This is a sermon that I preached in December of 2011.

“I was looking at a survey this week that talked about teens and who they looked up to. The answer was #1 Parents, #2 Friends the church comes in about 5th at just 4% of young people trusting the church to help them with the things of life, relationships, love, and other aspects of life as well. Today’s kids grew up looking at the church as a place of scandal, seeing pastors and priests getting caught up in pretty terrible things, not only them but politicians, and sports figures. They also scored really low on the survey.

Today, we read about the Mother of God, the Theotokos or God-bearer. We read about a young woman, a teen of her day, engaged to a carpenter. She like so many women was probably planning her wedding, who would be her bridesmaids and those kinds of things, when God intervened in her life.

Mary is a woman of faith, she has found favor with God, that is what the Angel tells her.”Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. “ (ESV Luke 1:28-30). When we look at the history of Israel, there are many who have received favor from God, not because they were rich and famous, but because they had faith, they believed that what God said would be true and they lived their lives accordingly.

Of course you can point to some of them and show how they really messed up and sinned really well, we have only to look at King David to see his sinfulness, yet we also see that he came before God and confessed his sin and was forgiven. You and I are no better than King David, we too have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, yet He has also forgiven us our sins. It is the faith of these folks that shines forth and guides you and I today in our faith.

Mary, mother of God, a woman who had her whole life ahead of her, thinking of spending it with her husband to be in Nazareth. Knowing that they would never be rich in material things, but also knowing that God would provide for the needs of her family. Mary I am sure was a woman of God, one who lived life in accordance with God’s word for her life. That is why the Angel Gabriel could say that she had found favor with God.

We who profess the name of Christ, should realize that it makes no difference to God how old you are, or young you are, what makes the difference is whether or not you have faith. Of course we in the church talk a lot about faith, but I wonder if we really understand what it is we are talking about. We point to people like Mary and say that she had faith, or Abraham and say that he had faith. I just wonder if we really explain what we mean when we talk about this thing called faith.

So, what is Faith?

Let us start with this – Faith is a belief that what God says will be, will actually be, that what God promises, will actually be delivered. That is pretty much what faith is. At the end of the story of Gabriel and Mary we hear Mary say: “38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”” (ESV Luke 1:38). That is faith speaking, Mary believes that what has been foretold will happen. Mary believed that the impossible, was possible with God. She was a virgin, yet she would have a child, not because she would get married and have relations with her husband, but because God would cause it be so. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that faith still existed today? We live in a world in which people do not have faith in God, they do not believe in miracles, even when they see them happen.

That kind of faith is gone from much of the world today, In Europe Churches no longer have congregations, they have become museums, or places for tourists to visit and marvel at. In Nuremberg Germany, there is a cathedral in the Old City, that is still standing and from the outside looks beautiful, walk through the doors and you realize that there is no roof over the sanctuary. The cathedral was bombed during WW II and is a stark reminder of the horror of war. Even the Church in the New Town though is mostly deserted on Sunday Mornings. There are a few faithful who will attend Mass, but only a few. In England, the Methodist Church pastors usually have 6 or 8 churches that they are responsible for, because they don’t have enough congregation in any one church to afford a Pastor.

This is rapidly happening in many places in this country. The mainline churches are losing membership, and closing their doors in many parts of the Country. The Presbyterian church here in a town near where I live, has no Pastor, in Brackettville the Episcopal and Lutheran churches share a priest. Neither church has enough congregants to afford a priest of their own so they share. Faith in God has been disappearing in many parts of the world, simply because people no longer believe that God is present, that God hears prayer, that God acts through His people.

Faith as we see in the person of Mary is Active. Faith requires that we live out our belief. If I believe that God is acting in my life, then I should live my life as a person who is a follower of Christ. Knowing that my actions help bring to fruition that which God has purposed. Mary said that since she believed, she wanted it to be as the Angel had promised. Mary was willing to live out that which God purposed for her life, no matter the consequences.

Think about what it meant for Mary to willingly give herself in service to God. She was trusting that Joseph, her soon to be husband would believe her story of a visitation by an Angel of the Lord. That she was pregnant by the work of the Holy Spirit, and that she was to be the Mother of God. She was actually trusting that Joseph would not seek a divorce, that the people of the village would not stone her to death and that she would be able to bring up the Son of God in the ways of God. Worse yet, she would be divorced and have to raise her child as an illegitimate child which would have made him ostracized by the community. All sorts of bad things could have come of Mary being willing to follow God’s leading in her life.

Mary also had to endure the gossip of the townspeople, because she was pregnant before her marriage. Imagine the gossip mill in the sleepy little town of Nazareth. I know what it is like in many small towns across our country. I used to make beer BBQ sauce and we had some beer in our refrigerator. We allowed the folks in the church I was pastor of to store some of the refreshments for VBS in that refrigerator. Word was all over town within hours, of the Pastor being a drunk, because I had beer in my refrigerator. None of them complained when they ate that BBQ though. Yes Mary was in a tough place, yet she had to do what she did, because she had faith in her God and His word.

If I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived his life in Nazareth, then spoke the truth in his teaching, that he healed the sick, raised the dead and that he himself was crucified, and then raised from the dead on the third day. If I believe that the promise of eternal life is true because of the grace of God and the actions of Jesus. Then go out and live like the rest of the world cussin, drinking, chasing after power and money, is that faith? NO!

Faith is living what I know to be true, faith is suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous scorn, faith means that I am willing to follow God, no matter what!

Mary was willing to do what it took to carry Jesus to birth, to raise him as who he was, and to suffer if need be the ridicule of others, knowing that she was God’s woman.

Faith is not just an intellectual exercise it also requires that we act out our faith. Our lives cannot be the same once we believe, they must change to meet the new priorities that God has for us to accomplish. If I tell someone how God has blessed me and changed me, and they see that my life is different from what it had been, then I am a better person and a better witness for Christ. Our faith should be evidenced by our thinking, our compassion, and our works.

No matter what happens in our lives, if we have faith that God is in the midst of all of this, then our lives will truly be lives blessed by God and we will be able to be a blessing to all others we meet on our journey.”