A Song of Servanthood

From 4th Sunday in Advent, 19th December 2021

Weddings are beautiful and exciting events with an abundance of anticipation.  Arranging them over the last two years or so has been challenging to say the least!  For any wedding there is always a lot to do.  The “who, what, where, how and why” questions all need to be answered.  The bride’s dress needs to be just perfect for her.  The bridesmaids’ dresses are to be considered and ordered.  Flowers need to be ordered, the guest list sorted and invitations sent.  The marriage venue and meetings with the Rector need to be organised.  Don’t forget the registration for gifts at online sites.  Oh, we mustn’t also forget the groom and his entourage have their lists too.  It’s a flurry of excitement all round!

I wonder how Mary felt about her wedding day?  (Luke 1:26-27).  Her pledge of marriage to Joseph was a commitment of love, faith, and loyalty to her future husband.  Was she looking for everything to be “just perfect” when her day came?

After her pledge of marriage, her world turned topsy-turvy.  Everything changed!  Luke tells us (Luke 1:26-38) that an angel appeared to Mary with an announcement from God.  She had been selected as the entrusted woman to give birth to the Messiah of Israel… and the whole world.  This news must have flashed violently through her mind… did she think that this would occur after she was married to Joseph?  As the angel kept speaking, her mind began to comprehend that Gabriel was not talking about after she was married, but that she was going to become pregnant before the wedding!  Luke states that Mary was greatly troubled at his words and unsure of what he meant.  Being a faithful and spiritual Jewish woman, she wasn’t sure how this would happen.  We sense her confusion as Luke recorded the conversation, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34).

Gabriel gave her the specifics:

“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…for no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:35-36).

Her response should be the response of every faithful follower of God…

“I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

As time passed Mary visits her relative Elizabeth who lived in the hill country of Judea.  Did she go there because there would be no prying eyes?  Did she need someone to confide in, get wise counsel from someone she could trust?

As we heard, when Mary entered Elizabeth’s house, the baby inside of Elizabeth kicked and made her feel good about all that was happening; the Holy Spirit convicted her of the rightness of all that was going on and in the excitement the Holy Spirit gave her the words to say… 

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear…Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!” (Luke 1:40-45).

This spontaneous blessing from Elizabeth was an enormous source of encouragement to Mary for she then bursts into a song of happiness and praise, a song we know as the Magnificat.

So what does this song, full of happiness mean?  It has been said that the essentials of happiness in life are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.

Yet we know that Mary’s life will be like riding a rollercoaster!  As a young wife and mother she is exiled and homeless, she’ll see her son die, and then miraculously raised from the dead!  But her song shows that as God’s servant she has a deep abiding happiness in God. Do we..?

This happiness enables Mary to glorify God (Luke 1:46-51).  The song infers that God had first place in Mary’s life.  It came from deep within her soul and spirit and rose to her lips as she gave glory to the redeemer of life.

Giving God glory is far more than a sentimental expression of feeling.  It is the absolute knowledge and certainty that we glorify God for His redemptive act in our lives.  His redemptive act comes through the whole Christ event.

John in his first letter clearly states that God’s redemptive act was part of God’s original act of salvation. 

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us…And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).

This plan is continued through the birth of Jesus.

“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” (Luke 1:35). 

Through faith in Jesus we can see how this plan unfolds.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). 

It comes to culmination at Calvary and the cross of Jesus.  By shedding His blood on the cross, Jesus took our punishment that we rightly deserved because of our sinfulness, and offered us His righteousness.  As we give Jesus our sin and its accompanying death penalty He gives us His righteousness and abiding presence.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness…” (1 Peter 2:24). 

The ultimate victory of God’s plan comes through the resurrection of Jesus.  Without the resurrection, Jesus would only be a martyr, but because of the resurrection He is our Saviour!  In truth “the resurrection is God’s ‘Amen!’ to Christ’s statement, ‘It is finished’” (Lewis Johnson).

So, Mary’s song glorifies God — a song all of us should be singing during this season!

Finally, Mary’s song is one of faith (Luke 1:54-56).

It has been written that,

“Some generations are more aware of what they have achieved than of what they have inherited, forgetting that the heritage makes the achievement possible.”

How true these words are?  I am eternally grateful for the love, support and prayers of the many who have shaped my faith, my call to ordination and my ministry.  Their names mean everything to me for they taught me the rudiments of faith and helped bring me to maturity.  They have stood shoulder to shoulder with me throughout my life, during the good times and bad.

I’m sure many have helped formulate your faith.  Like Mary, think about those people and thank God for what they helped instil into your heart, life and work.

Mary’s song is an amazing love song.  She loved God and her son, despite the sword that would pierce her own soul!  The ultimate virtue of servanthood is being able to show unending love to those around you.  Life for Christians is all about us instilling that unending love in everyone around us, it is not for us to hold on to.  This love comes from our God-given happiness, it comes from us glorifying God in all we do and it comes from us having faith in Jesus, even if you think that your faith is as small as a mustard seed.

As Christmas approaches let us as servants of the Lord daily praise God.

Living thoughts

Read Luke 1:39-55.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Mary’s song shows that as God’s servant she has a deep abiding happiness in God. Do you?
  2. What is this quote saying to you about today’s world?

“Some generations are more aware of what they have achieved than of what they have inherited, forgetting that the heritage makes the achievement possible.”

  • Call to mind those who have helped you formulate your faith.  Spend time thanking God for all that they helped instil into your heart, life and work.

Digging deeper into God’s Word

Mary, a servant of the Lord, spontaneously sang a song of praise to God for His faithfulness. 

Read Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-51) and/or some Psalms of praise, and invite God to lead you throughh His Holy Spirit to spontaneously sing a song of praise (you could just write something or speak something out) to God for all He has done for you.

Prayer Response

Oh Lord, by the power of your Holy Spirit, enable me to live a holy and righteous life so I represent your Son Jesus Christ here on earth in a way that brings glory to your name.

Help me to walk with you in holiness and righteousness so that I will fulfil my destiny and the purpose of my existence.

Lord of righteousness, in this world that is full of violence, selfishness, murder and other evil deeds, teach me the path of holiness, and engrave me to live like Christ in words, thoughts and deeds.

Lord, teach me your word and make it easy to apply it to my life so that I will see goodness all the days of my life.

Lord, give me the spirit of humility so that I will be able to walk with you in holiness.

Lord, engrace me to keep your commandments and take iniquity far away from me, in Jesus name.  Amen.

Father, I have decided to walk and live by faith.  I’ve made my choice. By faith I believe Your Word.  I am living in two realms at the same time. I am in the earth and I am seated at Your right hand, in heaven, with Christ Jesus, at the same time!  Through me the two realms converge on a daily basis. Like Jesus did when He was in the earth, I bring heaven down! Your Kingdom has come. Your will shall be done.  It’s going to happen on earth as it is in heaven, and it’s going to happen through me! I enter this day determined to make Kingdom impact in every meeting, conversation and activity I engage in today, because my life brings the heaven and earth together!  I am an agent of supernatural change! I declare this by faith.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Water into wine

John 2: 1-11

Who hasn’t been in a tricky situation and needed something dramatic to happen in order to get out of it?  Have you longed for something good to come out of the bad?  It could be you’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it.  It could be you just don’t know what to do, where to start, and you have a deadline to meet… a bit like writing a new sermon!  So, how often have you said, or thought, “To save the day I need a miracle here”!

Today with Covid-19 we’re looking for something good to come out of the bad.  Can good come out of this bad time we’re in now?  Can Jesus make something good come out of this bad time?

Jesus and his disciples had been at a wedding celebration, and midway through, the hosts ran out of wine. This was unheard of and highly embarrassing. We don’t really know a lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus, but we see her compassion, and a fortitude in this account.   She feels the pain of the hosts and knows Jesus can resolve this situation, and so she makes His miracle-working abilities public, a little bit too soon if we take verse 4 at face value, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?”  Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

Had Mary seen her son do something as He was growing up that would indicate He could make something good out of this embarrassing lack of wine? Mary must have seen something different as Jesus grew up for she clearly knew He could do something to make good to come out of the bad.

So what did Mary know?  Have you ever thought about that?  I have to say I haven’t given this much thought, but as I thought about this, could it be that Mary on an occasion burnt the evening supper?  Burnt fish lingering in the house, and Jesus comes in and restores it to its pre-burnt state! Maybe one of His brothers skinned their knee and Jesus healed the cut! No need for Band-Aids in that Nazareth home!

The Bible does tell us that she knew that her child was special for she pondered on all the things that happened. After all, wouldn’t you think your child was special if you had angels appearing telling you of about the birth of a child you are going to have? 

Furthermore, Luke tells us in chapter 2 that after they returned safely from their trip to the Temple with Jesus when He was a boy, and after He had stayed behind in His father’s house, Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.”  Obviously there were many characteristics that showed Mary the uniqueness of her son.

The Bible doesn’t tell us these details, but Mary knew something. She knew Jesus could take a bad situation and make it right and not only right but so much better than anyone could have imagined.

When the master of the feast tasted the water-become-wine, he called the bridegroom to one side (he didn’t make a scene) and said to him;

‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’” (John 2:9-10)

Did you know that changing water into wine involved an entire change in the molecular makeup of the water? It’s not like Jesus added some food colouring or a teaspoon of salt. No, he changed the atomic structure of the liquid — a feat that required a staggering amount of energy.  This shows us that Jesus has a real mastery of the natural law, far beyond the comprehension of the world’s best scientists.

Isn’t that typical of Jesus?  The change He brings is not a minor modification, no He brings about a complete remake!  The classic Austin/Morris Mini car only had minor modifications for 40 yr., then… in 2000 it had a complete remake… Mini One! 

So why did Jesus turn water into wine? What is its significance?

Water-into-wine teaches us that Jesus is all about making us completely new.  He doesn’t change bits and pieces here and there because He has the power to change us completely, as if he is changing our whole molecular structure. Like water-into-wine.

Before we look at this further, it’s worth noting that John refers to what other Gospel writers call miracles as “signs”.  Why?  Well, signs emphasise that there is something significant about the action just undertaken, rather than the marvel of what has just occurred. So what is the significance of Jesus turning water into wine?

Jesus turned water into wine to prove that He is the source of life. Changing the water to wine offered a symbol of the new supernatural spiritual life Jesus brings from the old mortal in conversion. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!”

Many people make a mistake here; they want to improve themselves into being worthy of God before they accept Christ. The truth is the other way round it is by accepting Jesus as Saviour that God counts us worthy of entering His presence…

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Jesus turned water into wine to prove His real nature to the disciples. For this was the ultimate purpose of the miracle: to reveal His Glory! This resulted in them putting their faith in Him.

From what we read Jesus had no interest in recruiting faith in the members of the wedding party, or the master of the feast. Even though the servants knew the provenance of the wine, Jesus didn’t perform the miracle to convince them. His only interest was to reveal His true, inner being to the six men He had handpicked to be His disciples; two of John-the-Baptist’s followers, one of whom was Andrew, who finds his brother Simon Peter, that’s three.  Then Jesus finds Philip who then found Nathanael, that’s five, and I’m assuming John was there, as it is his Gospel, so that makes six.  This glory would only be completely uncovered once during his ministry – at his transfiguration in front of a select few. But this sign, of water into wine, achieved its purpose, for His disciples believed in Him.

As Jesus continued His ministry many who came to believe in Him through His preaching, miracles, claims and example understood what glory meant… in Christ, God had become a mortal.  In Christ, God put on a human face – a reality verified by John when Jesus appeared to him as we read in Revelation 1:12-18.

 I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me… 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.

When we put our faith in Jesus and believe who He is, the eternal invisible God will be made visible to us all.  This is redemption through Jesus Christ.  In essence then, this miracle proved more about the someone Jesus was than the something He did. He is the only person who has the power to remake us completely so we can know and experience his supernatural divine glory personally for ourselves. A glory that leads us to believe in Him.

Time to think

Read John 2:1-11.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand give yourself time to think about the following as you dig into God’s word.

  1. When has God shown up in ways you did not expect?
  2. How has He worked something good in your life that you could not have pictured?
  3. Can you imagine that He can do it again at this moment in time?  If so ask Him how He is going to do that.

God’s harvest

35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Matthew 9:35-38 (NIV)

I love seeing combine harvesters at work I stop and watch… I find it such an idyllic sight!  Despite living in the countryside I am often disappointed at not seeing that many fields in the process of being harvested.  One day a field looks white for harvest, the next it is all cut and baled.  How did I miss it… again?  As always, farmers don’t hang around.  All has to be gathered before the weather turns against them.  For the last few years I have endeavoured to spend a day with a local farmer during harvest.  Graciously he has welcomed me aboard his combine.  I’m like a boy with a new toy!

But what is the season of harvest all about?  Well, it’s a season of hope.  Seeds planted the previous year, or earlier in the year, are bearing their fruit.  It is a time to gather in the fruit of the labour spent preparing the land, planting the seed and caring for the first sights of tender shoots.

As Christians, we are to know that God IS the Gardener supreme, and He is looking for a spiritual harvest from us!  That is what Jesus is talking about in our reading from Matthew.  This type of harvest does not depend on a particular time for harvest.  We are the fields, and our prayers and lives are the seed.  So we can plant seeds of faith, eternal hope, love, joy and peace in and out of every season. 

As we plant such seeds we can gather in the lost, bring back a wandering soul, for it doesn’t have to be a fixed harvest time, because God controls His spiritual harvest.  So a harvest for Jesus is available anytime because to God it’s always harvest time.

God, as Gardener supreme, has placed us at the centre of the world He created.  He has fed us, and equipped us with what we need to survive physically.  Having provided for us physically, He looks to a different harvest from us.  A fruitfulness of lives, in service to Him and others.

For us to live fruitful lives in service to Him we need to let the God of harvest, feed us, prune us, harvest us so that our lives bring glory to Him.  You see, God doesn’t have to plant, water, and wait for a harvest.  Yet, He chooses to be the Gardener supreme – with us as His fields and our prayers as seeds.

This is a picture of us co-labouring with God to bring Him glory – what an honour (1 Corinthians 3:9) to work with Him.  As we co-labour with God He encourages and urges us, to plant our faith firmly in His Holy Living Word and in His supernatural power.  As we do this He bottles up every tear of fear and disappointment (Psalm 56:8-11) to water the harvest of His glory.

This leads us to become His fruit, a fruit ripe with testimonies that feeds the faith of others to know that they, too, can and will overcome all the evil schemes of the enemy (Revelation 12:11) and fulfil God’s plans by reaping His harvest.

Here’s what we know about God: He is a finisher.  When He begins the good work of planting you, He is faithful to bring you, His field, to a flourishing finish!  Because God plants with the FULL expectation of a vibrant, glorious bloom.

Be encouraged today. Don’t give up before you see the fruit of your prayer labour.  Right now, you may be sowing seeds of tears and prayers with no sign of a bloom in sight.  Trust that the Gardener supreme sees your tears, that He hears your cry, and has every intention to bring your purposed bloom to fruition for His glory.

Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.  He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:5-6)

Based on a sermon first delivered on 13th September 2020