“At Just the Right Time: Born of a Woman”
In my last sermon I mentioned that I periodically wonder how I get myself into a difficult
situations—and how I’m going to get out. It’s sort of a theme in my life. Let me tell you about one
particularly meaningful one that relates to Advent.
In college I spent a semester abroad in London. I—along with twenty other students—lived in a
beautiful Edwardian house in Kensington. One night—as I was working (yes, I actually studied) in the
computer lab (remember those?)—I heard screaming and banging.
I instinctively ran from the basement to the ground floor entryway of the building. There I came
upon the immediate aftermath of a failed purse snatching—with a twist.
Our building had a two-door entryway—a door to the street and a mostly-glass door to the inside
of the building, if you will, separated by a tiny foyer.
Arriving on the scene I found three people trapped between the two doors—trapped in the
miniscule foyer like goldfish in a child’s fish tank.
There were two people, but only one of them had a right to be there. A thief had accosted our
secretary and her husband as they returned from the theatre.
He grabbed her purse.
She wasn’t about to let go of it.
She dragged her purse—and her new criminal friend—into the foyer.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The thief has decided that perhaps its time to give up on this
purse. He tries to leave. The door to the street only open when you push a special button—something not
terribly difficult to locate except for when you’re trying to do so while trying to flee a crime scene.
He’s banging on the door, yanking on the handle, trying to get out.
She’s trying to open the interior door and get to the safety of the interior without
letting him in too.
A crowd is gathering at the foot of the stairs trying to figure out exactly what
to do for the poor people in the fishbowl.
I arrive on the scene with some friends and the husband of one of our faculty members whose in
residence with us for the semester.
He’s a stockbroker, not a policeman. That’s bad.
But he is a Marine Corps officer. That’s good.
In a moment he’s in control. We’re in the fish bowl. The woman and her husband are safely in the
We’re looking at the thief.
I’m thinking…how did I get here?
In an instant my marine friend takes the initiative to tackle the thief…I grab our thief’s legs
and lift him off his feet. He falls to the ground. I apply my weight to his knees.
He’s on the ground. We’re on top of him. What’s next?
Is he armed?
What are we going to do with him?
Have the police been called?
So we wait, sitting atop our felon and waiting for the cavalry to get us out of this
mess that we’re not entirely sure how we got into.
Sirens. More sirens.
The police arrive and take over.
We’ve been rescued.
Perhaps you’ve been rescued—from a stuck elevator, a broken-down car, a fire, a dead end job, a
Maybe you’ve found yourself in a position where you could rescue another.
If you stop to think about it, there is one thing that all rescues have in common. There is one thing
that’s the same regardless of the situation.
In order to rescue someone you have to be willing to enter into the situation. Rescuing
requires risk--the willingness to end up needing to be rescued too. or even to lose your own life.
As we observe Advent, we are placing ourselves in that foyer with the thief. We’re there, with me,
waiting to be rescued from the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
We know the call to the police has been made.
We believe they’re responding.
We’re waiting for it to become a reality.
Advent is the waiting room—Christmas is the beginning of the rescue that will be
accomplished at Calvary.
Looking at it from another perspective:
Right now--in this moment--we’re also in a waiting room between Christ’s first coming and Christ’s
return; between the dreaming and the coming true, or the beginning and the fulfillment.
In Galatians 4:4, the Apostle Paul sets out the purpose of Christ’s birth, the mission he undertook
in response to his Father’s command:
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in
order to redeem those under the law…”
Then in the words of Zechariah poetical explanation of the significance of Jesus’ birth in response
to news that Mary was now expecting child.
In Luke 1:68-79:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He
has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of
his holy prophets of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the
oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we being rescued from the hands of our
enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him in all our days….”
As each of makes our way through life, we rarely stop to consider our standing before God or our
relationship with God. We notice the things that are wrong with the world, to be sure yet it’s easy for us
to fail to connect ourselves with the wrongness we see in the world.
As life proceeds we often presume upon God’s favor; we take it for granted and it isn’t until some
significant event—usually a bad event—occurs that we’re knocked out of our blissful ignorance that our
lives are played out on a stage larger than the three dimensions that surround us.
All of life takes place Coram Deo—in the presence of God.
In other words, all of life is religious. That is, our entire existence takes place within the
view and under the authority of God and according to the purposes of God.
This brings our fundamental problem to light, doesn’t it? The problem that Jesus came to remedy.
That problem is, of course, sin.
And sin is one of those words that doesn’t really get mentioned in polite society. Which is a shame
since it’s one of the things we all have in common, and it’s the reason for the divine rescue that is
anticipated in Advent,
actualized at Christmas,
accomplished at the resurrection,
and fulfilled at his Second Coming
What is sin and what has sin to do with me? Sin is doing what God has told us not (commission) to
do or failing to do what God has commanded us to do (omission).
It is breaking God’s law…rebelling against the values of God’s kingdom…violating the law of love.
Each of us sins. And each of us inherits a relationship with God that is broken or fractured from the
We start life alienated from God and unaware of our sin, and its only through God’s initiative that
he reaches into our lives, gets our attention, leads us to turn from our sin, to place our faith in him, and to
follow Christ into a new life.
At the very beginning of the Bible, God promised to undo the curse of sin—see Genesis 3:15.
In order to make that possible, Christ chose to enter into our mess. In order to rescue us he
stepped into the fish bowl, he walked into the burning building, he launched into the stormy sea.
We needed saving.
God stepped into our situation so that he could save us. God pitied humanity because he created us
and loves us, and was moved with compassion for us. He did not wish that we should remain in
our state of death.
So he entered into his own creation as one of his creations in order to save us. He “clothed himself
with flesh,” that’s what the word “incarnation” means.
In the words of Jim Singleton, “Jesus – who lived eternally with God as part of the Trinity – came to
earth at Christmas in the flesh - in a body – the old-fashioned way. As the writer of John’s gospel put it -
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) The Incarnation is the
fact of God becoming man. The Virgin Birth is the method by which God did it. The method is essential
to the impact of Jesus – he had to be “born of a woman” to save us.”i
Of course, when we attempt a rescue the outcomes can be various.
Hostage rescues sometimes claim the lives of hostages as well as gunmen. Emergency services
personnel die in the line of duty.
All rescues demand sacrifice; some demand the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus knew that rescuing us
would demand his life, and he still did it.
In the incarnation, God became one of us—just as we are.
But, how did God becoming one of us actually make any difference?
If you consider that the root of the problem was that of a broken relationship between humanity
and God, a relationship broken by sin then at least part of the remedy had to address both
(1) Removing the penalty of our sin from us, and …
(2) Making it as if we had perfectly kept God’s law.
Not just taking away punishment but making at if we had not sinned in the first instance.
Christ’s death pays the penalty for our sin, yes but by becoming one of us—by becoming fully
human—Jesus was able to enter into our human condition and was able to perfectly fulfill the law of God.
He did not sin. He kept not only the letter of the law, but its spirit too.
Jesus was the metaphorical unblemished lamb sacrificed to make atonement for sin, our sin. He
“fulfilled all righteousness” as the Scripture teaches. At his baptism in Matthew 3, Jesus enters further
into our situation by receiving baptism as a sign of identification with those repenting and turning from
Jesus tries to get John to baptize him, but he protests: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you
come to me?” (Mt. 3:14).
The way preparer (John), whom we have read about in Luke 1, comes face-to-face with the way as
Jesus comes for baptism.
Jesus’ response is illuminating:
“Let it be so now, for thus is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15).
In other words, he indicates that a part of his mission is not only to preach a righteousness that is
not by works or by the law, but to make that righteousness possible in himself because of both his
obedience and his death.
Sin brings death and the process of dying, decline, and disobedience, the brokenness that is so
palpably manifest in our own lives.
Repentance turns from sin and wrongdoing, but repenting doesn’t undo the consequences of sin
in the fall—dying, disobedience, decline, etc.
Jesus’ entering into the world he created begins the divine process of “bringing again the
corruptible to incorruption”—“thy Kingdom come.”
Have you been rescued by Christ from the brokenness of sin? Have you turned to him and placed
your faith in him?
If not, the way forward is simple:
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31)
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised
him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with
the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10)
Do you need rescuing in some other way?
Is there some other part of your life where you need to see God step into your situation and
Ask him. Ask God to intervene and don’t be surprised if just somehow someone comes into your
life that God will use to bless you. God doesn’t keep his hands clean—he gets them dirty in the process of
saving and restoring us.
Every rescue points to the rescue.
Every act of rescue echoes the ultimate intervention by God in Christ stepping into our situation
and making a way out of it for us.
Together, we’re here to participate in God’s rescue plan. Some of us will cry out for rescue; some of
us will be rescuers.
All of us can be both.
What situation is Jesus inviting you to enter into? Who around you needs rescuing, redeeming?
This Advent, let yourself be rescued…and look earnestly for someone whose deliverance you
might be a part of.
Follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, our suffering servant, who—in the words of the carol:
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becomes poor.
i James Singleton, “Born of a Woman.” Unpublished Sermon. Preached December 7, 2008.