And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, [the magi] left for their own country by another road.
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
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 forever, 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.
Pastor Marc's sermon on the Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 21, 2014) on Luke 1:26-38. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
There’s a saying attributed to Martin Luther where a pastor asked Martin Luther for some preaching advice when they’re having a hard time thinking of what to say. And Luther responded, and I’m paraphrasing here, “just read the gospel and sit down; God’s word can stand on its own.”
Now, I’ve never really done that. And I’ve never seen a pastor or preacher do that either. But if there was a text where I was going to do that - it would probably be this text from Luke.
This text is known as the Annunciation - where Mary is met by the angel Gabriel. Luke doesn’t give us much background on Mary. We know she’s engaged, she lives in Nazareth, and….that’s it. We don’t know what she looks like, what she likes to do, what her favorite color is. We just start right here - where an angel - this messenger from God - comes to her.
And the first thing the angel does is greet her, saying that the “Lord is with you.” And Mary really has no idea what that means. She probably had this look on her face, after she heard these words, where she was completely blank. You know - where someone shares something totally unexpected and our first response is “wait. what?”
That’s Mary when the Angel greets her.
And she takes what Gabriel says, ponders it, and is perplexed by it. She doesn’t know what to do with it.
So the angel continues, telling the story about Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ greatness. And, for Mary, after hearing the story - she finally gives her wonder, her confusion, a voice. She’s able to stand up to the angel - to look at him in the face - and say “wait - how can this be?”
How can I have a son?
How can my son have David’s throne?
How can God find favor with me?
And does Jesus really, really, really want to come through me?
Gabriel hears Mary. The angel seems to understand that the message he’s bringing is a bit out there. So Gabriel unwraps the story some more. Mary hears that the Holy Spirit will come - she hears how God has given her cousin Elizabeth a child - Mary hears that God has a habit of working in unexpected ways - and that nothing is impossible with God.
Gabriel makes a promise to Mary - and tells Mary - that God works in unexpected ways and that God has this habit of choosing what we don’t expect to change the world. And Mary is part of that change.
And then - after the greeting, after the questions, after the feelings of wonder and confusion - Mary commits to God. She makes a commitment like the old prophets did. She simply says “God, here I am.” She doesn’t know the fullness of God’s plan for her. She doesn’t know what exactly the future will bring. She doesn’t know exactly why she, a young girl in Nazareth, is called to be God’s unexpected agent in the world - but when she hears God’s word - when she encounters God’s message - she commits. She says, “here I am.”
God choses. Mary wonders and questions - and then commits.
Mary’s story is our story. Because God chooses us - each of us - and we, really, honestly, have no idea why. And God’s claim on us is confusing, strange, and perplexing. Our journey with God involves questions - it involves questions about ourselves - about God - it involves questions about just what is going on. And our meeting God doesn’t end our questions or wonder. But our meeting God does invite our commitment - our telling God “Here I am.”
Like Mary, we don’t know exactly what the future will bring. We don’t know exactly how God remakes, renews, and resurrects the world. But we do know that God’s future is coming and that we are a part of it. We are part of God’s unexpected response to the world. Gabriel’s message to Mary is God’s message to us. We’re going to question. We’re going to wonder. We’re going to not know exactly what the future will hold. But God’s committed to us. God chose us. And, like Mary, our invitation is to trust - to trust the one who claimed us, to trust the one who meets us, to trust the one who makes us worthy to be part of God’s love for the world. We’re part of God’s impossibility and unexpected behavior. And we’re invited to bring God’s impossible love to the world.
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