Luke 1:26-38 “Mary’s Choice”
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Before reading: Strange things happen in Luke’s “orderly account of the events” (1:3) of Jesus among them. First, John the Baptist’s birth is by all rational thoughts miraculous. Luke recorded, “But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.” (1:7) Gabriel visited the priest Zechariah, the father of to be of John the Baptist, and told him the impossible would happen. Zechariah said, in so many words, “That’s impossible, for I am too old, and my wife is getting on in years!” Zechariah was struck mute by Gabriel, the angel who stood in the presence of God. The impossible happened! Elizabeth did conceive and for five months remained in seclusion. Then our passage begins in the six month after the foretold conception of John the Baptist by two “senior” adults.
Listen to the Word of God from Luke 1:26-38.
1. If I told you that I met an angel named Gabriel several years ago, I think some eyebrows would be raised in question marks. Our elders and deacons may pull out their Book of Order’s and begin thumbing through the index to see where “how to put your pastor on administrative leave” is for mental health reasons.
Others may think, “It’s Christmas. There may be some Gabriels around as well as Santa Clauses.”
Still a few may say, “This story sounds familiar. I have met Gabriel, too.”
I have thumbed through Christmas pictures. Santa’s outnumber baby Jesus’s by ten to one; food and parties along with all the colorful lights are continuing this unusual year of Covid-19. Some angels top Christmas trees, but I have seen no specific angel Gabriel pictures. There are some famous Annunciation paintings, I am sure, but none in our “Christmas in America” coffee table book.
Birth to an elderly barren couple, an angel announcing to a young virgin that she will be pregnant before she is married. Something mysterious, extraordinary is happening here. Think about the stress Mary and Joseph were under. Joseph, “You are what?!!”
Pay close attention this year, you may see that something mysterious, surprising, and extraordinary is happening this year. As we have been told by Jesus, Peter, and Paul as we wait for the coming of Jesus, “Keep awake and be alert; be patient as God is patient; rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; and discern the Spirit.”
2. Get ready, scientific minds, God is going to confuse you once again. There is no explanation for the Incarnation of God in Jesus. The scientist can ask “Where? When? What? Who?” No problem. Israel; first century; birth of the Messiah; Mary. But the big scientific questions of “How?” and “Why?”, have no answers; at least, no provable answers within the laws of nature. This mysterious God’s coming in human flesh, specifically Mary’s flesh, is beyond our explanation. The Incarnation is an act of the God of the Impossible.
At Christmas, who wants to be a scientist anyway? Let’s stand before this mystery of God’s coming to us in Jesus the Son of Mary with a child’s open wonder and acceptance. Let’s listen this year to the story of the Nativity with a child’s curiosity and loving heart. Let’s sing the carols of love, hope, peace, and joy. Shop safely and give gifts joyfully.
But we have been trained to be such good scientist in our modern world that it is difficult not to produce some kind of explanation of “how” the incarnation happened. Some may say that the story is folklore, a myth slipped into the story of Jesus to explain his special connection to God Almighty, but it really did not happen that way.
Yet, I find it difficult to let Gabriel and Mary’s meeting pass without some explanation of the mystery of a virgin’s giving birth to a child.
3. There are no qualifications for Mary, the mother of the Son of God. No prerequisites of special pregnancy care, no parenting classes, no special Hebrew writing exams, no noted lineage from the house of David or social class for Mary.
Simply Mary, a young virgin chosen by the God who chooses whom God will choose. Mary was probably going about her daily routine life when it happened.
Gabriel, who stood in the presence of God Almighty, came to Mary, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
Mary, perplexed by the angel’s words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Gabriel: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
Favor? Favor is the grace of God. It is by the grace of God that Mary was chosen. As Abraham is chosen by this same God, Mary is chosen to be the mother of the Person who will save the whole world from start to finish.
Mary: (asking the scientific question everyone wants to know still) “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
Gabriel, pulling out the holy book of the birds and the bees, said: “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.” “Go, see Elizabeth. For nothing will be impossible with God.” The angel Gabriel came to both Elizabeth and Mary in the daily routine of life.
God comes to us in the mundane.
The everyday becomes sacred.
4. With an insufficient explanation of the mechanics of it all, at least to me, I think I would have needed it in writing with a Rabbi’s signature to validate this child bearing announcement.
But not Mary, Mary said, “Okay!”
Mary said, “Here am I, the slave of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Maybe John of Damascus, a theologian of the eighth century, was right when he wrote, “Mary’s ear was the bodily organ of the miraculous conception of Christ.”
In a sense, is that not what we are called to do, hear the word of God and say, “Here am I, the slave of the Lord;
let it be to me according to your word”?
5. God’s angels come to each us in different way, in different forms to tell the word of God to us and call us to act on God’s behalf. It may not be to give birth to the Son of God physically; yet, to give birth to the Savior Jesus spiritually in the life of another.
Then receive God’s call as Mary did:
“Here I am, slave of the Lord,
let it be to me according to your word.”
Conclusion: A little over twenty years ago, our church, Hermitage Presbyterian Church, participated in a program called Room in the Inn hosted by Donelson Presbyterian Church. We would give an overnight home to homeless men from downtown Nashville, Tennessee. Long before the church service one Sunday morning that Fourth Sunday of Advent, Jeff McCann, Van Moffatt, and I assisted as drivers to take the ten men back downtown for the Room in the Inn program. After breakfast with the men, while we were driving back downtown, one of the three men, who road with me was a Hispanic American with black hair and a beard. I said, “Hi, I am glad you are riding with me. (I shook his hand back when we could shake hands safely.) My name is Jim. It is good to meet you!”
With a smile and a glow about him, almost a halo, the Hispanic American said, “My name is Gabriel.”
I looked into the gentle brown eyes of Gabriel and considered the possibility of my standing before Gabriel in a Hispanic homeless man in the basement of Donelson Presbyterian Church.
Impossible? Is it? God called Mary and calls us to the impossible,
to hear the word of God and live out that word in our lives. God comes to us in many different ways in the daily routine of our lives and speaks to us, possibly through the angel Gabriel. Keep your ears open wide. For who knows when God’s messenger is coming to you; listen for Gabriel.
When Gabriel comes with the word of God to you,
may you follow Mary’s bold lead and respond,
“Here am I, the slave of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”