God Goes Where He’s Wanted
James C. Denison
The Golden Compass opened on Friday. Starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (the new James Bond), the movie is a spectacular fantasy on the lines of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia. But unlike the classics by J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, The Golden Compass was written by a man who says, “my books are about killing God.”
Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass and son of an Anglican clergyman, long ago left the faith of his father. The Golden Compass is the first volume in a trilogy which ends with the death of God and the “liberation” of humanity. The film downplays the anti-Christian elements of the first book, intending to make enough money to produce the second and third novels with all their explicit anti-Christian content. When the trilogy ends, “God” dies, dissolving into thin air, and we are free to set up a “Republic” of human self-fulfillment on earth.
Unfortunately, Philip Pullman is not the only person who wonders if the Christ of Christmas is who we say he is. If God really came to earth in the flesh, why isn’t the world a better place? There was conflict in the Middle East when Christmas came; there is still today. The global economy was prone to highs followed by “corrections” and recessions; it still is. If God really relocated to our planet, why is life the way it is?
Do you need Christmas to be more than a holiday in your marriage and family? Your health and finances? Your career or school?
Bestselling author Philip Yancy: “As I travel, I have observed a pattern, a strange historical phenomenon of God ‘moving’ geographically from the Middle East, to Europe to North America to the developing world. My theory is this: God goes where he’s wanted.” Let’s see if he’s right, and why the answer matters so much to your life and soul this Advent season.
Who is Gabriel?
Last week you heard from Isaiah, the prophet who predicted the coming of Christmas. Today we’ll hear from the angel sent to announce that the time of Advent had come. His name was Gabriel, which means “God is my warrior.”
He was an “archangel,” or a chief angel. Michael and he are the only angels named in the holy Scriptures, though Jewish tradition named Sariel and Raphael as the other two archangels. Ancient Israelites wrote their four names on the shields of their soldiers in battle. They thought of them primarily as warriors, as God often granted them the power of life and death.
But Gabriel came in peace on that fateful day in Nazareth. On that day God sent him on the strangest of all missions–to go to a peasant teenager in a remote little village and enlist that girl in God’s plan to save the world.
Mary would be in the seventh grade in our society today. Understandably, she was “greatly troubled” by Gabriel’s coming (v. 29). She certainly didn’t understand how she could be the mother of the Messiah and yet a virgin (v. 34).
Now she must decide: would she surrender her life, her body, her family, her future to this strange and confusing word from God? Would you have done it?
You know what she told the archangel: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (v. 38). She called herself the Lord’s “servant”–a handmaid or slave girl, one who must do the bidding of her owner and master. “May it be,” she said, an expression of absolute and total submission. She yielded her life completely to God that day. And history would forever be different because she did.
Now, think of all those God could have chosen to be the mother of his Son–a daughter of the High Priest or member of the Sanhedrin, or one of the families of wealth and influence down south in Judah. Why her? Was it because of how she looked? Her popularity? Her possessions? Her abilities? Why was this peasant girl so “highly favored” (v. 28)? And how did God know she would submit to his will in this way?
She had already surrendered her body to God. She was indeed a “virgin,” as she claimed to be (v. 34). This was a surprising fact in first-century Nazareth.
Their village was constructed on a hillside, with a popular trade route below. This road, which connected Tyre and Sidon with Jerusalem, was crowded with Roman soldiers, Greek merchants, and travelers from around the world. Many of the village girls dressed and acted so as to attract the men traveling along this route, seeing them as their way out of Nazareth to the larger world. But not Mary–she kept herself pure.
She had surrendered her mind to God as well. Remember the song she sang upon meeting her relative Elizabeth after the Messiah had been conceived in her womb (vs. 46-56). It is one of the finest psalms of praise in all God’s word, composed from passages in Exodus, 1 Samuel, Psalms, Isaiah, and Micah. This seventh-grade girl had memorized these parts of the word of God, and used them to worship her Lord and God. She knew the word and will of the Lord, through years of study and devotion. She had surrendered her mind to God.
She would surrender her future to God also. To become pregnant when she was only engaged could cost her everything. Who would believe her story about an angel and a Son of God?
She was willing to give up her parents and family, to be abandoned by them. To give up Joseph, the man who would be her husband for life. To give up her future and even her life, for she might be stoned to death as an adulteress (cf. Deuteronomy 22.23ff.). As long as she and the child lived people would question her morals. And yet she was willing to do the Lord’s bidding, to surrender her future and all her ambitions to God.