4th Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who gives us our true identity. Amen
Yes it is the morning of Christmas Eve,
and this is one of those odd calendar years
where the 4th Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve,
which falls on a Sunday,
so we made the decision to pause this morning
before the traditional festival of this evening,
and observe Advent 4,
and in a way this is the true spirit of advent,
the spirit of active waiting,
the season that reminds us that there are things to do
before the great anticipated event.
And the thing we have left to do this morning
is to consider Mary.
In a sermon on Luke chapter one
the Rev. Dr. Rosalyn Nichols remarks that
“In our rush to get to the baby we overlook the momma”
If we rush right to the baby in the manger
we overlook the person
who made it all possible,
the one who received a visit from the angel
and accepted the task set before her
and in doing so finds her voice and her God given purpose.
Now this might seem like a different picture of Mary than we’re used to,
especially in the protestant tradition
where we have deemphasized Mary
unlike our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters
who have elevated her.
When we generally discuss Mary,
we remark on the fact
that she was a young girl,
not yet married, not significant, meek and mild,
and we make all the things that she is not
the significant characteristics of her role in the story
and we turn her into a passive vessel into which Jesus is poured.
But when we pause and take a closer look at Mary
on this 4th Sunday of Advent
before we head to the manger and the baby
we find that she is far from passive,
she carefully considers what the angel,
the messenger from God tells her,
she asks questions
and in the end she consents to participate in the plan God proposes
and in doing so she finds her voice and her true identity.
When we are first introduced to Mary
it seems like she considers herself the way we portray her,
of no significance,
Luke tells us that she is puzzled by the angel’s first words
“Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you”
and ponders what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel’s initial words recall to Mary who she is in God, favored.
God does not see her as the world sees her,
or even as she sees herself,
God sees her as a child of God
who is capable of whatever God has in store for her.
It is only after this reminder
that the angel moves on to those classic angelic words
‘do not be afraid’
It’s a little odd that these are not the first words out of the angel’s mouth.
In angelic appearances, ‘do not be afraid’
is usually said in response to the fear of the person
to whom the angel has appeared,
and receiving a messenger of the Lord is a fearful event.
In fact when Luke tells of the appearance of an angels
to Zechariah and to the Shepherds
the first thing we are told
is that they are terrified,
and the angel responds ‘do not be afraid’
And yet Mary doesn’t seem too thrown by the appearance of the angel,
she is quite matter of fact about the event
and her questions have to do with what the angel says
rather than the appearance of the angel.
Her capacity to accept the awesome and terrifying before her
is quite astounding,
and perhaps that’s just what God saw in her
because the rest of her life
will be spent taking in stride circumstances that would give others pause.
when the angel tells Mary who is not afraid
‘do not be afraid’
the angel invites her to boldly, without fear,
accept the awesome message and role that will change the future of the world,
and once again reminds her that she has found favor with God,
God has seen that she is the one for this,
then the angel lays out the fantastic plan
where Mary will conceive and bear a son
who she will name Jesus,
who will be the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel
and who will have an everlasting kingdom.
Instead of rejecting this outright,
or laughing at the many absurdities of the plan
Mary goes straight to the technical details,
‘how is this going to work?’ she asks the angel,
spotting some biological obstacles,
the angel explains that the Holy Spirit will take care of things,
tells her about Elizabeth and her miraculous pregnancy
and reminds her that nothing is impossible with God.
And Mary consents to the plan
saying: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
She then goes to Elizabeth,
we didn’t read this part,
but she goes to Elizabeth who through her own miraculous pregnancy
affirms the even more miraculous nature of Mary’s situation
and the transformation of Mary’s view of herself is complete,
she has gone from being puzzled by the greeting of the angel naming her favored
to bursting out into song,
“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for you lord have looked with favor on your lowly servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the mighty one has done great things for me and holy is his name.’
And now, having found her voice Mary goes on,
spelling out, or singing out rather
the implications of what God has done in her for the rest of the world.
“His mercy is for those who fear him, from generation to generation, he has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
There’s that Christmas song out there that asks
‘Mary did you know?’
Yes, Mary knew.
She knew that God was about to transform the world,
because God had just transformed her.
Mary knew that because God used her,
that power and privilege, age, training even self understanding
doesn’t matter to God,
what matters is how God sees us,
and what makes a difference
is our ability to see ourselves as God sees us.
When we do that, t
he world will turn toward God
instead of away from God,
and then yes, the powerful will be brought down,
the hungry will be fed
and money won’t matter
because we will see ourselves and others as God sees us.
Oh yes, Mary knew.
In our rush to get to the baby
we’ve often overlooked the momma.
I know I’m not going to make that mistake again.
May we have the courage and capacity of Mary
to accept the awesome and bold invitation of God
to find our voices and God given true identity. Amen
Here is the link to the fantastic sermon by Rev. Dr. Rosalyn Nichols
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.