My sermon from December 11th, 2011 based on Luke 1:46-55.
It had to have been a startling request! At the very least it would have been disruptive. At worst it was incredibly dangerous. She was only 13 years old. She was poor. She wasn’t married. Yet there stood an angel of God announcing to her that she would bear a child who would grow to be the messianic king.
And so, if nothing else, this request was disruptive. She and Joseph had a plan to get married. Surely they had plans for how that would all play out, a vision of what their future was going to be. And now an angel appears telling Mary that she is pregnant. What would the angel’s announcement and God’s plan mean for Mary and her relationship with Joseph?
And beyond disruptive, this plan likely would have seemed downright dangerous. On the most basic level, living conditions were rough in the 1st century and being pregnant and delivering a child posed a serious threat to the health of a woman. Having a baby at all was dangerous.
When the angel brought the news that this baby that she was carrying would be the king, it would have meant that this child was to be a direct threat to both King Herod and the Roman Empire. This was dangerous business. If the ruling powers were to find out what she had been told by the angel, she and the child would surely be killed. After all, Herod had already killed two of his own children and his favorite wife because he believed that they aspired to take over his throne.
The danger, however, wasn’t just in giving birth to a son who would become king. She wasn’t even married. The law commanded that if a woman was engaged to be married and was found to be pregnant by another man, that she was to be put to death. God’s request to Mary was dangerous indeed!
In his Advent devotional, The Journey, Adam Hamilton paints this picture of how disruptive and downright dangerous this request would have been. Yet what is so remarkable about Mary’s response is that she doesn’t even seem to acknowledge or be worried about the disruptions or the dangers. And so this morning I want us to spend some time exploring Mary’s response and a lesson that it might contain for us.
Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent and we continue our journey of preparation for the coming of Christ’s birth. Two weeks ago we began by talking about the call to keep awake as we seek to travel through this season – to keep awake to God’s work and God’s nudges as we seek to travel not just the path of preparing to celebrate the past, but also the path of preparing for the future coming of Christ in our hearts, our lives, and the world.
Last week then we looked a little bit at what it might mean for us to truly prepare for Christ’s coming during the season of Advent as we named some of the realities that make this most wonderful time of year so dang tough. It is a stressful and anxiety producing time of year and as a culture we have taken to spending excessively to the point of generating debt and creating a significant amount of waste. We were then introduced to the invitations offered by a movement called the Advent Conspiracy; invitations to worship Worship Fully. Spend Less. Give More. and Love All.
It’s interesting that as we look at the Gospel of Luke we don’t really see any direct insight into what Mary thought or felt as she reflected on the message brought by the angel. But what we do see is what she did and what she said after the visit by the angel, the visit that contained that message of disruption and danger. To begin with we are told that Mary went with haste to visit her relative Elizabeth.
Luke tells us that Elizabeth wasn’t a young woman. In fact, when her husband Zechariah was visited by an angel announcing that Elizabeth would bear a child he said, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years?” Yet shortly after the Angel’s visit Elizabeth conceived and in the sixth month of her pregnancy the same angel pays a visit to her relative Mary. And when Mary hears of the plans that God has for her she takes off to go and to visit her relative Elizabeth.
When Mary arrived and greeted Elizabeth, Luke tells us that,
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Elizabeth immediately knew that she was in the presence of the mother of her Lord and rejoiced and celebrated that. She had a powerful experience of God as Mary came into her presence and she put that experience into words. Elizabeth, verbalizing her experience of God, sets the stage here for the second thing that Luke tells us Mary does following the visit from the angel. Shortly after arriving at her destination Mary speaks words that celebrate what God is doing in her life. Hear these words again spoken by a poor, thirteen year old whose life has just been disrupted and put into great danger:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Having had her life disrupted and potentially put into danger, this young girl speaks these magnificent words of praise that echo strains of the song sung by Miriam, the mother of Moses as well as the song sung by Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Mary places herself in the company of these great women of faith as she sings words of praise of God’s redemption and of the work that God is doing.
One of the commentaries I read this week made special note of the tense Mary uses in the words she speaks here. She does not speak in a future tense about things that God will do, rather she speaks in the present as if these things have already and are happening. God has shown strength, scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry, sent away the rich. God has done and is doing all of this according to the promise he made to Abraham and all of his descendants. Mary seems to understand what is happening here, that God is doing something amazing through her, even though her life is being disrupted and changed in unimaginable ways.
As we read these words and look at Mary’s story today, I believe it extends to us an invitation. As we prepare for the coming of Christ and journey through this season of Advent I believe Mary’s words invite us to proclaim with our voices, to put into words, the good news in which we believe. The good news that God our savior is doing incredible things in our lives and in our world now. On this journey through Advent we are invited to proclaim in word the good news of God.
Now, many of the words that I have heard spoken about the Christmas season in the last week or two have been focused around the debates that seem to rage just a bit stronger each year. The debates about whether employees of stores should say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. The debates about whether our schools have Christmas breaks or holiday breaks and whether they have Christmas music programs or Holiday music programs. Friends, I want Christ to be the center of Christmas, I really do. However, I’m not sure that engaging in these debates or these arguments is really the best use of the words that we are invited to use as we proclaim the good news of Jesus.
The proclamation that we are invited to do in the tradition of Mary and of Elizabeth is something that happens at a deeper level than these cultural debates and clashes. We are invited to make clear statements about the things that God is doing in our lives. We are invited to share our stories of transformation and hope with our families, with our friends, with our neighbors.
In a message a month or so ago now I shared one of my favorite quotations, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words.” As a general rule I stand by this sentiment and think that one of the most powerful ways that we can share our faith is to live it out and share by example.
However, I invite you to consider, that in the craziness of this season, with all of the mixed messages that surround us, that with the bizarre blurring our Christian faith and secular religious traditions, that this might be the perfect time to proclaim our faith in words.
Over the next couple of weeks there are some exciting things happening in community of faith, opportunities for people to experience God’s love through worship and times of celebration. Next Sunday we’ll have a special service of Lessons and Carols at the 8:30 service, at 9:30 the kids will present a special music program, and at 10:30 the choir will present their cantata. The following Saturday night, on Christmas Eve, we have two special services planned, one at 7pm and another at 11pm. Christmas morning we also have a special service scheduled at 10am, a fun and light-hearted service to which kids are invited to even wear the pajamas.
Each of these events can offer you an opportunity to put your faith and your excitement about what God is doing into words. Next Friday when I send out my email I’ll include a simple sample text that you might cut and paste in an email to friends or family or some words that you might take to make your own and invite someone to join us for worship on the 18th or on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.
Elizabeth and Mary had powerful experiences of God and put words to those experiences. We are invited to do the same. I invite you to consider whether or not there might be someone – a friend, a family member, a co-worker who might benefit from really hearing the good news of this season. I invite you to consider putting into words the hope that you have because of this child that is to be born. I invite you to then share those words and to proclaim that good news and that hope.