Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, October 15, 2018
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New Life

Luke 1:26-38

 Maybe more so than any other event in our lives, the news of a pregnancy changes everything in a moment.  I can’t think of anything else that changes our lives more.  When we find out about a child coming, we are suddenly responsible for another life, and we’re never again able to think of ourselves first.  And that’s scary.  

 I can’t help but draw from my own experience when it comes to pregnancies.  It was just over five years ago that I got the news that Sharon was expecting.  We’d been hoping for that for more than two years, and we were just beginning to think that it wasn’t going to happen.  And we’d just had a few experiences that were kind of upsetting.  We’d been at a community thanksgiving service, and the preacher told a story about a couple who had finally gotten pregnant and how happy they were.  A few days later, we went to my high school reunion, and I sat with a young lady who went on and on about how wonderful it was for her to have her three children and how we shouldn’t “wait” any longer to have them too.  We were pretty bummed on the subject of pregnancy.

 And then, at 7 AM on the first Sunday of December, Sharon came down the steps and said, “We’re going to have a baby.”  It was pretty lousy timing, I told her later.  I was on my way out the door to conduct three worship services, and all I could think about all day was the news she’d just dropped on me.  She apologized later and said she should have waited till noon.  There were all kinds of emotions boiling up in me that day.  There was joy and excitement, but there was also fear and doubt.  

 I have to imagine that Mary experienced those emotions even more strongly.  After all, she was hardly someone who was prepared for the news of an unexpected pregnancy.  It placed her in a very difficult position.  

 Mary was a betrothed virgin.  In her culture, marriages were arranged by the parents while the husband and wife-to-be were still very young, maybe even infants.  They were arranged to be married until both reached marriageable age, which would be about 12-14 for girls, 18-20 for young men.  Men were older when they married because they had to learn a trade first to provide financially.  At that point, they would enter into a year long period of betrothal, provided that both consented to the marriage.  

 While betrothed, they were considered to be husband and wife, legally, but not physically.  In other words, they were legally married, but they could not consummate

the marriage till the year was over and a formal wedding was conducted.  They could only break the betrothal by a legal divorce.  And in the meantime, they were often not even allowed to be alone together.

 The purpose of the betrothal was to establish the purity of the bride.  So obviously, she wasn’t supposed to become pregnant in that time.  If she did become pregnant, and the husband-to-be was the father, then they would be married quickly, but everyone would frown on the situation because they obviously lacked self-control.  On the other hand, if the husband-to-be was not the father, that was a very serious matter.  The bride-to-be would be considered an adulterer.  Her husband-to-be would divorce her.  Her father would likely disown her and kick her out of the house.  The community would shun her, and in a small town like Nazareth, everyone would know all about this.  

 This was a very risky situation for Mary, and her willingness to take part in God’s plan at risk to her reputation and well-being reveals a great deal about her character and her faith.  She risked being a homeless, family-less, social pariah for the sake of obedience to God.  We should admire her faith.  For her more than many, the news of a pregnancy, a new life, brought about a huge change in an instant.  

 We are also presented with the news of a new life, a new life in Christ.  And our lives are “pregnant” with the possibility of this new life.

 What do we mean by new life in Christ?  We use that expression a lot, but just what do we mean?

 First, we have the chance to be forgiven.  We have all sinned against God, and our sins rightly deserve punishment, death.  But Christ willingly took the punishment for our sins upon himself and bore our death on the cross.  Through faith in him, our sins can be forgiven and wiped away.  We have the opportunity to be forgiven by God.  We have the opportunity as well to forgive ourselves.  

 Second, new life in Christ means a renewed and restored relationship with God.  The estrangement that happened between us and God because of sin is removed and we can again have intimate fellowship with God.  

 Third, new life means that we have a new quality of life in Christ.  We can call it eternal life.  Sometimes we think about eternal life being something out there, ahead of

us, something that won’t happen until we die.  But eternal life begins the moment we put our faith in Christ and commit to serving him as Lord.  Theologically, we call it “regeneration,” a new beginning, a fresh start.  If we are in Christ, we are a new creation of God.  God no longer holds our past against us.  We are new in his eyes.

 Fourth, new life means that we have a new hope and a new confidence.  We know that, no matter what, God loves us and God has saved us and he has a wonderful future for us.  

 And finally, new life means that we have the opportunity through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to be transformed.  We can leave behind the prisons and the addictions and the fears that held us back and become everything God intends us to be.  We can be restored to the image of God that we were created in.  We can leave the past behind and come into a new and brighter future in Christ.

 But the thought of new life creates a turmoil of conflicting emotions inside of us.  I told you before about the mix of fear and doubt and excitement and joy I experienced when I heard that we were going to have a child.  I am sure that Mary experienced those things even more acutely.  “Am I ready to be responsible for another life?  Can I handle this?  What if things happen that I can’t take care of?  What if something goes wrong?”  

 Well, I believe those same fears and doubts also hold people back from new life in Christ.  

“Could God really love someone like me?”  We all know our own sins and faults and failures better than anyone else.  We know the darkness in our own souls in ways that no one else could, except for God.  And maybe we wonder if God could truly love us after all the mistakes we’ve made.  And some people fear rejection by God.  They aren’t willing to give God a chance because of their fears.

“What happens if I let go of control?”  We are all afraid to let go of control.  Some of us are afraid of flying, even if we know it’s a lot safer than driving a car.  I think it’s because we know that if we’re in a plane at 30,000 feet, we have no control at all.  We’re afraid to give ourselves completely to God.  I think we all try to hold on to certain parts of ourselves to maintain some sense of control.  I know that’s true of me at least, and I suspect it’s true of most people.   

We also have a fear of moving out of the past.  The past has a certain level of comfort, even if we are unhappy about it for one reason or another.  What’s that old expression, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t?”  We’d rather live with a comfortable, but unhappy life than take a chance at a new life.

These fears and doubts will not go away easily.  They’ll stick with us for years, even if we say yes to Christ.  

But if we join with Mary in that affirmation, “May it be according to your will,” we will experience the favor of God and the presence of God in our lives.  And in time, he can help us to let go of those fears and doubts.  

I don’t believe for a second that giving your life to Christ is a “once and done” thing.  I think we are called anew every day to give our lives to Christ.  And we are constantly challenged to let go of our fears and doubts and give ourselves more completely to God.  Don’t let the fears and the doubts of new life in Christ hold you back from the joy and the hope that he can give you.  

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