A couple of weeks ago, when I was purchasing some food, I heard some Christmas music playing in the background. I said to the cashier, who looked to be in her thirties, “I hear you’ve got your Christmas music playing. I guess you are already getting into the Christmas spirit.”
Her reply surprised me. “If it were up to me, there would not be anything playing but Scrooge music. I’m not in the mood for anything Christmas.”
I guess she could see I was a bit surprised by her answer.
She said, “I was in a relationship for ten years, and it just ended.”
She went on to tell me that she was depressed. She said she cried every day.
In addition, she came in to work one day and dumped her anger on her boss and had gotten written up.
Since there was no one else in line, I continued to listen. I asked if she had anyone to talk with about her grief. I figured since she was talking to me, a stranger, she must not have anyone to tell her troubles to.
She said she had been thinking about going to her church to find someone to talk with. I encouraged her to do that. I told her if she found a good listener, that person could help her process her grief.
I asked her if I could pray for her, and she “yes.”
So right there in the store, we bowed our heads, and I prayed. I acknowledged that God was with her, that even though others would leave her, God never would. Even though we can feel alone, hurt, and afraid, I acknowledged that God is the one who is here for us to steady us. He is the one that is going to see us through our days of trouble.
When I finished praying, tears were falling down her face. I encouraged her and told her it was not going to be easy, but God would make it better.
I bet some of you have had trouble getting into the Christmas spirit for whatever reason, but if you are doing fine singing all the fa la la la las, and the rom pa pa poms, know there’s someone very near you that feels like Scrooge.
Sometimes it’s for a good reason, and sometimes it’s just because they need to have a change of heart. This morning, that person might be you.
When I read about that first Christmas, Mary and Joseph remind me that that had their share of troubles.
If we take a snapshot of the Christmas story with a wide-angle lens, we have to look back nine months to the day that Mary received a visit from the angel Gabriel.
On first thought, we think it would be cool and awesome to be visited by an angel. In reality, such a thing would likely frighten us and not bring us overwhelming peace.
Mary experienced fear and doubt with the initial encounter with that angel.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Scripture describes it like this:
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
When we think of angels, we think lovely things. But be realistic. If I saw an angel, I’m with Mary. I’d be greatly troubled.
For starters, who would I tell? Who would believe me? People would say that the preacher has been dipping into the cooking sherry.
What we learn from this passage is that everything that troubles us is not evil.
Sometimes when we are troubled, is it because we are anxious about taking a step of faith in a direction that God wants us to go. Sometimes God troubles us because He needs us to move in His direction.
In the beginning, the angel’s presence was no comfort to Mary. Gabriel’s appearance bothered Mary. He upset her.
I can only imagine that being in the presence of a heavenly being would make every alarm go off in our defense system.
His presence was distressing because of the news he delivered. Mary was chosen by God to carry within her the son of God.
When Mary received this news, her world became complicated and confused.
She tried to explain to the angel that she had never been with a man, and the angel did his best to tell Mary that this wasn’t a problem with God. The child she would carry would be a miracle of God.
What was troubling to Mary was not a problem for God.
What troubles us does not always trouble God, especially if God is the source of our troubling.
If God troubles us, it is because God wants to show us the way to peace and joy.
To find peace and joy, we must have faith in God.
To help Mary overcome her anxieties, the angel gave her a gift, someone to empathize with her and to share her secret– her cousin Elizabeth, an older woman who had been unable to have children. The angel told Mary that Elizabeth was six months pregnant.
She would be Elizabeth’s sign that what the angel had told Mary was true. She would be Mary’s gift, someone that would bring peace and joy to Mary’s troubled spirit.
What troubles you this morning?
Are some of you troubled by something or someone this morning?
Might it be something of your own doing? Someone may have wounded you?
Perhaps God is troubling you? God may be troubling you because He wants you to move closer to Him.
Today, God wants to provide a gift that will become your peace and joy.
What God wants from you is your faith. Trust him. Go with Him.
Has anyone ever been more troubled than Jesus when he agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane about whether he should allow soldiers to arrest him and go through the torment, beating, and ultimate death on the cross?
He was so troubled that Luke 22:44 says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
Whether this is to be taken literally or not has been long debated, but a rare condition has been documented a few times called Hematidrosis.
Under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress, capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood.
The point made by Luke is that Jesus was troubled in a way that few people have known or can even relate.
Jesus demonstrated that part of the journey of faith is wrestling with difficult choices. Jesus’ decision to go with the soldiers was made because he had decided to go with God. God’s will for Jesus was the cross so that death could be defeated, and sin could not have a hold on any of us.
Ultimately, death is what troubles us all. This young girl cashier was grieving over the death of a relationship. How do you find your joy after that?
Jesus once said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
Even Jesus needed an angel from heaven to strengthen him in his hour of distress and decision making. So how much more do we need the presence of the Holy Spirit in ours?
Are you troubled today?
Might it be something of your own doing? There’s plenty of evil in this world to trouble you.
Might God be the source of your troubles?
We don’t think much about God troubling us through His Holy Spirit. He disturbs us because He loves us. Not to trouble us would mean that God didn’t care whether we grew in our faith our not.
After Saul converted to faith in Jesus on the road to Damasus, he spent a few days in Damascus blinded by the light he saw.
God reached out to a man named Ananias in a vision and asked him to go to Saul to bless him and to restore his sight, but Ananias very troubled at the thoughts of going because Saul had a reputation for having people of the faith arrested or killed.
But God changed Ananias’ mind, and Ananias was obedient, and he went. Though the power of the Holy Spirit, Saul was healed when Ananias laid hands on him, saying that it was Jesus who sent him. Saul’s sight was restored, and Ananias baptized Saul.
Just because we are troubled, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It could mean that God is laying before us opportunities to grow in our faith in a meaningful way.
You may have reached a point of decision in your faith journey, and God is stirring your spirit, nudging you to take the next steps. Still, you are troubled because you need to make that next step in your commitment to the Lord. It might mean setting aside some sin you’ve been holding onto. You might need to become more committed to your giving or make the worship of God more a part of your daily life. God may be calling to make a greater commitment to the ministries of your church.
It could be that you have taken some steps backward this year in your leadership as father, mother, mentor, teacher, disciple, or friend. God’s Spirit may be stirring within you and troubling you, as you know that you need to step up and fill the role that God has uniquely called you to fill.
The angel told Mary that she was highly favored. She did not seem to find comfort in this. Instead, these words troubled her? Why?
Mary was humble. Mary was common. Mary was poor. Yet God favored her, and God chose her to carry the son of God.
Most of us are troubled at the thoughts of being selected and chosen by God to do anything spiritual because when we look in the mirror and are honest with ourselves, we know who we are looking at.
We know the thoughts we have, the words we say, and the things we do that fall far short of God’s standard set by Jesus. We don’t want people to judge us or hold us up as a standard.
So if you are troubled when God comes knocking at your door, then welcome to the club. But it’s a struggle worth having. We are all sinners, but God calls imperfect people and he continues to shape us in the image of Jesus.
You need to come to God, receive His grace through the gift of Jesus because God’s troubling you because you are redeemable. God’s troubling you are worth the trouble. God’s troubling you because He doesn’t want you to be lost in your sin. God’s troubling you because He wants you to know the joy of abundant life.
God loves you, and without Jesus, you cannot find peace and joy or fulfill your purpose.
The angel told Mary, “The Lord is with you.” For her, that changed everything.
The fact that the Lord is with us gives us hope that we are going to move beyond our troubles. Otherwise, it would be easy for us to be consumed by our fear and swallowed up by our problems.
When some people are troubled, they will turn to all kinds of things for comfort: drugs, alcohol, inappropriate relationships, gambling, pornography, excessive spending, overeating, endless hours of TV/Internet or social media, inappropriate sexual behavior, isolation, and angry outbursts.
Instead, God wants us to turn to him.
Psalm 9:9-10 says, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. (NIV)
Is there something that troubles you this Advent Season?
I can’t help but believe that there is someone here this morning that’s troubled. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, troubling you, telling you that you need to make some changes in your life.
Lasting peace and joy will not come with as a gift wrapped in a box with a bow on top, but it did come wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
It will come when you step out and faithfully acknowledge that God is with you and yield your life to his will; just as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane; just as Ananias did when we went and laid hands and Saul; just as Mary did when we traveled to her cousin Elizabeth’s home.
Of that visit, Elizabeth said that as soon as Mary’s greeting reached her ears, the baby she was carrying lept for joy in her womb. (Luke 1:44)
Joy is the opposite emotion of feeling troubled. If you want joy, then go with God. Allow the Holy Spirit to take you where you need to go.
As long as you resist, you will feel troubled.
Today, as God comes to you, will you go with Him?
Photo Credit: omapittsburgh.org