Sermon for Dec. 18, 2011, 4th Advent, Year B on Luke 1:26–38, “Mary’s Yes”

Luke 1:26–38

In the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy – with John] the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose

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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 for ever, 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.

Mary’s Yes

I can imagine that the early Christians all wanted to get to know Mary.  They must have had enormous respect for her.  We still marvel at her utterly innocent “yes” to Gods’ will that led to the birth of Jesus.

Asking Mary Some Questions

If I were around her in that first generation, I would love to ask her questions.  What was it like to be in the presence of an angel?  Luke told us you were terrified – which is how some say we should take that word “perplexed.”  How bad was it?

How long was the angel there?  Long enough for you to get over the panic?  Did you catch what he was telling you or did you only ponder it after he had left?

The Greeting?

I want to ask Mary, “Did that odd greeting that Gabriel gave you – that the Lord is with you – did that make you think of the prophet Isaiah?  Did  you get the connection between the you being a virgin who was about to conceive, and the virgin Isaiah spoke of who would conceive and bear a son who would be calledEmmanuel” which means “God with us”?

Elizabeth’s condition?

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When Gabriel mentioned your older relative Elizabeth, were you surprised to hear of her pregnancy?  Did you think of Sarah and Abraham when Gabriel described her former condition as “barren”?  And did you notice that Gabriel then used the same words to you that the angels who came to Sarah and told her that she would have a son used, about nothing being impossible with God?

Did you think that whatever was happening to you was like the first page of volume two in the same story?

Your Son?

And what did you make of Gabriel’s description of what your son was going to be and do?  When the angel spoke of him sitting on David’s throne, did that make you flinch?  What did you think was going to happen with King Herod who was currently sitting on that throne?  What did you think about the Roman army – did you imagine that there would first be a revolution before the throne was secure?

Could you possibly have noticed, in that scary angel-moment, that the whole kingdom picture that Gabriel’s words painted had an oddly non-human look?  Did you catch that your son’s reign was supposed to be forever, with “no end”?

Those Names?

And most of all, what about those names?  You are Jewish so you know that the name Jesus, or in your Hebrew, Joshua, means he is being named after the famous is Joshua, in the Old Testament.   You know well that Joshua was the one who “fought the battle of Jericho” and all the other ones, and conquered the promised land.  Does it make you nervous to have to name your son after a conqueror?

And what about the names your son is supposed to be called, like “great” which is normally what the kings like to be called, and like, “holy” and “the Son of the Most High?”  What did you think was going to be growing in you for the next nine months?  Wouldn’t the idea of giving birth to God blow your mind?

Your Question?

And Mary, please don’t be insulted, but you asked the angel only one question: was your primary concern really only that you didn’t know how a virgin could bear a child?  Would that be any tougher for God than an old lady like Elizabeth or like Sarah conceiving?

Reading Isaiah?

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One last thing.  When you answered the angel, when you said “yes” to everything God was going to do, you called yourself “the servant of the Lord” – had you just been reading Isaiah?  Were you intentionally making the ideal “yes” response to God that “the servant of the Lord” which is what Isaiah sometimes calls Israel was supposed to make?  Were you tempted to add “here I am, send me?” as Isaiah himself said?

How Could she have known much?

Mary is not around to ask, but this year, as I have been thinking about Mary’s famous “yes” to God’s will, I have been struck by how little she must have understood about what was going to happen.  When she said those classic words:

 “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

– what did she imagine she was she saying “yes” to?  She could not possibly have known.

She knew One Thing Well

But in that frightening moment, I believe her response shows that she knew one thing for certain: that God was indeed with her, as Gabriel affirmed.

He was with her then, just as he was with her when she met Joseph for the first time.  God was with her in Sabbath School when she learned the stories of Abraham and Sarah and the miraculous birth of Isaac.

Barrenness and With-ness

God was with her when she reflected on the many times and the many ways in her people’s past, that the issue of barrenness had to be overcome.

Famine, exile, occupation, were all forms of barrenness.  Faithlessness, idolatry, injustice and exploitation were ways of being spiritually barren that Mary’s people had known for centuries.  But nevertheless, through it all, God had been with them.

Now, for Mary, God was doing something brand new.  Certainly the new thing contained the ringing echoes of the former things God had done, but this new thing that Gabriel announced seemed bigger – infinitely bigger.  Yes, God is with us.  and No, nothing is impossible for the God who came to be with us, as one of us, as Jesus, the Son of the Most High.

With us?

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Is it possible for us, today, in all of our situations of barrenness to live and act as people who recognize God is with us?  It is helpful to read of Mary’s confidence in the with-ness of God.  It is also helpful to hear from each other.

In Advent, we have been hearing personal stories of people among us who can bear witness to the present reality of God in their lives.  We heard from from Dick whose witness was recorded by his daughter Pam, just after he went home to be with the Lord.

We heard, last week, from Jean, about God’s work to raise up a new church for a poor black congregation on Chicago’s South side.

This Sunday we will hear from Lynn of his witness to God’s presence in his life.

[Lynn’s witness]

At this time of year, we celebrate what Mary knew, what Dick knew, what Jean and  Lynn demonstrated that they know – that as contrary to normal expectations as it seems, yes, God is with us.  Barrenness can become fruitfulness.  The virgin can conceive and bear a son who will be called the Son of the Most High; Emmanuel: God with us.

Knowing this – even though we have no idea what it may mean for us, we are able to say, along with Dick, Jean, Lynn and Mary,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

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