When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.”
Then Mary said, “In the depths of who I am, I rejoice, in God my savior. God has looked with favor on the low status of this servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is God’s name. God shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honor God. God has shown strength with a mighty arm. God has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. God has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. God has come to the aid of Israel, remembering mercy, and the promised made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
Gold, Circumstance, and Mud
The Magi, the shepherds, the donkey, of course, Joseph, and even the inn keeper are all important to the Christmas story. But, outside of Jesus himself, I think Mary takes center stage. And in this fourth Sunday of Advent, the day when we celebrate the love of God come down to earth, I think it’s no accident that Mary is the star.
Why? Well, because when she hears the call of God, she responds. She’s a model of faith, servanthood, discipleship, and hospitality. I mean, in the Annunciation, the first part of our reading, Mary hears an incredible message. ! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. And of course, Mary asks, as any of us would: “How could this possibly be true?” The response, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Now, the point of this story isn’t whether or not it’s literal or symbolic, in other words, let’s not be bogged down in the virgin birth debate or whether or not stars stop over particular buildings. I don’t think that the message we need to focus on today. Instead, we’re invited to consider who God calls rather than the circumstances surrounding that call. What do I mean by that? Well, we need begin by to remembering that Mary was call an ordinary young woman. She wasn’t a princess or a queen, she wasn’t a great warrior or scholar, Mary was an ordinary teenage girl who, within the boundries of her ordinary daily life, was invited to see and do something, extraordinary.
But what might doing extraordinary within the ordinary look like in our world? Well, there’s an old story about a man who was home with the children one afternoon while his wife went out Christmas shopping. He was reclining on the couch, half sleeping, half watching a football game, when the kids came into the room. “Dad, we have a play to put on? Do you want to see it?” Now, he really didn’t want to, but he knew he needed to, so he sat up, came out of his slumber, and became a one-man audience. His four children, four, six, eight, ten years old, were the actors: Mary, Joseph, an angel and a wise man. Joseph came in with a mop handle. Mary came in with a pillow under her pajamas; another child was an angel, flapping her arms as wings. Finally the last child, the eight year old, came out, with all of the jewelry on that she could find in the house, her arms filled with three presents. “I am all three wise men,” she said. “I bring three precious gifts: gold, circumstance, and mud.”[i]
Now, here’s the really amazing part of this story. The father didn’t laugh, as you might expect he would, and he didn’t correct his wise young daughter. Instead, the father began to reflect on the extraordinary meaning behind those mis-understood words and how they somehow got to the heart of the Christmas story. I mean, God loves us for who we are: our gold. God loves us no matter where we find ourselves on the journey: our circumstances. And finally, God loves us in our brokenness, transgressions and mistakes and stubbornness and all: our mud.
The Christmas story reminds us God chose an ordinary human being–Mary—someone like us, to be the vessel through which God would become a little more accessible to humanity. What is impossible for us is possible with God. God can take our gold, our circumstance, our mud, and do something awesome with it. So this, in a nutshell, is the Annunciation. God’s calling to humanity. [ii]
But remember, we have two parts to today’s lesson. There’s also the Magnificat! Humanities’ response. In the text Mary says, ” … God has looked with favor on the low status of this servant.” In other words, Mary is saying, “I am an ordinary person, I’m not perfect, and yet, God has chosen me for this.”
My friends, the good news of the gospel is that when God begins to look for us, God is not looking for perfection. God chooses ordinary people like you and me, God loves the unlovable, and God welcomes everyone, no matter what country we come from, no matter what color our skin, no matter how we choose to worship, or how we voted, or who we love.
My friends, when all is said and done, the most important thing we can take-away from Mary’s story is that God is love incarnate. I always say at the end of my service, “God Loves You” and that’s true. But it goes even deeper than that, God is love itself. God is the embodiment of love. God is love come down to earth, born in a manger, embracing the most vulnerable with the security of love, healing the most broken with the wholeness of love; and calling each of us to be bearers of love, proclaiming and sharing it to all the ends of the globe.
Let me conclude my remarks today with a blessing. May each of you be surrounded and infused with the love of God. And may that love move us to overcome the challenges of this pandemic, may that love call to us to stand against the racial injustice that still favors the privileged and infests our systems of government, may that love challenge all of us to come together, to unify, even when we disagree, to become one people under God. And, my friends, if we hear and respond to love’s call, we can do these things, we can find unity within our diversity, we can bring justice to our neighbor and peace to our shores, and with God’s love we can endure the struggles of our times; and it’s then, then that we will truly be, ordinary people doing extraordinary things. My friends, nothing is impossible with God, …nothing. Amen & amen.
[i] James Moore Won’t You Let Him In? (found in “An Advent Study for Adult”, pg.30)