“Pastor, do you have any sermon ideas for Advent 2021?” Advent begins on Sunday, 28th November and ends on 24th December, requiring a sermon series over four Sundays. I had posted a blogpost a few years back that was well-received about sermons that addresses the needs of seniors in church and this may suit you this Christmas season. You can access this HERE.
For this blogpost, I would like to suggest a fresh sermon series for Advent 2021 about Mary the mother of Jesus. Mary, as a model of Christian discipleship and feminine godliness is too often left neglected and forgotten in the dark church storeroom layered with centuries of dust. Haven’t we gotten over the Protestant reformation suspicion of all things Catholic? Is there such a deep unconscious fear of criticism from the pew if Mary is talked about too much from the pulpit? The Protestant pulpit need to talk more about Mary for she is the greatest model of godliness that can inspire, comfort and strengthen the silent majority of our churches (most churches have more females than males). Most pulpits are manned by males, and the dominant examples held up are male Bible heroes, and probably we pastors have forgotten that more than half of our listeners are faithful women starved of a female model of godly femininity, discipleship and leadership that they can easily relate to and identify with.
Enough of polemics, my suggestion is to keep each sermon compact, practical and focused on one main truth, since most services are hybrid (on-site as well as online), and it is challenging to keep the attention of people online with lengthy sermons.
This series is for all the ladies (adult and teenagers) in church, though it certainly is suitable for all God’s people, including the men. Perhaps it’s time for men to do the extra work of trying to relate, draw out and apply biblical truth for themselves from a sermon series that uphold a woman as an example to aspire to.
Receiving God’s Word as the Final Word
Of course, the main point that St Luke was eager to point out to his audience in the passage Luke 1:26-38 was the deity and sinlessness of Jesus. However, there are many facets of Mary’s response to God that we can dwell on and gather fruit. In this case, it was her amazing child-like response to the angelic announcement. Her response was one of child-like faith in God’s word, in defiance of human logic and experience, the natural order of human conception, of God’s past ways of blessing infertile couples, and of the expectations of her culture. She accepted God’s word as final, and though she could never understand how the Holy Spirit would accomplish it, she did not doubt the angel’s explanation as to how a virgin can conceive! She took God’s word as the final word. “Blessed is she who believed, for there would be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45). The blessed life is one of believing and not doubting the love and power and word of God. It believes God’s word about any topic on beliefs, values and morality is final despite what others say, what science says, what the media says, what circumstances says. Herein we must stand as the people of the world gets blown here and there and everywhere by the winds of relativism. Everything must bow before God’s final word.
According to a Cambridge review study, women are almost twice as likely to experience anxiety as men due to differences in brain chemistry and hormone fluctuations, coping strategies, and other factors about which you can read HERE. Therefore, the issue of living with courage the way Mary lived out her faith has a high relevancy for women.
Marriage were arranged for teenagers in those days so Mary was a teenager when she had that supernatural encounter with the angel and believed those words spoken to her. It was this faith that sustained her and gave her the courage to live in the face of shame, suspicion, misunderstanding and disapproval – things that greatly affect teenage girls today. Teenagers and women experience such anxieties too and perhaps more so with social media amplification. They may also face such challenges with their families, workplaces and schools. Members will be encouraged, when their pastors uphold Mary, a simple village teenager, as an inspiring example of a godly woman, who used the shield of her faith in God, to defend her from the onslaught of fiery missiles aimed at her by the evil one.
As a sermon illustration, an inspiring example of a young Singaporean young woman in missions who faced fearful situations in the missions field with an attitude of faith can be found HERE.
Openness to God
Mary’s openness to God is one of the secrets of God’s blessing on her life. She had her eyes and ears open to discern what God is saying and doing through life’s many interactions, both supernatural and natural. Whether it was an angelic encounter, Elizabeth’s testimony, the reports of the sophisticated magi or lowly shepherds, or the exclamations of Anna the elderly widower, and Simeon an elderly visitor to the Temple, or her husband Josephs’ dream, or her child’s words, she received these as messages from God, and pondered over them throughout her life, letting those words orientate and regulate her expectations and direction in life. We need this kind of willingness to listen to God no matter how he chooses to communicate with us, as long as it is in line with God’s character and revelation of himself in the Bible. Such openness and meditation upon God’s communications with us enable us to walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, understanding what the will of the Lord is, and keeping ourselves filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:15-18).
A Blessedness That Includes Suffering
The Christian life is a balanced life. Mary was told that she was highly favoured and she was blessed among women. In addition, Simeon told her, “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2: 34,35). Joy and pain would both be part of her life. It is also part of any believer’s discipleship. There is no doubt about this. It is clear that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places because we are in Christ. These are primarily spiritual blessings, but God is generous and cares about our physical and material well-being too. However, we have to see that suffering is also a part of the whole package. “Those who desire to live godly lives in Christ will suffer persecution”(2 Tim 3:12) and we should not be surprised when a “fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12-19).
Mary was greatly blessed, and indeed spiritual blessings like her special calling, and material blessing of providence, provision (like the magi’s gifts) and protection (escape from Herod) marked her path of discipleship. However, she was also familiar with suffering. The difficulties she encountered with Joseph at the beginning, giving birth in unhygienic conditions away from home and family support, the refugee status she lived with in Egypt after they fled from Herod, her widowhood, saying goodbye to Jesus, hearing rumours and slander about Jesus during his ministry, rejection from her community in Nazareth, and the “sword” that pierced her soul when Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders and when she saw her son crucified by the Romans. Grief, sorrow, opposition, rejection, criticism, judgement, misunderstandings, ostracism, disgrace and shame – she went through all these as part of being “greatly blessed among women” – an example of balanced discipleship. So too must the women in our church learn to accept this balance in their discipleship journey.