December 21, 2014 Luke 1:26-38
In a mere twelve verses that we heard this morning, in this one interaction, Mary is described as favored, perplexed, thoughtful, and afraid.
She questions, believes, and submits to the words spoken by Gabriel, the angel, or messenger of God.
And throughout the years, down through the ages, her story has inspired countless reflections on what significance this moment means for us today.
They call this story “The Annunciation”, because it tells of The Announcement that Mary hears…that she is to give birth to a son, that she is to name him Jesus, that he will be great, and that he will be called the Son of the Most High, reclaiming the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign forever, she is told, and his kingdom will have no end.
It’s a pretty order, isn’t it?
It’s a lot for Mary to hear.
It seems impossible, to say the least. After all, she is still a virgin..still unmarried.
She was engaged and the truth is, you don’t want to bring that kind of shame…the kind that an unwed pregnancy brings…you don’t want to bring that on someone you love, someone you’re going to Marry, someone you’re going to begin your adult life with.
But that’s not all that’s going on here…the announcement that Gabriel gives her contains some pretty lofty language…her son is going to be a king! Not just any king…but a king like David, Joseph’s ancestor….a King to rule all kings…a king who’s kingdom will not end.
I’d like to think that this news would be welcome for most mothers.
Most mothers, I think, want to see their children do well for themselves, right?
If Mary understood Gabriel correctly, she’d have some reason to celebrate…that is, if she believed the angel.
But if she did believe him, she’d also have some reason to fear and to mourn…because nobody would really understand the truth behind this unexpected turn of events.
I can tell you I wouldn’t…I’d make assumptions…and I’d be wrong.
I do that almost every day.
I think we all do.
We all make assumptions, every day, about other people and their business.
But our assumptions say more about us than they do about the people we’re judging, isn’t that right?
I assume the worst of other people, because I’m hoping for, angling for, working for the best for myself.
I want to see myself in the best light…and imagining someone else is motivated by darker motives than my own; it gives me a selfish, mental boost. Because I”m not like “them”.
I’m not like “that”.
“At least we waited until we were married to have sex.”
“At least I have a job and some financial security.”
“At least I dress respectably.”
We have many ways of comparing ourselves to others, so that we come out looking good. But let’s get back to Mary, receiving this news.
I think we all long for what Mary got…a clear word from God, a well-spoken pronouncement of favor, a promise that our children will turn out well…
But for Mary, to accept the promise is also to accept the shame of her Son’s beginning.
And as we know, to accept this promise is also to accept the long, difficult, painful journey of walking with him for 33 years towards his tragic death.
Yes, Jesus’ way to his crown probably wasn’t what Mary had in mind when she heard these words on the lips of an angel.
See, I read this story about Mary and Gabriel, and I consider the beauty and the innocence that a newborn brings into the world, and I read this all in light of another Christmas that’s now just a few days away…and I can’t help but think about the mixed, bittersweet joy that Christian faith invites us all to experience.
Advent sermons are some of the hardest for me to write.
You typically feel like you have less time to say something meaningful about some of the most mind-blowing stories in our Bible…and even though you get the same scriptures to choose from every year…you only really get once chance at them, because they’re so specific to the season.
So anyways, I texted a friend of mine on Friday, I told him what I was working on, and I asked him if he had any thoughts. 🙂
He wrote back and joked that he’d be better represented if I used him as an example of what NOT to do in the quest for a happy, fulfilled life.
And that’s what helped it click for me this week.
See, at Christmas, maybe more than at any other time of year, but certainly at Christmas, most everyone is on the hunt for exactly that…a happy, fulfilled life.
That’s what the advertisements are selling, that’s what our family celebrations are designed around, that’s even the message that’s wrapped up in the Nativity scenes and our worship services as we get closer and closer to December 25th.
But I’d like to suggest that we’re in danger when we start marketing Jesus as simply the key, or a part of the equation for a happy, fulfilled life.
We could call that quest a lot of things…we could call it self-help, as people overcome obstacles to increase their happiness and fulfillment. We could call it therapy. We could call it making positive forward motion, or simply making better choices.
But whatever we call it, let’s not call it Christianity.
Let’s not call it faith.
Sure, those of us who have given our lives to Jesus, who acknowledge God as the creator of our world, who depend on the Holy Spirit to breath life into our inner workings…sure, I would hope we have a degree of fulfillment because of those decisions, and I would think most of us are making faith-based decisions that lead to happiness and we’re at least avoiding a lot of stuff that makes people unhappy (at least most of the time)…
But Christ didn’t die on the cross to make us happy!
He wasn’t born to make us fulfilled.
He came to establish the reign of the almighty God through the ages. He came to establish Salvation with a capital S. He came so that we might know life and life abundantly…with all it’s ups and downs.
He came to show us, to teach us, to proclaim to us that In a world of loneliness and isolation God makes His home with us!
In the midst of a diagnosis…”God with us”!
In the midst of our greed, pride, and lust…”God with us”!
In the midst of our self-centered ways and our addiction to comfort…”God with us”!
“Emmanuel” is more than a Christmas greeting…it’s more like a battlecry against the powers that keep us from each other, “God With Us”.
We are not in this alone. But neither are we promised an easy road, a happy go at
life, or the elusive ‘fulfilled’ sense that comes from watching the perfect christmas dinner or family gathering unfold on a 30 second TV spot.
This is where Mary’s response has much to teach us.
In accepting the angel’s message, she also accepted the path that was before her.
In order to see her son Reign, she had to witness his crucifixion.
To see him forgive sexual sin, she had to be accused of it herself.
To see him accept liars and gossips, she had to be lied about and gossipped about.
God has made his home among us. That’s the message of Advent. That’s the message of Christmas.
God has, indeed, moved in.
But we can’t just accept his reign or his residence without allowing ourselves to feel the pain of betrayal, or walk the path of costly discipleship.
“Let it be with me according to your word” Mary said.
And I don’t think it was just blind devotion or a mere sense of obligation.
I think she said the only thing she was capable of saying.
She was young, I know…but because of who she was and who she was becoming, her response is powerful. “Let it be, with me”.
In other words, Let this happen…I don’t need any guarantees. I don’t need safety. I don’t need to be comfortable. I don’t need people to think well of me or my family…
But I do need Jesus.
I need him to reign not just in this world or just in the age to come…but I need the salvation he offers…the abundant life; with abundant peaks and valleys.
See, we all want to be happy and fulfilled, but these things come on the journey towards God…they are not ends in themselves, for as soon as we think we’ve arrived, we just that quickly become disenchanted and want or need something different, something more.
God has moved in.
So let it be with me…let it be, with us, that this plan of salvation and abundant life unfolds as we journey together towards the resurrection hope that we have through the Christ who stepped into history to shine his light for us.