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Advent 4B Sermon
Luke 1: 26-38
December
20, 2020

 

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Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He 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. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35The 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. 36And 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. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38Then 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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

“Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you.” With these words the angel Gabriel disrupts the life of a common young woman in first century Palestine and the whole world is changed. Often I have expressed admiration for the faith that would lead young Mary to reply to this heavenly messenger with the words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Gabriel had just shared an impossible proposition – that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a son; not only that, but this child will be the fulfillment of God’s promise to David, that his house will rule forever. What was Mary thinking when she agreed to be part of this mission of bearing the savior of the world? Did she think everything through before accepting this role? Or maybe as a young girl in first century Palestine, she was used to these types of transactions where expectations were placed upon her without an opportunity to question or refuse them. Maybe she knew she didn’t even have a choice in the matter.

But she does gracefully accept this calling, which is no small task. Think about it - one of the most life-threatening things to happen to a woman in that day and age was to become pregnant. Forget about the stigma that would surround her as a 13 year-old girl who must have broken the covenant of the betrothal between her and Joseph. Forget the way that her neighbors, some 50-75 families residing in that small town of Nazareth at the time, would have been ashamed of her. Forget all of the ways that she would have been treated by those who were unaware of the circumstances behind her pregnancy. We would consider hers an “at-risk” pregnancy today. Child mortality was very high, and there were risks to the mother’s life as well. And her condition would not have excused her from the everyday tasks – the cooking and cleaning, and other chores of the women of the household. Imagine sweat dropping from her brow as she ground grain into flour and kneeded it into dough for the daily bread. Imagine her swollen feet and aching back as she brought the daily jug of water from the well on the outskirts of town. Think about the discomfort as the child grew inside her womb, pressing upon the organs more and more until birth.

The message to Mary was more than just, “You are going to bear the savior of the world.” The message was, “Your quiet year of planning a wedding, marrying this carpenter and slowly easing into life as a new family is about to change.” Gabriel, a messenger from God, is the ultimate disrupter of someone who’s life is in front of her, as common and unassuming as it will be.

So, what was it that put Mary over the top? What made her not only acquiesce to this word of God (as if she had a choice) but then shared a song when she visited her kinsfolk, Elizabeth, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord, who is doing great things for her? I think that the answer lies in Gabriel’s final words to Mary in verse 37: “Nothing will be impossible for God.” For the God who finds favor in the common young girl of a small town, unimportant in any time period of human history, the impossibility of growing the holiest of holy ones in and through her is not only possible, but it is the preferred modus operandi of the one that we call Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The risks for Mary of being pregnant – the discomfort, the stigma she was about to face - paled in comparison to what God was about to do. All of this was made possible by the God who promises to be with her, to bless her, and to make this child holy … holy not only to her and her family, but holy to a world where people like her had no power at all.

And Mary understood the implications of this promise from Gabriel! She sounds like someone who may have outwardly been quiet and demure, but inwardly yearned for the God of justice to invade the world, overthrow that Roman superpower and call the leaders of her own people to faithfulness as God had done so many times before. Her song that we read together in place of a psalm this morning – often called The Magnificat – is a profession of her faith much in the spirit of the Song of Hannah from the Old Testament book of First Samuel. It is a profession of faith in the God who has promised to scatter the proud in their conceit, to cast down the mighty from their thrones and to send the rich away empty, all the while having mercy on those who fear God, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things. I could just picture Mary singing this to herself everyday while going about her chores. I can imagine her wondering if these promises from God are still to be trusted, seeing the injustices going on around her. And one day into her life comes a heavenly messenger who confirms them and calls her to a prominent role in God’s impossible mission of growing the holy one, the messiah in her virgin womb. Her excitement must have been off the charts! Forget the social stigmas and physical aches and pains she was about to face. God was about to use her as a vehicle for mercy, grace and love to break into the world in a new and wonderful way.

Friends, this is one of the final two sermons that I will preach in the calendar year, 2020. I will share a Christmas message on Thursday, but the final Sunday of the year will be a service of lessons and carols. The first two and a half months of this year went on mostly as expected – we worshiped, met for Sunday school & catechism, community dinners, Faith Mission meals, annual meeting, pasta feast … it was the start of another wonderful year of being a church family here at Clinton Heights. Then we were visited by the proverbial Gabriel – that presence that interrupts life, shakes us up, and changes our predictable courses. The message might not have been as hopeful as the angel’s message to Mary, but as we have continued to share God’s word, we continue to hear a word of hope and promise in our lives today. We have been through much, and will certainly go through even more, but God is with us in the midst of the injustices of the world through which we are living now. Do not be afraid, children of God – we have found favor with God! The one who was born to Mary those many years ago still reigns and his kingdom shall have no end.
Nothing will be impossible with God!

As we close this Advent season, may we sit with the assurance that God is with us. As we reflect on a tumultuous year – some have called it unprecedented – may we receive the words of Gabriel to Mary as our own. The Divine visits an unsuspecting young girl named Mary, and the Divine visits us. May the mutations of life through which we are living now be experienced through the conviction that God is with us. And finally, may Gabriel’s words remind, assure and comfort us with the promise of a God who does the impossible, and grows the holy presence of Emmanuel in and through the lowly and common folks of our world – even you and me! Amen.