I want to study three different people today and examine how they react to supernatural events in their lives. These are their situations and how they respond to God suddenly being present. I also want to look at our own day and see how we compare to these three people.
The first person is Sarah, Abraham's wife in the the Book of Genesis. She lived in a time of turmoil. The Tower of Babel had been destroyed and God had scattered all the people to the ends of the earth. She is the wife of a nomad, and during the famines they go into other people groups, like Egypt, for food and water, and they lie about who they are, because they don't trust other people. So the people of the earth are in a dark place. The nations of the earth are at odds.
Now Sarah is pretty much a queen. Abraham has lots of servants and slaves and cattle and sheep and money and things. When they travel around the land, the caravan is probably enormous. He has enough resources where he can amass an army and go and overtake and wipe out the armies of four other kings, in order to rescue Lot. Sarah herself has handmaidens and servants. Abraham has to lie to people about her being his sister instead of his wife, because he is afraid the people otherwise will kill him and steal her, because she is so beautiful. Let's say she's very well off.
She's also a woman who takes things into her own hands. When she cannot bear children for Abraham, she offers her servant girl Hagar to bear his child. This is not something God told her to do. She knows that God has promised Abraham descendants, and so she is going to take matters into her own hands. We end up with the birth of Ishmael, and his descendants are still at war with both Judaism and Christianity to this day.
Now, the Lord comes to Abraham and tells him that Sarah will have a son. She hears this from the tent, and her secular-logical-non-supernatural thinking tells her that this is impossible. She is a worldly woman, and she knows how life works. She is too old to have children, and so she laughs—probably contemptuously—at the prospect of having a child in the next year. Then when the Lord questioned her, why she laughed, she denied that she had laughed. Not a very graceful reaction to the Lord.
The time of Abraham is about 2000 BC, and now we will go forward in time to about year 0. Just like in the time of Abraham, the world is in turmoil. Never was there a time when it seemed that the promises of God had failed. The house of David—Gone! Unknown! Forgotten! Israel was under the bondage of the Romans. The Jewish people had no worldly power, but they did have influence within their own group.
Zacharias was one such person. He was a Jewish priest, and it was his turn to go into the Holy of Holies this year. It is an honor, so we can say that Zacharias was in a good place, with his people, within the priesthood, with God. So, he goes into the private place with God, and he is visited by an angel, who tells him . . . that his wife Elizabeth will conceive in her old age. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Well, how does Zacharias react to this news? Does he laugh like Sarah? No, he doubted. He actually said, “How will I know that this is so?” Essentially, “How do I know that you are telling me the truth?” He was corrected in his thinking by a sign—his going mute.
Staying in year zero, still the same world in turmoil. The Jewish people are ruled over by the gentiles. And we have Mary in our gospel reading. We read the Magnificat together tonight, too. Was Mary powerful? Nope. Was she a queen like Sarah? Nope. Was she a high priest? Nope. She wasn't of any significance whatsoever. She was impoverished. She was obscure. She would be considered the “least of these.” She was humble. When the angel praised her, she was troubled. Why? Because the truly humble are troubled when they hear their own praise. The Angel doesn't tell her that she is going to give birth in her old age. She is young and pure—untouched. He tells her that she is going to give birth to the son of God.
In Mary we see perfect faith, humility, and submission. She is calm and thoughtful, like a morning cloud that reveals the sun, like the first star that appears in the sky after the storm has passed. Compare that with the way the others react. Does she laugh like Sarah? Does she doubt like Zacharias? No, Mary is composed and reflective, just like someone who wonders at nothing from the power and goodness of God.
Mary did not doubt. She only inquired as to the mode of the accomplishment. Now, think about it: a poor, village maiden amid her humble daily duties shows a more ready faith in the face of a far more startling message than the aged priest in the Holy Place amid the Incense. She doesn't laugh, because she is not worldly. She knows that with God all things are possible. She doesn't doubt it for a second. She's more like Sarah's husband who does not question the Lord when he is told to sacrifice his son, Isaac. He knows that god will not let Isaac die.
Now we zoom forward 2,000 more years to the present day. What kind of world do we live in? Again—one of turmoil, almost the same turmoil. We are anxious, and we think along the lines of, “God, where are those promises? You said to not be afraid, that you were going to handle all this. You sent your son Jesus, and he did this amazing thing on the cross, but that happened 2,000 years go, and there seems to be no sign of the evil in the world letting up!”
When I look around and see how little influence Christians have in the secular world—we still have to sneak around and do things behind the scenes, not out in the open for fear of persecution. Satan is said to be the ruler of this world, and even though we know he has been defeated on the cross, there doesn't seem to be any sign of his slipping from power. Christ's victory may seem like a slight wobble in the rear wheels of the tractor-trailer, but there's no sign of the truck tipping over and crashing. Just as the people felt 2,000 years ago and 4,000 years ago, so we feel now.
But in our helplessness, God finds opportunity, and nothing is lost in his sight. We're not slipping through the cracks. He's not off doing something else. He has not forgotten us. He is working on the fulfillment of all things, just as 2,000 years ago the fullness of time had come. This is Advent, and it is not just a remembrance of baby Jesus but of Christ coming again.
God has promised, and what do we do? Do we laugh like Sarah? Yes, because we know better. We will figure things out on our own. We will rather give our handmaiden up than wait for God to do it his way. We choose the worldly way. Do we doubt like Zacharias? Yes, because we have the truth already. We get wrapped up in religion but forget that the supernatural realm has power in the natural realm. We separate the two, and so when we meet an angel, we imply that he is a liar. We choose the isms over the spirit-filled life.
Are we composed and reflective like Mary, like someone who wonders at nothing from the power and goodness of God? No, but things are not hopeless. We have Christ, who took on flesh and died on our behalf. We make our paths straight so that he can live in our hearts. If we put him in the driver's seat, he will compose us. He will make us reflective like Mary. We will wonder at nothing from the power and goodness of God. We will look at the world in turmoil, and merely wonder at what God will do next, and we will be eager at his coming. We will keep watch and await his coming in glory.