“I Am the Lord’s Servant” – Luke 1
Advent 4 – December 24, 2017
Introduction: Gabriel’s two missions
As we stand on the threshold of our celebration of Jesus’ birth – recorded in Luke 2 – we make a brief stop this morning in Luke 1. There we read about two missions of the angel Gabriel to two individuals in two different towns in first century Palestine.
The first mission was to the priest Zechariah while he was serving in the temple in Jerusalem. The second mission was to a virgin, an engaged virgin, who was living in the town of Nazareth in Galilee. Both missions were to deliver a message about the birth of a baby. But it wasn’t two messages about the birth of the same baby. It was two different babies. Because Zechariah was startled and gripped with fear, and because Mary was greatly troubled at Gabriel’s greeting, both messages began with a comforting word, “Do not be afraid. Everything’s going to be all right.”
Gabriel told Zechariah that his aging wife, Elizabeth, would have a child despite her old age. Gabriel told Mary that she would have a child despite her state of virginity. Zechariah expressed his doubts, asking, “How can I be sure of this?” Mary asked for an explanation of the mechanics: “How will this be since I am a virgin?” For his unbelief, Zechariah was made speechless until his son was born. Mary, on the other hand, expressed her willingness to be the Lord’s servant and to accept what was spoken to her in a promise. Mary believed God could do it. Zechariah wasn’t so sure. It’s Mary’s servanthood that we will use as our theme today.
- You’re never too old to serve God
Actually, the first thing we want to observe is that you’re never too old to serve God. Think back to some Old Testament characters. God called Noah to build an ark and to gather a floating zoo when Noah was over 500 years old. God called Abraham to move to a new land when Abraham was 75 years old, and Abraham and Sarah became first-time parents of Isaac when they were 99 and 90 respectively. Moses was called to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt at age 80, and he led them through the wilderness for 40 years after that.
In Luke 1, Zechariah and Elizabeth are described as “well along in years,” and Zechariah’s own assessment is “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Becoming parents was no longer an expectation or hope for them. But this child of theirs had a purpose – “to go on before the Lord,” “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” They were described as “righteous before God” and “walking blamelessly before the Lord,” so – in God’s eyes – they were the perfect candidates to be the parents of John the Baptist.
You are never too old to serve God, either. You may not be able to do the things you did before – manual labour, or church leadership, or serving in some capacity on a Sunday morning – but there are things you can do: pray for others, encourage others, have spiritual conversations with others, financially support the congregation and various other mission agencies. Don’t think about whether you can serve God. Think about how you can serve God.
- You’re never too insignificant to serve God
The second thing to note is that you’re never too insignificant to serve God. Who was Mary? An unknown young woman from a backwoods town in Galilee. When she spoke or maybe sang the Magnificat, her song of praise, she rejoiced that God had been mindful of the humble state of His servant. She recognized that there was nothing meritorious or deserving in her of that honour of becoming the mother of the very Son of the Most High God. We don’t hear anything special about her with respect to wealth, family heritage, or social standing. She was just a normal Nazareth teen.
Think about some other of God’s servants. Peter, Andrew, James and John were all fishermen called to be disciples. Amos, the Old Testament prophet, was a shepherd from Tekoa – just south of Bethlehem. King David started out as a shepherd boy, too, from Bethlehem. Ruth was an unimportant foreigner who married a man from Bethlehem and became the great grandmother of David.
You don’t have to start out with royal blood, or priestly blood, to be in service to God. You don’t have to come to the Lord with wealth, prestige, or position. God can take each one of us where we are and use us in big ways or small ways to impact His kingdom. It might be as profound as being a godly mom or dad. It might be being a faithful witness in your place of work. It might be greeting people on Sunday mornings with a warm smile and a friendly handshake, or reading the Bible lessons with understanding and meaning. You’re never too insignificant.
- You’re never too young to serve God
Neither are you too young to serve God. We don’t know how young Mary was. Speculation is that she was a teenager. She made herself available to God. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
Other examples in the Bible are Timothy, who was serving as a pastor probably in his early 30’s and to whom Paul wrote, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” Age does not disqualify one for service in God’s kingdom. In fact, Paul went on to say to Pastor Timothy, “Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” And of course, Jesus identified little children as ones to whom the kingdom of God belongs. When His disciples tried to shoo away the parents who were bringing their children to Jesus, He urged the little children to come to Him, and He put His hands on them and blessed them.
Even today, we experienced the little children serving God by telling us the story of Jesus’ birth and its meaning. You’re never too young to serve God.
- God uses people of faith to serve Him
No matter if, in the eyes of others, you seem too old, too insignificant, or too young, God uses people of faith to serve Him. Gabriel told Mary that she would bear God’s son, and that even Elizabeth was six months pregnant in her old age, and then Gabriel concluded, “The word ‘impossible’ isn’t in God’s vocabulary.” God uses people who believe in His power.
God uses people who commit to His ways, no matter what happens. Mary’s response to Gabriel was one of commitment, “May it be to me as you have said. I am willing to be the Lord’s servant in this matter.”
God uses people who depend on Him. We have already heard that Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous, Godly people. Gabriel said to Zechariah, “You prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” Was he still praying for that into his old age? Or was this God answering a long ago prayer and desire of their heart? No matter… they were the ones God chose to be the parents of John. Mary’s song affirmed that God’s mercy extends to those who fear Him. We will hear tonight that God even uses unbelieving people for His purposes – like Caesar Augustus, who called the census that sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. But God especially uses people who depend on Him.
- Gabriel’s message: the Saviour is coming to serve YOU!
Although we have heard a lot about us serving God and others, the more important message from Gabriel is that God, the Saviour, is coming to serve YOU!
Gabriel’s message to Mary included the truth that her son, Jesus, would be great, would be the Son of the Most High God, and would rule over His people, graciously, in love, with a kingdom that never ends.
Gabriel’s message to Zechariah stressed that John would go before the Lord, and prepare people for the Lord, but then Zechariah’s song at the end of Luke 1 clarifies that that Lord is really the one serving us. Zechariah said, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
The rising sun from heaven shining into our darkness, salvation, forgiveness, mercy, peace… these are the ways that the Lord, to whom John would point, would serve us.
We serve… because God first served us… in Jesus. Amen.