We have arrived at the second Sunday of Advent. Hopefully, we are all trying to slowdown this season so that we do not miss what God has to say to us concerning the birth of Jesus. Slowing down and getting the distractions removed from our lives is important so that we do not miss the point of Jesus’ birth. Too many people are engaged in simultaneous conversations on the phone, writing emails, sending text messaging, watching television, and listening to a conversation from the person seated next to us. The noise of the world and the distractions of the world are getting louder and louder. [Phone call]
We know it is getting harder today to get someone’s attention for very long. God knows that as well. That is why I believe He wants us to use such times as Advent to slowdown and listen because the announcement He has about Jesus’ birth changes everything about your life.
Announcements are a funny thing. In today’s world, the words, “I have a few announcements to make,” is trigger for everyone to stop listening and do something else. Psychologists tell us that when we hear the word “announcement,” we stop listening for three reasons:
First, we do not listen to announcements because we assume there is nothing in the announcement for us. Our experience teaches us announcements are just a way of getting us to do something, go somewhere, or pay for something. That is true of most human announcements. God’s announcements though are different. God’s announcements always change lives.
Second, we do not listen to announcements because people making announcements use language that make it hard for us to understand. Think about the announcements used by the government to let us know about the importance of major laws. I will just give you three examples of laws announced by the government, “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, or the Evidence Based Policymaking Commission Act.” Have your eyes glazed over with the string of words that make it difficult to understand the what is happening? Those are human announcements. God’s announcements are different. God’s announcements always change your life and, if we listen, are easy to understand.
The third major reason we do not listen to announcements is those making the announcement often present the information with no heart, no passion, or excitement. If you have flown recently, you know what I mean when the safety announcements are given before the start of the flight. No one puts their heart in the announcement and no one seems to listen. God’s announcements are different. God’s announcements always change your life, are easy to understand, and God puts his heart into his announcements.
Earlier today, as we listened to the New Testament readings, we heard God make some amazing announcements. The announcements concerned the birth of baby named Jesus. At the heart of the announcement, God said, “I am bringing heaven onto earth.” This is completely radical and something humans just had not experience. Even today we are more inclined to think about things on earth going to heaven. When we pray, we say that we are sending our prayers from earth to heaven, where God lives. When someone dies, we say the deceased is now in heaven. We are accustomed to things on earth going to heaven. But God said in his announcements we heard today, “I am bringing heaven onto earth.”
To announce this radical change, God used angels, beings from heaven, to let people on earth know heaven was on its way. He sent an angel to a young girl named Mary. Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph, but she was still a virgin. The angel said to Mary, “Greetings, [Mary] you [who] are highly favored! The Lord is with you. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. He will be a king and his kingdom will never end. [The child] will be called the Son of God.” God’s announcement changed Mary’s life; she would become the mother of a new type of king. A king whose kingdom would never end. God’s announcement was easy to understand; “Mary, you are going to have a baby boy and give him the name Jesus.” God’s announcement was exciting; Mary’s baby was God’s own Son. This message was so radical, so unexpected, that Mary shook with fear. The angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid. For no word from God will ever fail. God is with you.” God said, “I am bringing heaven onto earth.” In that moment, without distractions, Mary heard God. And the fear she felt left her, and she said, “May what you say, happen just as you said.” God’s announcement changed Mary’s life forever. God spoke His announcement plainly. God gave his heart in that announcement. And Mary listened.
If God spoke to you right now, would you hear Him or are you too distracted to listen? If God sent a messenger to you to speak God’s words to you, would you hear what God had to say to you or would you not really listen? President Franklin Roosevelt complained that people just did not listen. One day as he greeted people and shook their hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Upon hearing the news, the Bolivian ambassador leaned over and whispered to the President, "I'm sure she had it coming." This is a silly story that shows us how few people listen. Compare that story with Mary’s story. Mary showed us to listen to God, set aside fear, and then be prepared to experience God according to his word.
Mary quickly came to understand that listening to God’s words is something we struggle with doing. Mary told her future husband, Joseph, that she was pregnant, and the child did not belong to any other man. The child belonged to God. Mary told Joseph that God said to her, “I am bringing heaven onto earth.” But Joseph did not believe Mary’s words. None of what Mary said made sense to Joseph and he could not see himself sharing his life with Mary. But Joseph was a kind man and did not want Mary disgraced. He just wanted to end their relationship privately. After making his decision, God intervened with an announcement to Joseph. Once again, God sent an angel to Joseph. The angel said, “Joseph do not be afraid. Take Mary home as your wife. Her baby is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She is going to have a son. You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” God had again announced, “I am bringing heaven to earth.” In that moment, without distractions, Joseph listened. The fear he felt left him, and he did as the angel commanded, taking Mary as his wife. God’s announcement changed Joseph’s life forever. God spoke His announcement plainly. God gave his heart in that announcement. And Joseph listened.
Are we listening? About a year ago, I met a group of people who were grieving the loss of loved ones. I sat down next to a woman who came to the meeting alone. I asked her who in her life died that she was there that evening. She said her fiancé died. I asked her, “Can you tell me about him?” She responded very quickly, “Yes, I can tell you about him, but will you listen to me?” I replied, “Of course, I would listen.” She said, “That’s good, because most people may say they are interested in knowing about Robert but very few people listen.” In the days of Jesus’ birth, many people would have said, “Yes, I am interested in hearing God tell his story,” but few actually listened.”
So on the night of Jesus’ birth, God sent an angel to a group of people God was certain would listen to his announcement. This time the angel appeared to several shepherds in the field. When the angel appeared, the glory and radiance of God shone around the angel and it enveloped the shepherds. The shepherds were terrified. The angel said, “Do not be afraid. I want to share some great news with you. A baby was born today in Bethlehem. He is from God. You will find this baby wrapped in cloths and lying in of all places in animal’s feeding trough.” Then before the shepherds could react the sky around them lit up with more angels singing and praising God and saying, “Glory to God and peace on earth.”
God had again announced, “I am bringing heaven to earth.” Only this time, God was not speaking to Mary, the baby’s mother, or to Joseph, the man who would raise the baby into a man. This time God spoke to some shepherds, ordinary people like you and me. In that moment, without distractions, shepherds listened. The fear they felt left them, and the shepherds did as the angel commanded. They went to Bethlehem, saw the child, shared God’s announcement with Mary and Joseph and then their shared the news with everyone they met. God’s announcement changed the shepherds’ lives forever. God spoke His announcement plainly. God gave his heart in that announcement. And shepherds listened.
We do not listen to announcement because assume there is usually nothing in the announcement for us. We don’t listen because the announcements are hard to understand and those making the announcement have no heart or passion in the announcement. Well, God has an announcement for you and me. He has been working to get humanity to pay attention to his announcement for over 2,000 years. God wants you and me to slowdown and listen to this, his message, “I sent heaven to earth in the name of Jesus. I did that because I love you and want you to live with me for all time. Look at the manger scene. See I brought Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds together. Do not be afraid. There is room for you at the manger as well. If you listen to me and join them, I will change your life forever.” God’s announcements change our lives forever.
We might say, “OK, God, I hear you and that your making promises to me, but what sort of life changing promise are you making?” To our question, God has already replied, “When you are mine, you will always be able to hear my voice and know it is me. You will follow me and I will lead you on the right paths through this world and to me in heaven. I will give you eternal life. Although your physical body will wear out someday, you will never die. You outlive your body and you can live with me. When you are mine, no one can take you from me.” God’s announcements change our lives forever and are easy to understand.
We might say, “OK, God, I hear you but how do I know what you say is true?” To our question, God has already replied, “I sent Jesus as heaven on earth. As I told Joseph, Jesus came to forgive sin; that’s the only thing that keeps you and me apart. Jesus took away your sins, those of the past, those you committed today, and yes, sadly, those you will commit tomorrow. He took your sins with him to cross and there he He died. They buried Jesus’ body hoping he would be forgotten. How silly. For Jesus was heaven on earth. So, I raised him back into new life. Because these things happened, you can know that I love you and my promises can be trusted.”
God’s announcements change our lives forever, are easy to understand, and are rich in passion. God has an announcement for you and me found in manger. Are we listening? Let us pray.