David A. Davis
December 18, 2016
I wonder if he asked anybody else. Gabriel, I mean. The angel Gabriel. I wonder if he asked others first. Maybe in the fifth month Gabriel was sent to some other town around Galilee and the person there said no. The Annunciation in Luke is so familiar, so etched within, so memorized: Gabriel, his announcement, and Mary’s yes. It’s almost like Mary had no choice. The angel, God’s favor, the coming Messiah, the Holy Spirit. But what if someone else, someone before, some other girl said no? Yes, it is true that a theological argument is made in some traditions for Mary’s singularly distinctive holiness. One unlike any other. But other voices would argue for her striking ordinariness; a run of the mill, pretty much like any other, young girl from “no-wheres-ville”. Mary was favored by God precisely because she was so “human”. If that’s the case, maybe someone, maybe a few said no to Gabriel. Yes, yes, I get it, why would God send an angel to someone who said no when God would have known before God sent the angel how the person was going to answer because God is God and God knows everything. I’m not intending to spark one of those never ending dormitory philosophical/theological arguments that some folks crave. No. I’m just suggesting you can’t really ponder Mary’s “yes” without considering how easy it is, how prevalent it is, how timeless it is, for humankind to say “no” when it comes to bearing God’s way.
Gabriel tells Mary that she is “favored” twice. He says it twice but doesn’t really offer an explanation or say why. “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Perhaps that means Mary is favored because the Lord is with her. But it sounds more like part of the greeting to me. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Gabriel doesn’t say why he just goes on with the news about conceiving and birthing and naming. It’s not like Mary had an inkling here. No reference to a nudge or intuition she may have had in her prayer time. Luke tells us Mary was perplexed, puzzled, confused. She was trying to figure out what this sort of greeting, what this “you are so favored Mary” greeting might be. The perplexity favors the Mary as just one of us thesis. As does her question “how can this be, since I am a virgin?” Though it is a “how” question, not a “why” question. Not why, why me.
It’s the “Here am I” that sets Mary apart. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary’s “yes”. Luke then fast forwards the story to Mary’s visit to see Elizabeth. The in utero leap of joy from John, it came just from Mary’s voice, from her greeting. With Mary’s voice and with John’s kick, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She shouts out with a loud cry. You remember her husband, Zechariah, he couldn’t talk at all when Elizabeth was pregnant. His voice was gone because he didn’t believe what the same Angel Gabriel had to say to him about Elizabeth getting pregnant and delivering John. “How will I know that this is so?” he asked Gabriel. The angel wasn’t all that pleased with him, his doubt, his hesitation, his lack of belief. Mary said, “How can this be?” and Gabriel didn’t give her a hard time. Maybe it was because too many had said “no” already. Regardless, don’t miss the stark contrast between her husband who can’t speak and Elizabeth’s shout.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for you. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Blessed are you among women. Blessed is the fruit of your womb. Blessed is she who believed. All with a loud cry. A shout. A joy-filled shout.
Elizabeth’s shout clarifies what it is about Mary. Gabriel wasn’t very revealing on the “favored status” but Elizabeth shout makes it clear. The shout out is not because of any miraculous nature to the pregnancy. It’s not because she happens to be carrying the Savior at that very moment. It’s not even that she is the mother of the Lord as Elizabeth titles her. The shout out, the blessing comes from Elizabeth to Mary because Mary believed. Mary believed that “there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary believed what Gabriel told her. Mary believed what God said to her through the Angel Gabriel. Mary believed. “Blessed is she that believed.”
Not blessed is she who came all this way to see me. Not blessed is she the one whom God chose. Not blessed is she who is pregnant with child. Not blessed is she who is betrothed to Joseph. Not blessed is she who is so young and with child. Not blessed is she who has a lot of explaining to do. Not blessed is she who bears the Messiah of whom the prophets spoke. Not blessed is she who bears the child of whom the angels sing, for whom God’s people wait. Not blessed is she who is part of Isaiah’s sign, a virgin shall conceive and bear a child and his name shall be Emmanuel, God with us. No. No. Elizabeth’s shout? What sets Mary apart? Blessed is she that believed.
I am not Mary….and neither are you. Even if one takes the position that heralds Mary’s ordinariness, there is so little about her that resonates with us. A young Palestinian Jewish girl in antiquity from Nazareth who was visited by an angel and told she was about to be the dwelling place for Son of the Most High. Some, of course, can relate to the pregnancy and child birth and motherhood part…and men, especially male preachers should best just stay quiet and listen on that score. But after that, you and I don’t have a lot to go on when it comes to Mary. Mary the younger. The older Mary who searches for a lost son, and tells a grown son to make some wine, and tries to figure out her son’s unique definition of family, and walks along as her suffering son is forced to carry his cross, and watches in agony as her son dies, and hears another angel tell her and the others not to be afraid that Easter morning…the older Mary offers so much experience, so much more life to latch on to. But this Mary, the Mary of the Annunciation? It’s like she’s relegated to fine art and the best of pageants and the story told over and over and over again.
And yet, here’s the wonder of it all. What sets her apart in Luke, what Elizabeth calls out as extraordinary and sacred and holy in Mary, is what makes her so much like us; she believed. She believed that what the Lord said to her through the angel Gabriel would be fulfilled. She believed that God called her, that God could use her, that God would do a new thing in and through her. That she was to be the dwelling place for a child named Jesus. The Son of the Most High. The Messiah. The Son of the Most High. The Savior of the world whose kingdom would have no end. Mary believed all that the angel said would be fulfilled. Mary believed it and Mary said yes. Well, she said “Hear am I” but that meant yes.
In Jesus Christ God is at work to do a new thing. In the power of the Holy Spirit, God on high comes afresh to bring light to the world’s darkness, to bring peace amid turmoil, to help broken hearts to find joy again, to insure that love wins, and to never let death have the last word. The promise of Jesus Christ breaks forth like a radiant light as a follower of Jesus witnesses to, lives by, acts on, responds to, delivers the endless mercy and abundant grace of God in the ordinariness of life. That sounds like Advent to me. Christ coming into the world through you!
But saying “no” when it comes to bearing God’s way never gets old, does it? It’s just so darn easy, so prevalent, so timeless for humankind to say “no” when it comes to giving birth to God’s kingdom. So easy to conclude that God isn’t at work in the world these days. So common to conclude that since angels and voices and prophets are rare these days, God must be done with us, done with this. So much safer to assume if God isn’t calling you to bear a Savior like Mary, God must not be calling at all, or if God hasn’t blessed you with an idea that can save the world why bother to try at all, or if your piety and religiosity doesn’t make the chart let alone fly off the charts, why care at all. So much more prevalent to think it just doesn’t matter, or what difference does it make, or shrug it all off with a “who am I”. A “who am I” rather than “here am I”.
Believing that God is calling you, and inspiring you, and encouraging you, and making a way for you. Believing that God touches hearts and opens minds and transforms lives. Believing that God touches hearts and opens minds and transforms lives in and through you. Believing that God still yearns for righteousness and justice and peace in the world. Believing that God plants seeds of righteousness and justice and peace in the world in and through you. Believing that God still calls God people one at a time to lead and to risk and to witness and to change and to shout and to serve and to so live. Believing that God still is calling you. That’s blessed. Blessed. Blessed.
You and I bearing God’s way, birthing God’s kingdom, delivering God’s promised new thing. Mary’s not the only dwelling place. She’s not the only dwelling place for a child named Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come. It’s the Advent prayer.
Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come in and through me.
Here am I.
© 2016 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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