, too, have been given the power of the Holy Spirit. We, too, are ordinary people who have been given a very extraordinary task. 

Our response today can be the same as Mary all those centuries earlier: “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”

The Church is pregnant with possibilities because of the Holy Spirit.

We know the end of Mary’s story. She gave birth to Jesus and raised him in her plain ordinary way. She watched him grow up and embark on a ministry to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. Mary didn’t always understand what Jesus said or what he was doing. And she experienced every mother’s nightmare in seeing her beloved son killed in a terribly gruesome manner right in front of her eyes. 

Yet, just as the Holy Spirit was with the birth of Jesus, so the Spirit was with Jesus at his resurrection from the dead. Jesus lived an ordinary life in a very extraordinary way. Furthermore, today Jesus invites us to do the same.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Jesus (Acts 1:8, CEB)

Because Christ accomplished his mission of saving people from their sins and establishing a kingdom that will never end, he has given us the same Holy Spirit to follow him forever and call other people to follow him, too. 

To trust and obey is God’s only way to live into the life of Jesus. The Christian life may often be difficult, but it isn’t complicated. It’s rather simple, just like Mary.

Mary responded to God’s revelation with faith, choosing to fully participate in what God was doing. “I am the Lord’s servant” is our confession, as well. Along with Mary we declare, “May it be to me as you have said.”

Good and gracious God, thank you for giving us your Son, the Lord Jesus. Draw us into the mystery of your love. Join our voices with the heavenly host, that we may sing your glory on high. Give us a place amongst all of your saints so that we may experience your Word made flesh, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, in the splendor of eternal light, God forever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 1:9-20 – I Am Fully Alive

Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa, Canada

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (New International Version)

“Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,’ but ‘I shall rise.’”

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

Easter Sunday may have come and gone, but the church remains in the season called “Eastertide,” which extends forty days until celebrating Christ’s ascension to heaven. This means that Easter is not just a one day affair; it is a joyous time of focusing on new life and exulting in the resurrected Lord. 

The Apostle John had a vision of the resurrected Jesus in his glory. Although John was quivering in his sandals, the Lord assured him that he need not be afraid. Christ is not dead but living.

Jesus is alive! Since Christ is risen, God’s people are united with him in his resurrection. That means the church is alive. Yes, the church is a-l-i-v-e, alive! 

The term “dead church” gets bantered around quite a bit these days. But that is really an oxymoron; a genuine Christ redeemed Body of believers cannot possibly be dead; they are alive! 

If a church is dead, it is not a church. It could be a country club, a benevolent organization, and even a moral institution, but a church is not a church if it is dead because Jesus is alive, and his Body is anything but dead.

Christians have life in Jesus Christ. We are alive forevermore because Jesus will never again die. So, then, we are to live as vigorous and vibrant believers. 

What things will you do differently since you know you cannot die? 

How will the knowledge of your eternal alive-ness impact you today and every day? 

The truth is: We have been raised with Christ to new life; we cannot die because death no longer has mastery over us. We can now live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:4-11, NIV)

“The glory of God is a person fully alive, and the life of a person is the vision of God.”

St. Irenaeus (130-202, C.E.)

Humanity’s alive-ness is what most fully displays the glory of God on this earth. Christ living within the believer is a powerful and potent manifestation of God’s goodness.

Whereas we may think that great miracles are the best sign of God’s presence and power in the world, the truth is that being full alive, and living into the new life we possess, is a bright light which shows the way of transformation to a fallen planet in the vice grip of sin, death, and hell.

God’s generosity, wisdom, and love are supremely viewed with the changed life of an individual. Living life to the full in this post-resurrection era, influences how we treat one another because we nobly honor our fellow humanity as people bearing the divine image of God.

We, therefore, in our alive-ness, seek to understand one another because we know that each person around us is worth understanding. Our being fully alive moves us to cultivate a virtuous life, knowing that a life well-lived is the best witness to God’s glory.

Believers raised with Christ are filled with joy, realizing that living is in itself a great good. We hope to carry this joy into the world and bear witness to the beauty of each human life.

O God, as people fully alive, make us bold in love, courageous in hope, and whole in faith. May the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon the Church everywhere, today and always, through Christ our risen Lord. Amen.

Revelation 1:4-8 – The One Who Is, Who Was, and Who Is To Come

John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (New International Version)

In my undergraduate college days, one of the required classes for my major was “Philosophy of History” taught by a crusty old professor who looked like he was one-hundred-and-ten-years-old. One day he came into the classroom and began his lecture by looking directly at me with those beady black eyes of his and said, as only he could say it, “Ehrhardt! Can God change history?”

The Apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos. Late in the first century, all the other original disciples of Jesus were dead, having been martyred for their faith. Only John was left. The churches that the Apostle Paul established in Asia Minor were undergoing significant persecution. 

The trouble began with the church facing social ostracizing. Eventually, xenophobia took hold with many parts of the Roman Empire, and Christians began getting martyred. Misunderstandings of what the church is all about were rife.

If we were living during that time, we might seriously wonder if Christianity would survive, at all. Into this situation, the last Apostle, John, in exile, experienced a great vision (revelation) of Jesus concerning what is to come. While things looked awfully bleak, God graciously pulled back the veil between heaven and earth long enough for John to glimpse the great lordship of Jesus.

So, can God change history? You might be wondering about my response to the old professor. My answer was this: The question is only relevant if God were never in control and sovereign over history to begin with. There’s no need to change history if God is already actively working out divine purposes through history. Therefore, a more appropriate question is: Since God is Lord over all history, will we submit to the divine lordship? 

In difficult times, it’s only human to wonder if God is really sovereign over all the earth. With so much war, violence, and unrest in the world; with so many natural disasters and diseases all around; and whenever Christianity (and religion itself) is seen as a threat to many, we may sincerely ask ourselves, “Can God change history? Is God even in control of this present world?”

The revelation of Jesus to John, which he then shared with the struggling churches, was meant to encourage them – to give them hope that, even though Christ’s reign is invisible and seems limited and temporary, it will ultimately be visible, and is pervasive and permanent. 

Today’s New Testament lesson is meant to strengthen and bolster the believer’s faith with a vision of who Jesus is; what Jesus has done; and what Jesus will do.

Who Jesus Is

He is the faithful witness. The word “witness” is where we get our English word “martyr.” Faithful believers in the first centuries of the church witnessed to their faith and proclaimed the gospel of new life in Christ. They were effective enough to alter the social order, which brought persecution and, in some cases, death. 

These men and women died proclaiming their devotion to Jesus. They saw themselves as merely emulating and following the way of their sovereign Lord Jesus, who was himself a faithful martyr.

Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, that is, Christ has conquered death. Just as Christ rose from death, so also, we will be raised to life. Because Jesus is alive, Christians will live forever and experience bodily resurrection, as well.

Whatever happens to Jesus, happens to us. Jesus was persecuted, suffered, and died. We, too, shall suffer persecution and death. Jesus was raised from the dead and so shall we. The evil we experience in this life is very much known to God. Our solidarity with Jesus helps us to not grow weary and lose heart.

Jesus is the ruler, the king of kings and lord of lords. God reigns over the past, the present, and the future. Christ is in charge, presently now working out good plans and purposes. God bends events, situations, and hearts toward justice and righteousness. 

What Jesus Has Done

Jesus freed us from the power of sin by his blood. This is more than some nice information to know; it is truth designed for us to live a new life depending on King Jesus. Sometimes, we have horrible, no good, very bad days. We don’t respond to others well,  and then ask God’s forgiveness. Other days are wonderful, with bright sunshine and a spring in your step. We play well with others and express gratitude to God.

Jesus is Lord of both good days and bad days. Faith is not dependent upon our circumstances because it is the blood of Jesus which has freed us to live for God, no matter the situations we face. Christians overcome circumstances by the blood of Christ – and not because everything goes our way.  

We are never far from the cross of Christ. We overcome bad tempers, defeats, disordered love, fears, pettiness, and a host of other things by the blood of the Lamb. The daily goal is to not simply have a wonderful day without any adversity. Rather, the aim is to know Jesus Christ, and him crucified, dead, risen and ascended. 

Jesus has made us to be a kingdom of priests. Christians have continual access and unconditional acceptance of God through the blood of Jesus. We can intercede for others by going directly to God. Just as Jesus has unlimited access to the Father, so, the Christian has the privilege of coming to God at all times. 

Christians are a kingdom of priests where every believer intercedes for other believers, and even for the world which persecutes them. Jesus not only freed us from sin’s grip of evil for our own individual benefit, but also so that we can be agents of rescue for others. 

What Jesus Will Do

Jesus will come to judge the earth, the living and the dead. Moving deeper into Revelation, it truly becomes apocalyptic. It’s as if a group of trapped cave explorers choose one of the individuals to squeeze through a narrow flooded passage to get out to the surface and call for help. The point of the choice is more than personal salvation, it is the saving of the entire group. She is to bring help and equipment to ensure the rest get rescued.

Indeed, God elects, chooses, and calls us not only for our personal benefit but for the sake of many.

Conclusion

Jesus is worthy of our praise. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. His kingdom will never end. Since this is true, we are to faithfully serve God. In life and in death, we belong to God. We are not our own; we were bought at a price. 

“Can God change history?” is not the real question. Since God has changed history forever in the sending of the Son, the proper question is, “What will we do with the lordship of Christ over the world?”

Jesus is coming soon. When he returns, what will he find you doing?

Gracious God, we pray for Christ’s Church everywhere. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Amen.

The Wonder of Christ’s Resurrection

Welcome, friends! In the New Testament Gospel of Luke 24:1-12, we find an account of women approaching the grave of Jesus, only to find an empty tomb. Today, people search for reality in all kinds of empty places. There is, however, hope, because Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Click the videos below and let us enjoy and be in awe that Jesus is alive!

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Luke 24:1-12

May the glory and the promise of this joyous time of year bring peace and happiness to you and those you hold most dear.

And may Christ, Our Risen Savior, always be there by your side to bless you most abundantly and be your loving guide. Amen.