Fourth Sunday in Advent Luke 1_26-38 Things couldn’t get any worse!
I think all of us can relate to Murphy’s Law.There isn’t a day that goes by that one or more of Murphy’s Laws have proved correct in our lives. I have a list of the top 7 laws of Murphy.
1. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
2. If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong. Corollary: If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.
3. If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway.
4. If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which a procedure can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.
5. Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
6. Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.
7. It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.
Because Murphy’s Law is law, it means it will happen, so all of us need to plan and prepare for everything we do. Perhaps its preparing for something small, like booking in the car for a service before Christmas or perhaps our preparations are as big as planning for a wedding or a whole new outreach ministry or church program. Often many hours of careful planning go into our special events and yes, just when we think nothing more could ever go wrong….it does.
Murphy’s Law teaches us that the world is not perfect and it never will be and it teaches us that our lives are not perfect and never will be. As St Paul says ‘sin entered the world through one man.’ Because of sin, death and the devil, our world, our lives are never going to go smoothly. Yet we constantly strive to have the perfect life. Our whole culture is based on the underlying premise that we can achieve the ‘perfect life’. If we critically analyse TV programs, how many high rating shows are really only all about feeding our inner desire to find the perfect life? Look how perfect the backyard or holiday or medical nip and tuck or home cooked meal goes to plan and looks just perfect when completed; not a problem in sight.
Or perhaps you have received a Christmas letter from a friend, where in it they proudly tell of their wonderful year, where all is perfect. Kids are achieving, holidays have been splendid, there are job promotions, extensions to the house, and a new car. This desire to achieve the perfect life even influences many Christians. There are those who claim, that if we strive hard enough, pray fervently enough, plan our lives well enough, we can achieve the perfect life God wants us to have. God will bless us when we achieve perfection.
Yet, when we try it, when we do everything in our power to achieve the perfect life…well, I think we get hit by nearly everyone of Murphy’s top ten laws, especially no. 3 ‘If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway.’ How can we deal with this?
Well, when it comes to things going wrong and having a faith to see it through, there is a great deal we can learn from Mary’s problem; her predicament. We can learn that one thing is for certain, when God is involved in our life, life never goes to plan…yet, as in Mary’s instance, when all seems to be going wrong, its actually going to plan…God’s plan!
Luke records the moment when Mary’s best laid plans, all her dreams and wishes, all her ideals and preparations for the perfect life with Joseph are all changed for ever. The angel Gabrielle said “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” You can just sense in Mary’s response she as was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be, that she realised all her careful plans were about to come crumbling down. After all, its not every day an angel of the Lord comes to visit you, and her hunch was right. The angel said ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.’
Which one of Murphy’s Laws where ringing true for her at this time, who knows, perhaps number 2 ‘If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.’ For Mary, there couldn’t be worse news. There couldn’t be a worse time. There couldn’t be greater damage to her life. Not only was she not married, she was still a virgin. Not only was her whole life changed by this news, she had yet to tell this news to Joseph! And to boot, she would have known their great wedding plans would now pointless; who would believe her story, she will be known as a cheater and a loose woman.
Life, for Mary, was anything but perfect. If we were there, and knew Mary, would we point at her and say ‘your life is ruined’
Perhaps we would have, but Mary’s response to the news teaches us about faith and trust in God. Rather than focus on her bleak outlook, rather than focus on the impossibility of a virgin birth, rather than being concerned about how others would see her, she simply says ‘I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” She trusts in the word of God above every thing else. She had nothing going for her; no sinlessness, no high birth, no marriage bliss, nothing at all to make her worthy of accepting this message as she did. Yet both grace and faith are great in her. Mary is in every way the same as us.
What Mary’s response to this trouble does for us, and arouses in us, is the joyful confidence that grace and faith will no less be just as great in us, who also believe the word of God. We too, in times of great distress, when our lives are not going perfect, can be certain that God will give us the grace and faith to believe that he has the true plan for our life. The lesson we can learn is to believe as Mary did; to believe that the word and promises of God, despite all outward contradictions, are Spirit and life and do what they say.
Luther and St Augustine would say that by believing the word of God, Mary was already the mother of Jesus long before she was physically pregnant. Luther writes ‘Mary was more full of grace and blessed in receiving Christ in her heart through faith than in her body. It was this miracle which first had to take place in her. If she had not accepted the words spoken by the angel and had let them pass by unheard, none of the miracles would have occurred. But as they entered her heart and remained there, these things soon followed.’
The miracle for you and me is that the proclaimed word of God and his holy sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, bring to us what they say. In the exact same way as with Mary, when by faith we believe the word of God, it is made our own; faith takes hold of God’s promises and makes it happen in our life. Jesus said ‘”I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes…has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. When we believe this word of God like Mary, we actually receive Christ into our hearts, and we have salvation and life eternal.
Long before our troubles are over, long before any Murphy’s Laws cease, long before we ever have a hint of perfection in our lives, because of Christ we are already perfect; salvation is already ours; Christ is ours! Then, when our time comes, and we die, the rest will happen; we will cross from death to life eternal…just as he has promised.