This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on December 21, 2014.
Gospel: Luke 1:26–38
26In 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.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
There are some things in the Bible that puzzle me…ok, there are a lot of things.
One of those things, is our Gospel story today. Now, in this story, the angel Gabriel appearing, and the whole idea of Mary giving birth in a highly unusual manner are kind of par for the course when it comes to God.
What puzzles me, is Mary. I would love to be a fly on the wall for this conversation she had that evening with Gabriel, and the ensuing nine months, when everything in Mary’s life was turned upside down. I wasn’t there of course, but if I had been, if it was me, instead of Mary, I would not have been quite as receptive to Gabriel’s message. In fact, my response to it all would have been, “are you kidding me?” rather than Mary’s words of, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your will.”
So, on behalf of Mary, here’s my list of grievances. First, an Angel just shows up in her room at night, that’s a little creepy. Second, is the whole abnormality of the conception process. And those are just the minor things. What I’d really take umbrage with, was the fact that God was really messing up Mary’s life. This child she was going to bear, was not only going to put her marriage at risk, but, because being an adulteress could mean death in those days, this unplanned pregnancy was putting her life at risk as well. So, I wonder, how Mary could have been so receptive, so gracious to Gabriel’s announcement, is beyond me.
And, I think that’s the point. Mary’s response wasn’t a human response, it was a response, an acceptance of God’s will, that could only happen by the work of God’s grace. Somehow, God was able to elicit enough trust from Mary, that she commended herself to what God was doing. The fact that Mary opened herself, her life to God, so that she may bear God’s son, Jesus Christ, was a miracle in and of itself.
This morning, what’s a little unnerving, is that the same grace that called Mary to trust God with her life, well-being, and future, is also calling upon us to do the same.
First, this grace comes and says to each of us, “Greetings, favored One, the Lord is with you,” with the same amount of sincerity and love that it was uttered to Mary with. Think about that, God loves each of us, just as much as Mary.
Second, this grace of God doesn’t come to us by way of fear. God isn’t trying to scare us into submission. God is compassionate, and reassuring, saying, “Do not be afraid. For you have found favor with God.” God is calling us out of love, not because we owe God a favor.
Third, when God calls us out of grace, God is calling us in order to use us to do something, in order to bring about the transformation of our lives and our world. God’s grace is given to us, so that the sin and death that make up our lives will be made into eternal life and abundant love. In other words, when God’s grace calls, we can expect, that just like it did to Mary, this grace will interrupt our lives, change our plans, and turn the world we know, upside down.
Just over 2000 years ago, God sent an angel, to a young virgin named Mary, and the rest as they say, is history. Mary did conceive and give birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Now today, God doesn’t send an angel, but comes to us in the life of the One who Mary gave birth to, Jesus Christ. In Christ, God comes to us full of grace, offering his life, giving us his body and blood, so that we may know a life that surpasses all our expectations. Truly, the light, and hope, the Savior of this world has come, and the trust that Mary put in God, the trust that led her to say “Let it be with me according to your will” has not been in vain.
And because through Jesus, God has fulfilled the promise given to Mary, we by the grace of God, are called to grow in our trust of God, so that we may grow in our openness to the will of God. In other words, when God gracefully calls us, interrupting our plans, and even our own desires and aspirations, God is transforming us to go from, “Are you kidding me?” to “Let it be with me, according to your will.”
In this season of Advent, O favored ones, God is calling us, like Mary, to bear the One who is the hope, the light, of the world. God is calling us to bear Christ, however inconvenient it may seem, so that our lives and the world may be transformed in love and life. For we know, that:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,