In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Epistle this morning, we heard Christ talking to God, saying, “Lo, I have come to do Thy will, O God.” In the Lord’s prayer, Christ taught us to pray “… Thy will be done”. Think about it. This is Christ, the embodiment of God on earth, God himself in human form, the single most powerful person ever to have lived. We are taught that He was fully human as well as fully divine, so, as a fully human person, he felt his power. He could cure the sick, walk on water, raise the dead, turn water into wine. Yet, He humbled himself, and set aside all of His normal human passions and urges, and surrendered himself to God. “I have come to do Thy will, O God.” “Thy will be done”.
In Luke’s Gospel this morning, the angel Gabriel tells Mary she will conceive a child and Mary says, “How can this be? I have no husband”. Gabriel says “With God nothing is impossible”. Mary says, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She surrendered herself to God.
Now, elsewhere in the Bible, we are told that, when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he decided to divorce her, but apparently he loved her and he was a nice guy, so he decided to divorce her quietly so as not to put her to shame (remember, this was 1st century Palestine, he could have had her stoned). But, the angel came to Joseph, and told him the child was conceived by Holy Spirit, so he should take Mary as his wife and call the child Jesus (savior, salvation) for he will save his people. And Joseph did as the angel commanded him. He surrendered himself to God.
In these verses of Scripture, Jesus, Mary and Joseph all surrendered themselves to God.
As someone who was trained as a Marine, let me tell you, I have so much trouble with that word. Surrender. Over the years, as I’ve struggled with this theological notion of surrender, I’ve often been told, “Joe, surrendering yourself to God is not the same thing as a Marine surrendering to the enemy.” I agree. It’s not the same thing. In many ways, surrendering to God is much harder. I mean it. Think about it. I wouldn’t surrender to the enemy unless every single other option was gone – unless I had absolutely no choice. Even then, I wouldn’t really mean it. I would escape, thereby taking back my surrender, every chance I got.
Surrendering to God, on the other hand, is a completely voluntary action. You have to choose to surrender yourself to God, and, you have to mean it (keeping your fingers crossed when you make a promise to God is definitely not a good idea).
Jesus said, “Thy will be done”. He did not say, “My will be done whenever possible, and if there is no other choice, then, ok, I guess Thy will can be done”.
Mary, said, “… according to your word”. She did not say, “Well, let me run it by Joe, my mom, and my friends, and, if they think it’s cool, then maybe ….”
Joseph just did as the angel commanded him. He did not say, “What are you thinking? Are you sure about this? Do you think we can pull this off? Will my buddies all think I’m nuts, or worse, a wuss?”
They all surrendered themselves to God. They chose to do so. And they meant it.
So, as I prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance about this sermon, this is where I was led. This is what we are called to do – surrender ourselves to God. Tough stuff.
So does surrendering ourselves to God mean we give up? Give up our lives, and become passive, submissive, sell the house and the car, maybe join a monastery? Well, what does the Bible say? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph surrendered. What happened to them?
Even though he was God, Jesus humbled himself to become one of us. As a man, Jesus became the one most important and influential person who ever lived. He showed us the way, the truth, and the life, upon which was founded the greatest religious movement in history. More than 2 Billion people, a third of the human race, are Christians.
Mary saw the fulfillment of the angel’s promise. She became the mother of God, and is the most revered woman in history.
Scripture tells us little of what became of Joseph, but the fact that Joseph continues to be one of the most common names in the western world should tell us something.
Maybe surrendering to God doesn’t mean giving up.
At boot camp, I was forced to surrender my will (and just about all my dignity) to a Drill Instructor, a DI. I’m sure you’ve all heard what the Marines say - Marine Corps DIs tear down the boy and transform him into a man – a Marine. If a mere DI can do so much, imagine what God can do.
When we surrender ourselves to God, we do not give up. We are transformed. We empty ourselves of hubris, anger, greed, and whatever other base emotions torture our souls, and God fills the gaping hole with grace, love, compassion, courage, faith, and the power of the Holy Spirit. We are truly transformed.
Still, for me at least, surrendering is the hardest thing in the world to do. I want to be a good Christian, but I’m so weak. I think that may be why I seem to fit in so well in the Christian Church. I always remind my un-churched friends that the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. Christians may know where to find the answers, the Bible, but that doesn’t mean we have the faith to believe the answers.
We want to believe, but the doubts never go away. So how can we find the faith to believe? Oh, yeah, scripture. What does the Bible say? Jesus taught us many lessons about faith. One of my favorites is the story in Mark’s Gospel about the man who beseeched Jesus to help his epileptic son. When Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes,” the man cried out, “I believe, Lord help my unbelief.” He wanted to believe, but he still had doubts, so he asked Jesus to help him with his doubts! There you have it. We all struggle with our faith. We want to believe, but doubt sneaks in. So, what can we do? Pray. Ask Jesus for help. In the words of our fundamentalist friends, we accept Jesus as our personal savior, and then we ask Him for help.
So, if we wish to be transformed, we need to surrender. To surrender, we need to believe. To believe, we need to pray. Or, from the beginning it’s: prayer, belief, surrender, transformation. It all begins with prayer. We need to ask Jesus to come into our hearts. Alone, we are powerless to overcome our doubts. But we can do it, if only we ask Jesus to help us. This is why He came to earth. This is why we have Christmas. He came to answer our prayers.
But, remember, prayer is not a one-time event, it is an ongoing process. I wish we could pray just once and all the doubts would vanish forever. Sadly, they will probably come back. They will probably sneak back in. But Jesus is always there for us. Each time we ask for His help, our faith gets stronger and the doubts get weaker.
Pray with me. Dear Jesus, thank you for Christmas. Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for answering my prayer. Help me, Lord. I want to believe. But, once again I doubt. Help my unbelief. I know that, with you, all things are possible. Send your Holy Spirit into my heart, dear Lord, and give me the courage, the humility, and the faith, to believe, to accept you as my personal savior, to surrender and turn my life over to you. Transform me, Lord, into the person you would have me be. This I pray in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Amen, and Merry Christmas
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