‘And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger’…….St Luke 2:7a
Several years ago I heard a minister announce a sermon title that I have never forgotten. This in itself is no small feat. As a regular worshiper and active participant in church, I have heard a number of sermons over the years, most of which I have forgotten. Often on the next day or even the next hour if you had asked what the preacher spoke about, I would have had to ponder as I tried to remember. As a preacher, I have delivered several sermons, many of which are eminently forgettable, even to me. Yet, during all of my hearing and delivering and remembering and forgetting over the years, the title of this particular sermon has remained with me. The title of the message was, “God Don’t Sponsor No Flops.”
Admittedly the sermon title leaves much to be desired in terms of its grammar and syntax. A couple of years ago while in a worship service, I was sitting next to a preacher who had spent a number of years teaching in the public school system. We were listening as another preacher murdered the English language as he spoke. After observing him, the preacher next to me whispered, “If I could just get him in a classroom for one month, I could really do something with him.” When the grammar and construction of this sermon title are examined, a number of English teachers could rightly feel, including my aunt, the same way or wish the same thing. Yet despite the faulty grammar of this title, the though behind it is profound and its message ought never be forgotten – “God Don’t Sponsor No Flops.” In other words, God does not make failures or create mediocrity. God creates people to be productive; God creates us to aspire to the highest and the best and to reach those goals.
When we were created, God put the best in us, God only uses the best of everything. The light bulbs that we use soon burn out. Even the long lasting bulbs eventually burn out. The light, however, that God produces in the universe is the best possible light. The stars that we see at night are the same ones that Jacob observed as he lay on his back in the desert of the wilderness and saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder to heaven. They are the same stars that looked down upon the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrews. David looked up at them as he wrote the psalms and Daniel reflected upon them in Babylon. They served as the background to that peculiarly bright star that guided the wise men to the child Jesus. Columbus used them to find a new world and Copernicus and Galileo used them to discover the movement of the earth in space. They still twinkle to inspire and they still shine to brighten an otherwise ominous blackened sky. The light that God used for the stars is truly long lasting and truly the best.
The heat that God gave the sun to warm the earth is truly the best and most penetrating and enduring heat available. Although the sun is 93 million miles away, someone has said that it radiates more energy in one second than humanity has used since the beginning of civilization. Despite its distance from us, its rays are still powerful enough to give us sunstroke in the summer, if we’re not careful. Its heat is so powerful that within the stratosphere there is a protective shield, an ozone layer, to dilute the power of some of its rays. Even in the winter when it is farthest from us, the sun is still powerful enough to sustain life on the earth. God used the best and most powerful heat to warm this planet.
I believe that this same God used the best when humanity, the crowning glory of the creation, were made. God, who used the most enduring light for the stars and the most penetrating heat for the sun, would not have scrimped and used shoddy materials for us. Although we were made from the dust of the earth, it was dust that was endowed with eternity. God blew into us the breath of life and we became living souls. Let us never forget that we were made by the best, from the best – to be the best. We were not made from cheap materials and thrown together carelessly with poor workmanship. Once I was shaking hands with some people at the close of a worship service. I greeted a fine-looking lady in her 80’s who was wearing an attractive fur stole. I admired her fur and said, “Good afternoon. You’re looking mighty nice this afternoon. You’re somebody.” She looked at me and said, “I know I am – God made me that way.” We were not created to be gutter, low-life people. We were created a little lower than the angels; we were created to be somebody. God has put within us the potential for greatness because “God Don’t Sponsor No Flops.”
The question that many of us may be asking is, How do we account for the fact that so many of our fellow brothers and sisters, made by the same God and endowed with the same potential, are so sorry and lazy? Instead of going from strength to strength and grace to glory, some of us seem to be journeying from grace to disgrace and from flop to flop and failure to failure. To avoid the pitfalls of failing and flopping so that we might Bring Forth the Best – let us look at the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Our text tells us that “she brought forth her firstborn son…” How was Mary enabled to bring forth Jesus? She worked in partnership with God. She nurtured the life that had been placed within her. The angel came to her and told her that she would conceive and bear a son whose name would be called Jesus. When she inquired how this would be accomplished since she was a virgin, the angel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her. Thus, her child would be called holy, the Son of God. What Mary brought forth was what God’s Spirit had planted within her.
We can only Bring Forth what the Spirit has planted, and if the Spirit has not planted it, we have no business trying to Bring it Forth. That’s why so many of us are frustrated in our service. We are trying to Bring Forth that which has not been planted within us. We observe the talents and abilities of others and try to imitate them. At best we become cheap reproductions and at worst outright failures. We can’t Bring Forth that which is planted within somebody else’s life: we can only Bring Forth that which is planted within our own. We must live within the gifts, limitations and potential that has been planted within us.
We can get into a lot of trouble by trying to imitate someone else’s gifts, potential and lifestyle. We can make ourselves look like complete idiots by trying to dress, walk, talk and behave like someone else. I always caution younger ministers about trying to imitate what they see older ministers do. A younger man or woman can quickly get into serious trouble trying to imitate an older, more experienced man or woman – and the opposite is also true. We cannot get away with doing what we see others do; we must live within the limitations and gifts that have been placed within us. Children who observe how other children talk and treat their parents can get into serious trouble by trying to imitate what those children do. Husbands and wives who observe how other folks treat their spouses and try to do the same thing, using the same language and telling the same lies, can get into serious trouble. Anytime we try to be what we’re not, we’re going to fail and we can’t blame God because “God Don’t Sponsor No Flops.” We must blame ourselves for rejecting the life within and embracing something that we see without. If we would Bring Forth the Best, we must nurture the gifts and the potential that God has placed within us.
Mary only brought forth that which the Spirit had planted within her. She did not bring forth a Methuselah, who would live long enough to care for her the rest of her days. She did not bring forth a great king like Solomon, who could build her a palace. Although she would be denied some of this life’s temporal comforts, she brought forth someone much greater. She brought forth one who would be King of kings, whose reign would know no end. She Brought Forth God’s Best. Mary must have been some kind of superwoman with specially endowed attributes. According to the scriptures, however, she was a humble handmaiden. She was not a great prophetess like Deborah or a great queen like Esther: she was not an astute charmer like Abigail. She was an ordinary handmaiden. The Magnificant emphasizes her ordinariness. After she received the word from the angel, Mary declared, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” (Luke 1:46-48).
Sometimes we believe that we must be specially endowed to Bring Forth God’s Best. However, when we look at Mary, we discover that God’s highest and best was brought forth by an ordinary handmaiden. Great works are often done by ordinary people with extraordinary spirit within. Look at those in our lives as well as those in history who have accomplished the most. Many times they are ordinary people with extraordinary spirit, and as they struggled to Bring Forth that spirit within, greatness has come. When we view the works of Michelangelo, we see the results of his struggle to Bring Forth that which was within. When we hear the music of Beethoven, Mozart, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, James Cleveland, Andrae Crouch, Donnie McClurkin, Bishop Paul Morton, we hear the Bringing Forth of that which was within. When we read the works of Shakespeare, James Weldon Johnson, James Baldwin, Maya Angelo, Howard Thurman, Dr. Martin Luther King and Dr. James Forbes, we read the results of their struggle to bring forth that which was within. They are all ordinary people who struggle to Bring Forth that which God had placed within them. Mary was an ordinary handmaiden whose faithfulness to the task of nurturing and struggling to Bring Forth that which God’s Spirit had placed within her made her significant in the history of the world, as the mother of Jesus.
How did Mary Bring Forth God’s son? The scriptures tell us that when she received the news from the angel, Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord: let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Her aunt, Elizabeth, said of her, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45). Mary was willing to believe God’s word. We Bring Forth God’s Best when we are willing to believe God’s word. The trouble with most of our faith is that we really don’t believe God’s word. Some of us are like Sarah, who laughed when she received the word of God that in her old age she would bear a son. Some of us are like Gideon, who asked God to show him a sign when he received the call of God. Some of us are like Jonah, who ran in the opposite direction when he received the word of God. Some of us are like Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who questioned and doubted when he received the word of God.
We cannot Bring Forth God’s Best when we laugh at what seems to be the impossible promise of God’s word. We must understand that there is nothing too hard for the Lord. We cannot Bring Forth God’s Best when we’re running from the Lord, for we cannot run and we cannot hide from the word of the Lord. Like Jonah, we’ll discover that whatever we are, wherever we are, wherever we live, irrespective of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, God’s word will find us. We cannot Bring Forth God’s Best when we’re always trying to test or prove the word before we accept it. We walk by faith, not by sight. We cannot Bring Forth God’s Best when we are always doubting and questioning the word of God. To Bring Forth God’s Best, we must believe God’s word as it comes to us. We must be willing to say, as did Mary, “I’m your servant: let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary truly believed the word of God. A group of ministers were discussing their problems, their fears, their frustrations and how the Lord granted them victory in their respective situations. Finally someone arose and said, “The trouble with a number of us is that we don’t really believe the gospel we preach. All we have to do is believe the gospel we preach and victory is ours.” I repeat: The reason that a number of us Bible-toting and Bible quoting Christians can’t Bring Forth God’s Best is that we really don’t believe the word that we carry and the words that we speak. The writer hit the nail on the head when he said:
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear; All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer.
If we intend to Bring Forth God’s Best, we must believe God’s word.
“And she brought forth her first born son….” Once she was married and was with child, Mary carried herself as such. She couldn’t do everything she once did, go every place she once went or eat or drink everything she once consumed. She had to make certain sacrifices and adjustments in her lifestyle because she was carrying something special within. She was carrying God’s best. She was carrying the promise of ages. She was carrying a special spiritual endowment and her life had to reflect the same. She had to be consecrated, set apart and holy to Bring Forth God’s Best. Her whole life revolved around bringing forth that which she carried.
If we would Bring Forth the Best, then we must live as if we are carrying God’s best. If we are carrying God’s best, then we must live like it. We can’t do everything we once did and expect to Bring Forth God’s Best. We have to make some sacrifices for the best. Young People, if you would Bring Forth God’s Best, then you must be prepared to make some sacrifices. You must be prepared to stay in and study when others go out or come to church when others do not. You must be prepared to say no when others say yes. When you are accused of being a nerd or a square or stuck up or a Holy Roller, you must tell them that you are not trying to be any of these things. You simply understand that you are carrying something special within you, placed there by God’s gracious Spirit and you are just trying to Bring Forth the Best that is within you.
We can’t Bring Forth the Best without sacrifice. If we are athletes, it means going to practice when others go home. If we’re Christians, it means going to prayer when others go to the convenient weapons of the world. If we’re poor, it means getting our priorities straight and sacrificing for that which is really important. If we’re accused of being cheap, we simply must tell others who don’t understand our situation that we are working within the limitations and possibilities that God has placed within us and that all we’re trying to do is Bring Forth God’s Best.
“And Mary brought forth her first-born son…” In the fullness of time, Mary brought forth. At a time and in a place where she least expected, she brought forth her first-born son. When she received the word of God from the angel, she didn’t know the circumstances in which her baby would be born. I’m sure that she didn’t expect the birth to occur on a journey. She didn’t know that Caesar Augustus would issue a decree stating that the world should be taxed. She didn’t know that she and Joseph would have to take a trip to Bethlehem to be enrolled. She didn’t know that in distant Bethlehem she would Bring Forth her firstborn son and wrap him in swaddling clothes and lay him in a manger because there would be no room for them in any of the inns. She didn’t know that the first visitors to see her child would not be relatives, but shepherds.
If we believe God’s Word and live in such a way that it can be brought to fruition in us, then we will Bring Forth God’s Best. In God’s time and in God’s way, God’s Best will Come Forth. We may not know about the many factors that will come together to bring it about, but one thing is certain – if we’re faithful, God’s Best within us will come forth. We may not be able to pick the time or the place, the circumstances or the people who will be participants, but one thing is certain – it will come. It has to come, because God is behind and in the midst of the process to bring it forth. God planted the seed and if we have done our part, God will Bring it Forth.
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