Christmas Eve Service: The Lord Is With You

December 24, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Luke 1:26-38

1. "Congratulations, o blessed one, the Lord is with you." The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said that to her. The angel spoke some more. "Mary, There is nothing to fear. You have received grace from the Lord. You will conceive and will give birth to a boy, give the child the name Jesus." [This] is the scene known as the Annunciation where Mary was informed that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ.

2. The angel said, "Congratulations." One should certainly say "Congratulations" when it is news of a happy announcement or a matter of congratulations, but to tell the truth, it was crazy news that the angel was bringing [her]. The angel had brought dreadful news, not a matter for congratulations in the least bit.

3. At this time Mary was betrothed to Joseph. They were eagerly awaiting for the coming of the day of the wedding celebration. Daily living for the people back in those days must not have been pleasant under the rule of the Roman empire. Yet even though they were in such conditions during the spirit of such an age, [she] was a very typical young lady, in that she used to have [her] dreams of a modest happiness with Joseph in soon building her home of faith. She was not burning with any kind of oversized ambitions. Mary was wishing for a normal happy life; she had never done wrong in that. But, her modest hopes were dashed in an instant by means of this angel's message. For, the angel had announced as follows, "You are with child and will give birth to a boy, give the child the name Jesus."

4. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the scripture says , Joseph the fiancé "decided to break off the engagement (or divorce) secretly," (Matthew 1:19). In saying "to divorce secretly" it means "to divorce her without charging her with a crime." It would be a very troubling future. It was just the way things were. Whether Mary or Joseph, they both would have known all too well how this pregnancy would have been received in their Jewish society. As for what would happen to Mary, had she been charged with the crime of adultery, she would not escape a sentence of the death penalty. The angel explained that [she] "had conceived by the Holy Spirit." But who on earth would believe a line like [she] "had conceived by the Holy Spirit?" Supposing she might be relieved of the death penalty, she would not be able to avoid being ostracized.

5. Worse still, this was just the beginning of Mary's sufferings. Later, when her child would begin to proclaim the kingdom of God, her child would soon get to the point of having the authorities turn their hostilities against him. How great were Mary's troubles and sufferings! And then finally, Mary would come to the point of standing in front of Jesus' cross. She would come to the point of seeing with her own eyes her own child shedding blood and dying away.

6. The angel personally carried this life, filled with these hardships, to Mary. What's more, [the angel] did not even check out what Mary felt about it all. "Um, Mary, you have been chosen to be the mother of the savior. How do you feel about that? Do you accept?" Nuh uh, he didn't come to ask her anything like that! It had already been decided. Changing it wouldn't work. The angel had come from God and had one-sidedly hand-delivered to her a life filled with these hardships.

7. Well, this kind of story, in which an angel appears, sounds [to me] like some kind of fairy tale, and probably more than a few people here as well will hear this in that way. But, when you ponder it, doesn't something else come to our minds? Please try to ponder [with me] about the many different hardships and troubles which you are bearing upon yourselves now, the heavy burdens of life, each [of your own] heart-breaking realities. Everybody, did anyone check your opinion regarding them ahead of time? "The plan is that you get a life where you keep suffering for a long time. Do you accept it? Or do you reject it?" Have you gotten [anyone] to ask you your opinion in that manner? I doubt it. Usually it is given to us entirely lopsided, one-sidedly. It is given to us without regard for our own intentions. Isn't it [all] just like an angel personally bringing it to us and one-sidedly making [some] announcement?

8. In short, you and I may agree that angels don't appear to ordinary folk like us and [their] voices are not audible to us nor do they [seem to] do anything like that, but the truth be told, the same thing just about takes place. Therefore, after all is said and done, what makes me a bit anxious is this greeting from the angel. "Congratulations, o blessed one." While he was delivering her a life of hardship, it was hardly [a matter of] "Congratulations." What [would we say] if somebody said to us in regard to the suffering we were one-sidedly given, "Congratulations, o blessed one?" Wouldn't we blow up with anger? [What if] that angel [had spoken like that to us, and then said,] how are things? If it were us, we'd roar out, "Don't play with me!," and kick it out the window, then after a few days, we would probably moan and moan and moan, "Why me, why me of all people? Why must I go through such a thing?" And then after that, every time some new suffering is added, we'll live our lives still moaning all the time, "Why me?!," then finally, we may even die while complaining, "Why must I die at this moment now?" I think that's one of the ways [we might be] living.

9. But, the message from this angel shows that there is another way of living. If he is saying "Congratulations" in all sincerity, and if we take his saying "Congratulations, o blessed one" quite seriously, and not in jest or sarcastically, then what does this mean? Even though there are times we've been unexpectedly given hardships and burdens in a one-sided way, it does not always mean "bad luck, misfortune, lack of blessings." The person [given something like that] does not need to spend his or her whole life bemoaning oneself as misfortunate or cursed. No one needs to spend his or her entire life cursing one's life or cursing God. Such a person can be truly blessed. That's what [his message] seems to be saying.

10. So then, [I] think we need to listen very closely and very carefully to the angel's message when he had declared [his] "congratulations" dead seriously under those circumstances. Actually, he did not just say, "Congratulations, o blessed one." After that, he said one other thing, that "the Lord is with you." Somehow it looks to me like this statement is the key to the "Congratulations."

11. What does "the Lord is with you" really mean to say? If we hear it as saying, "God is with you," what do you think it means then? Many people rejoice when told "God is with you" and they think "A God, who will fulfill what they wish for, is with them." "A God, who will make my wishes come true, is with me" or "A God, who will make pain and difficulties go far away" is with them; that's what they think it means. Therefore, whenever they become recipients of suffering such as they never wished for, then what happens to them? When they must go through life in a way they never wished for, then what happens to them is that they say "God is not with me."

12. However, when it happened to Mary, that she had to go through life in a way she did not wish for, this angel spoke as follows. He said, "The Lord is with you." It clearly does not have the meaning, "A God, who will fulfill your wishes, is with you." It did not mean that, but it did mean that "God, who will use your life, is with you." Your life many not turn out the way you would have wanted it, and it may be filled with suffering from here on, but yet your whole life will have meaning. God will be involved in your life and he will use your entire life. For what purpose? -- For the salvation of humankind. Thus, the entire life of Mary was used through out her life as the mother of the Christ.

13. For those who think, "Happiness is being able to live as I would like to, it is being able to live the way I want," being given one-sidedly, without a choice in the matter, what they do not want is only "disaster and misfortune." As I simply see it, those who think that "the fulfillment of what I wanted is happiness" will never be happy. For, in a person's life, there will be many more times that what they did not want was one-sidedly given to them. The older you get, the less will things turn out your way, and overwhelmingly so. The death you face at the end will probably be the worst of all of the things that did not turn out your way.

14. Human happiness lies in walking with God, in being used by God. [Happiness lies in having God use] our lives for somebody. For somebody's salvation. For God to love someone, we will have him use our entire being and lives. That is exactly where human happiness lies. That's why it is a "Congratulations!" Even in a life that is not going as one would like it to, it is "Congratulations!" Even in a life loaded with hard times, it is "Congratulations!" Mary did accept a life filled with suffering that the angel had brought to her along with accepting the word, "Congratulations!" We could make the case that we can see Mary's faith in that. She did accept it by saying, "I am the Lord's lowly maid servant. According to your word, so let it be to me."

15. It is not by mere chance that you are all here on the evening of Christmas Eve in the year 2007. God has led you here. God has sent an angel into each of [your] lives. In the place of the angel whom God has sent, I announce to you the same message from that hour. "Congratulations, o blessed one, the Lord is with you." In the same way as Mary did at that hour, without fail, please accept this message today.