Blessed before she said yes!

Text: Luke 1: 26-38

So here we are, the 4th week of Advent. For some this season of preparation has seemed like 4 days, while for others it has seemed like 40 weeks! The church is positively pregnant with anticipation for the coming of the Christ, and like any pregnancy, that last week is the hardest to wait through. We’re so very close to celebrating! So very close to the birth of the Christ child, or perhaps to the birth of the new thing God’s about to do in our lives. We want so desperately to join the culture around us in Christmas celebrations….. but…. We continue to wait through this God-pause that is Advent!

We pause today –just a few short days before Christmas- to turn our attention to the grace and the miracle that is Mary’s story and to praise our God who creates possibility through the seemingly impossible and who comes to us through ordinary people.

Before the angels announced Christ’s birth to the Shepherds, the angel Gabriel came to an ordinary 13 or 14 year old girl in small town Nazareth and told her she was favored, that the Lord was with her, and that God was calling her to bear the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises into the world.

This event is a mystery for the ages! Scholars and theologians have long pondered how and why God chose to come into our world in this way. An unmarried virgin! How scandalous!

Mary is a controversial figure. Not only was she young, but she was a “she” in a world that only valued “he”. While she is highly exalted in some traditions, Mary is downplayed by many protestants to the point of almost writing her out of the story … Many protestants think of Mary as the token female figure who completes their Nativity sets and not much more. We take her out of the box once a year, dust her off, and then hide her away for the rest of the year. Mary, the meek.  Mary, the mild. Ever the pretty lady in blue. Yet, according to scripture, the Blessed Mother is so much more!

According to Luke’s gospel, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the best example we have of how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. She modeled Christ-like behavior, true self-less love as she accepted God’s scandalous and risky call. She knew full well that an unwed pregnancy meant social disgrace and likely public stoning. Yet, She said yes! “Here am I! The servant of the Lord!”

She believed God’s word and trusted that there would be a fulfillment. When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, Elizabeth erupted with praise saying, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb …And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord!” Young Mary trusted what the angel said to her, which is more than can be said for Elizabeth’s husband who was a priest in the temple! Of all the people in this story who should have believed, it was Zechariah! And yet,  Zechariah was struck mute because he did not believe that his barren wife would conceive. And yet, Mary, a virgin, believed that she would conceive the Christ. Mary said yes!

She trusted that God was fulfilling God’s  ancient promises to David and to the people of Israel through her virgin womb.  She believed the angel Gabriel when she was told that her son would sit on King David’s throne and reign forever and ever. She knew God’s ancient promises and she trusted God’s present call to participate in bringing those promises to fulfillment.

Mary consented to God’s risky call. She said, “Let it be with me according to your word” just as Jesus in Gethsemane later prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Mary is so much more than the pretty lady in blue, she is one of the first heroes of the gospel and shows all of us how to be a faithful disciples.

It takes GUTS to agree to be the mother of the Christ child! It takes GUTS not to faint at first sight of an angel of the Lord. It takes a lot of GUTS and yes, strength of FAITH to trust God in such a risky call to discipleship. This kind of faith is indeed a gift from God, freely given! Hardly meek and mild, Mary’s example of discipleship calls us to be brave and to trust God even when the odds seem stacked against us, even when God calls us to participate in the most impossible, most unexpected and wonderful future!

Mary is not just a womb. She’s not just a mother. She’s not just an ornament to take out at Christmas time and forget about for the rest of the year. She’s a hero and a model for our own lives of faith.

However, she’s also one of us. And that may just be the most amazing, most unbelievable part of the story of the Annunciation….

The angel Gabriel’s first words to her were, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” THIS truly, is the seemingly impossible good news before the good news of this story. Before the miracle virgin conception, before the miracle virgin birth, came the miracle of God’s favor, the miracle of God’s presence dwelling with simple, ordinary  Mary, and this is good news for us today!

Luther writes in his reflections on this text how shocking it is that God would come down and favor such a simple, country housemaid rather than choose the daughter of the high priest in Jerusalem for such an honor!

Mary was nothing special to society. She was not wealthy, she did not live in Jerusalem, she was a normal teenage girl, nothing super-human. And yet, God favored her. To be favored by God means to be seen and to be blessed.

And according to this text, Mary was blessed even before she said yes!!!

And so are we.

We are favored by God and the Lord is with us. We are blessed and loved by the God who brought all things into being with a word, whose word sparked life in a virgin’s womb, whose word comes to us each day with power and compassion and comforts us each according to our need.

We –like Mary- are not worthy of this favor, not worthy of this incredible grace, but it comes to us just the same!

For many, this is by far the most impossible part of the annunciation story, that God would find favor with and bless someone ordinary, someone so seemingly undeserving of such an unearned honor -someone like us!

But nothing will be impossible with God, so the angel Gabriel tells Mary and us. Nothing will be impossible with God.

Our God is the God of impossible grace, impossible forgiveness, and impossible love.

And now, with Mary, we wait expectantly, to celebrate the day that impossible love was born through…… and into….. human flesh. Amen.

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