December 6, 2018

God's Timing is Always Perfect?  Really?

2nd Sunday in Advent

First Lesson:  Isaiah 40:3-5

Second Lesson:  Galatians 4:4-6

Gospel Lesson: Luke 1:26-38

Sermon Text:  Luke 1:26-38


I have mentioned this before.  There are certain sermon topics that hit people more than others.  Forgiveness is one.  Every time we have a sermon on forgiving others, 4 people contact me to talk about how to forgive those who hurt them. Another is priorities. When we talk about how to use the time/talents God has given us, a number of people want to chat about how to do that. That that those topics cause so much discussion probably doesn’t surprises you.

But those aren’t the highest topic on list. #1? God’s timing. When we focus on how God does the right thing at the right time, calls increase, texts fly, and my inbox blows up. Why? We like to think we know best what should happen and when.  And usually, the best time for something is now. Now I want the job. Now I want my marriage fixed. Now I want healing.  Now I don’t want that problem. When that doesn’t happen, when God’s timing seems wrong, we easily get upset/frustrated.

And that is crazy if you think about it, right?  We know God knows best when to act.  We have example after example in Scripture and our own lives of that. But still we struggle, think God’s timing stinks, and think we know better, right? Yes is the answer to all 3. What are we going to do about that – knowing God’s timing is always right but struggling to accept that?  

No surprise here – we turn to Scripture - the account of the angel announcing to Mary she would be the mother of our Savior. Talk about someone who could very easily have had a beef with God’s timing!  But instead we see in her a heart of faith and a heart that is more than fine with whatever God does and whenever he does it.  And in her, we see a great example of how we are to handle things when we struggle with God’s timing. To get the full flavor, let’s pick this text apart.

Vs. 26 & 27: “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.” Mary was young, likely 14/15.  She was engaged to Joseph, a local guy.  And, really, she had her whole life ahead of her – marriage, kids, pastimes, a nice home, etc. She surely some life-altering news.  But that is what she received.

Vs. 28 & 29: “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.” A holy messenger from God appears. That’s enough to cause a freak out. But what the angel said is even more overwhelming. “Why am I highly favored?  What did I do in my short life in a quiet town to earn such a greeting?” You know when someone says something nice about you and you feel underserving of their kind words? That was Mary.  “Why come to me, and why say that to me?” But the angel cuts through her fear/confusion. Vs. 30-33: “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.’”

Let’s say I told you that you won the lottery - $200 million, that you are pregnant with triplets, or you were elected president.  None of those would be as shocking at what the angel told Mary. The angel says the Lord found favor with Mary. That simply means she is a humble believer.  She knew the promised Savior would eventually come from King David’s line - the Messiah they all were looking for. But to hear the child who’d do all this would come from her, that the 1000s year-old promise would reach its fulfillment in her, that her Son would be the answer to millions and millions of prayers, and that her Son’s birth would be the most earth shattering event ever because it would mean that billions of people are blessed?  Shocked, amazed, filled with awe – we don’t have words to fully capture what was going through Mary’s mind.

We do know the logistics of this bothered her. Vs. 34: “’How will this be since I’m a virgin?” She’s not doubting - just looking for understanding. The angel gives it. Vs. 35-37: “‘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. 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 6th month.  For no word from God will ever fail.’”

This child Jesus is not like every other child. God is his Father. He isn’t Joseph’s son, not by nature. He is God’s Son. And while this seems impossible, the angel reminds Mary her formerly barren cousin Elizabeth is pregnant.  If God could do that, why couldn’t he bring his Son into the world through a young virgin like Mary?  He can, for nothing is impossible for him.

This all might be the biggest bombshell in human history. Think Mary thought God’s timing was terrible?  He could have given her a heads up so she could’ve prepared. Or waited until her and Joseph were married so rumors wouldn’t fly around about her being less than pure. Or waited until she was older, more mature, more prepared for huge news like this.  But he didn’t. To a young lady, to a virgin, to someone whose life was still taking shape, God gave to Mary the surprise of the ages.

So how does she respond?  Does she cry?  Get angry? Bargain with God? Vs. 38: “’I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’” How could she react like this?  Imagine you won the lottery and I told you about it.  If you said, “Sounds good”, I’d think there was something wrong with you. When we get life-altering news, we shout, jump, cry, or freak out. Mary sounds as cool as a cucumber – no complaints about timing/doubt. How could that be?

There is only one answer – the Lord blessed Mary with a confident faith.  After this, Mary sings a song. In it, she doesn’t complain, whine, or wonder. She rejoices. She rejoices a bit God was using her. But mainly she rejoices over what her child would be/do. He’d be the Savior who’d live up to that title and save the world. How could she not freak out and accept God’s timing?  She knew that it all was in his hands, and that in the end, he would work things out the exact right way. 

Back to us.  We wonder about God’s timing with a job, with family, with sickness, etc. None of those hold a candle to what we just heard Mary go through. So how can we have her faith as we struggle with not only what God does but when he does it?  We, like her, have to look at the big picture. Mary knew the Savior. He knew what he’d accomplish.  She knew billions would be blessed because of him. Was her life altered? Would she face hardships?  Might she have thought she had a better plan? Maybe. But in the end, she kept her focus on God, and doing so, she could move forward confidently.  

Is it, should it, be any different with us? We all have plenty of examples of God’s timing turning out to be best, even though for a time we doubted that was the case. We only say the individual pieces. God saw the completed puzzle.  Was it tough to lose the loved one? Was it difficult to lose the job?  Was is hard dealing with that physical set back?  Of course.  But in all these and so many more, God had a reason for doing that when he did that.  

Are we always going to learn what those reasons are?  On earth, no, not always.  But that is where faith comes in.  Surely Mary had a 1000 more questions to ask the angel, but in the end, she trusted God knew best and it would all work out.  Remember, as the angel said, nothing is impossible for him.  And realize, nothing has changed.  What God does and when he does it is always for our best.  And when we have a hard time accepting that, we need to go back to the content of the angel’s message.  In our 2nd lesson, we heard these words: “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son…”  Was this in Mary’s timeframe?  No, it was God’s.  But the end result of what he did and when he did it means that we are loved, forgiven members of his family. We are washed clean of sin.  We possess a heart of faith he planted in us.  And we are confident as we move forward, for the result of all this is our citizenship as members of the kingdom of heaven.

If God knew what to do and when to do it then, doesn’t he still know the same things today? A thousand times yes!  Mary knew that, and that allowed her to move forward.  In our hearts of faith, we know it as well.  And what we know is that just as it turned out with Mary, so it will turn out for us.  God will act, his timing will be perfect, and we will be blessed because of it.

Still having a hard time with God’s timing?  Take a cue from Mary.  Accept what happened.  Know it was done by your Lord who could not love you more.  And know that it is all part of his perfect plan, as everything always is.  And knowing that, with a heart of faith, repeat Mary’s words over and over until they hit home: “I am the Lord’s servant.  May your words to me be fulfilled.”  May the Lord help us to say those words, mean those words, and truly believe those words.  Amen.