4th Sunday of Advent, year B (preached Dec. 21, 2014)
first reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalmody – The Magnificat: Luke 1:46b-55
second reading: Romans 16:25-27
gospel reading: Luke 1:26-38
Today is Mary’s day. Our gospel reading is the story of The Annunciation (the fancy title for the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus). In the place of our usual Old Testament psalm, we have Mary’s song, called The Magnificat, which is her response.
Today we celebrate the closeness of Jesus’ birth by hearing the story of his conception: that God chose Mary to bring the Savior to us.
We don’t talk about Mary very much in the Protestant tradition, which is really too bad. I think in reaction to those we think pay too much attention to Mary, we end paying too little. But God did an extraordinary thing through this simple young woman – a miraculous thing, a once in human history thing – and it is to our detriment to overlook it.
Why? Because Mary’s story is also our own, and when we overlook her story, we miss ours.
There was nothing special about Mary. The angel Gabriel says she has found favor with God, but that “finding favor” is more about what will be done through her, and less about what she has done already. She is an ordinary young Jewish woman, going about her business, and God decides to use her for a miracle.
New Testament scholar Donald Juel says, “No one would suspect that someone like Mary would be chosen as an agent of salvation, but this is what God does.”¹
THIS IS WHAT GOD DOES. Throughout history God has chosen ordinary unexpected people to do miraculous things.
Who would’ve thought an ordinary baby desperately hidden in a basket would become part of Pharoah’s family, then end up freeing a whole race of people from slavery? (Moses)
Who would’ve thought a Moabite woman, who through her devotion to her mother-in-law, would end up in the geneaology of Israel AND Christianity, and have a biblical book named after her? (That’s Ruth, by the way…)
Who would’ve thought the youngest of many brothers, a farmer’s son, would become the great King David?
Who would’ve thought that a man who persecuted the first Christians would convert and be responsible for a HUGE chunk of the New Testament? (Paul)
We should know by now that God chooses the unexpected to carry out God’s Will. I guess you could say – with God, we should expect the unexpected.
Perhaps the reason many of us don’t want to look at Mary, and these other biblical figures too carefully, is because if we realize that God uses these unexpected ordinary people, then that means that maybe, just maybe, God can use US.
For me, the greatest thing about Mary is that any one of US could’ve been Mary. Every one of us IS Mary.
It’s the greatest thing, but it’s also the most frightening. Frightening, because if God could work through you and me, that means we need to be ready. That means our response can’t be, “Not now Lord, I’m busy,” or “I’ve got these other things to do.”
If we are Mary we need to say, “Here am I… let it be with me according to your word.” If we are Mary, then we need to be open to God’s Will, ready to act even if it’s not convenient.
It will probably mean leaving our “comfort zone,” which is so incredibly hard. But, then again, being unwed and pregnant was probably out of Mary’s comfort zone too.
Chances are we won’t be called to do or be something that extraordinary, but we are each called through baptism to share God’s love and be God’s witnesses in the world – and that takes work and stretching our imaginations and even going beyond what’s comfortable.
And it’s ok to be afraid. Mary must’ve been scared too. Otherwise the angel wouldn’t have said, “Do NOT be afraid.”
The good news is that we aren’t required to be superhumanely brave, pure, holier than everyone else, perfect or sinless to serve God. God uses us, with all our imperfections and sin. God accepts us just as we are and uses what we are to reach others.
There is no application to fill out, no test to take, no fear of rejection with God – for all our tests were passed by Jesus.
Over and over again, as I said at the beginning, God has chosen the unexpected, to do the unexpected.
If Advent is a time to prepare to receive the Lord, these are good lessons for us to hear now – to prepare ourselves, to ready ourselves, to be OPEN to hearing and discerning how God wants us to serve and share the gospel. To acknowledge our fears, but to move forward, knowing EMMANUEL, God is with us – and that God will use our strengths AND our weaknesses.
It’s an amazing thing that God can even use our weaknesses. It’s instinctive for us to try to hide them, certainly from others, but also from God. But we don’t have to, indeed we waste precious energy doing so – because God sees all of us, even parts of ourselves we wish weren’t there or don’t even know.
Instead of trying to hide, God calls us out of hiding, and says, “I will use you – all of you, to bring others my love and salvation.”
If God can use Mary – young, plain, unremarkable Mary – and give her such a great role in the story of our salvation – then God can also use you and me: the young and old, weak and strong, male and female, rich and poor, smart and not-so-smart, the healthy and the sick.
Remember, God makes the cross a throne, bread and wine into forgiveness, and grants us life through death. With God ALL things are possible.
It may not be what we or the world expect, but again, in the words of Donald Juel, “THIS IS WHAT GOD DOES.”
¹I wish I could give you more information on this quote. I had written it in my sermon file notes with only the booklet title which is, “Exploring the Yearly Lectionary,” and the page number. At the time I didn’t think I’d need to write the full information, and I’m pretty sure the booklet (small, spiral bound) got packed away in the attic a few years ago when we were doing some home improvements! I tried to google it but nothing came up.