Message—The Episcopal Church of the Cross
December 23, 2018—The Fourth Sunday in Advent
Text: Luke 1:26-45
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
Good morning, friends. Peace be with you.
Goodness, that is a beautiful Bible story…
Mary probably would have been about fifteen. That sounds young, but people grew up more quickly back then.
Nazareth, where she lived, was a peasant village about sixty-five miles north of Jerusalem. Its significance is that it has little scriptural significance. Nazareth appears nowhere in the Old Testament story. It wasn’t a place laden with meaning. It was just another place; and a new place.
She is strikingly alone in this story. Aside from her cousin Elizabeth, there is no mention here of her family. I think she was very brave.
And sometimes, we have to be in solitude for the angels to show up.
Whether the angel came to her while she was inside or outside, the story doesn’t say. My hunch is that it was outside. For most of human history, it’s outside that we’ve primarily lived and worked and played.
The angel tells her she has found favor with God. It’s an unusual phrase. I was wondering out loud with some friends last week about what it is she had done to find favor with God. Luke gives us no backstory. He says nothing of her virtue or godliness.
But the word translated here as “favor” is the Greek word “charis.” Almost everywhere else, “charis” is translated with the word “grace;” which carries a slightly different sense. Favor can be earned. Grace is a gift; though a gift received not without cost or responsibility, as we all know and as Mary will soon learn.
So for a reason known only to God, the Lord chooses her and sends to her the Angel.
Now I said a moment ago that I thought Mary was brave. As well, my sense of Mary was that she was a spirited, untamed, and joyful young woman who loved God; that she was insistent, maybe even stubborn. She’s no pushover. Gabriel’s got some work to do when he shows up.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” says the angel: “You’re going to conceive, he’ll be a boy” (the original gender reveal party), “you’ll name him Jesus; and he’ll be great, the Son of the Most High, he’ll be given David’s throne, and his kingdom will have no end.”
Now you’d think an angel speaking directly like that would be enough. But Mary knows how things work; she’s a virgin; what this angel is proposing is impossible.
And so this girl asks us our first question today: What do you think is impossible for God? What do you think is too big for God to do? What limits do you place on what God will do in your life? What are our favorite excuses…or even reasons…to keep God bound up?
“I’m too young; I’m too old; I’m not religious enough; I’m not spiritual enough; I’m not married; I’m married, with kids; I’m not this; I’m not that; I don’t have enough money; I have a job; I don’t have a job; it doesn’t work that way; it’s too big for God to handle; it’s too small for God to care about.”
Mary is not the first…nor the last…to have to work through the incredulity of God’s promises.
So I’m wondering…if young Mary’s story doesn’t challenge us a little bit today, and doesn’t first ask us what objection we need to release so God can move more fully in our lives…because that is what we all want; for God to move more fully in our lives.
So Gabriel gets back to work; gives the one who’s not quite sure a bit of a clearer picture. And to provide a bit of evidence that God really is behind this whole thing, he points to Elizabeth—who with Zechariah is too old to bear a child, but who nevertheless is bearing a child…because nothing is impossible for God.
“Here am I,” Mary says. “Let it be with me according to your word.
Now I think there’s a little bit of playfulness going on here between Gabriel and Mary; they’re having a little Bible back-and-forth; winking at one another as they cite some scripture…
When the angel says “Nothing is impossible for God,” he’s alluding to the Old Testament story of the angels coming to Sarah, promising her and Abraham a son. He’s saying that exact thing to Mary that those angels said to Sarah.
When Mary says “Here am I,” she’s quoting the great prophets. “Here am I,” Isaiah says, “send me.” She’s standing up, and stepping into the large shoes of the prophets.
And when she says “Let it be with me according to your word,” she is giving her great “yes…”
…which is a word God loves to give, and hear. It’s a beautiful word. Say it with me: “YES.”
“Yes” is the word of possibility and hope; it’s the word that pulls us into tomorrow; we stand taller after “yes.”
And sometimes, a “yes” costs us.
Being pregnant, and bearing a child, is a big deal. I have been told pregnancy and giving birth and motherhood has a significant impact on one’s life. Her “yes” to God changes her life dramatically. There will be joys she cannot yet comprehend and sorrows she cannot imagine.
There are yes’s in life that require of us little. And there are yes’s in the life of faith that ask something of us.
So the second question this young woman asks us this morning is “What’s the ‘yes’…even the costly ‘yes’…that God is waiting for me to give?
God is always working on us. God is always present, and always calling us forward; and each of us have a vital role to play in the revealing of God’s restoring and healing mercy. The Lord’s plan to bring salvation to all the world involves us. He calls those who love Jesus to help, and be part of it the miracle. He wants our “yes.”
So what’s the “yes” God is waiting for from you? Is it to give something away you’d like to keep? Is it to invite a friend to your church? Is it to do our part to help a relationship be healed? Is it to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations where we really need to trust in God’s Providence?
I have some idea of the kind of “yes” God is asking of me. I have no idea what kind of “yes” God is asking of you. But Mary shows us what a “yes” can do, and reminds us that the Lord yearns for our “yes.”
Here’s the final question Mary asks us: What’s the joy in your soul for you to share? I mean, what are the beautiful things that God has done in your life…the beautiful ways God has entered into your heart and spirit…that would bless and bring joy to another?
If there is a sweeter, happier moment in the scriptures than these two cousins coming together to share the wonder and joy and beauty of God’s grace in their lives, I’m not sure what it is. They go to tell one another what God is doing for them; and in the telling and listening their joy is multiplied. What’s next in the story is a song—“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices within me”—because the joy is so great. And then, in the story we’ll hear tomorrow evening, when the angels return and visit the shepherds, they’ll say “we bring good news of great joy for all the people;” and they, in turn, will go and see and tell.
God is saving you. God is saving me. God is making things right; making things whole; healing is in his wings, as the Christmas song tells us.
That’s the Good News we have been given. It’s all good! We dwell in eternity; we live in a world of faith, and hope, and love; we are not bereft; God comes to us, because of his great love; there is nothing that can ever separate us from the love of God; and the Lord’s plans for humanity are good plans.
As we come close to the day of celebration, these two cousins…one older, one younger; one representing an old way, and another God’s new way…laugh and smile and rejoice at the ridiculous abundance and generosity of God; and remind each of us that God is good—and that while tomorrow we’ll end worship singing how God brings Joy to all the World, today, they graciously remind us that he also brings joy to us.