4th Sunday in Advent
December 21, 2014
Luke 1: 26-38
Is anyone ever ready for the things that change your life completely? I don’t think so. Even the things you long for, or the things that you never thought would ever come true leave you stunned, numb, waiting to catch your breath, and make them part of your real life. As many times as I’ve heard this story, I am still amazed at how quietly the Gospel writer lays it out as if it were an everyday occurrence that the mighty Archangel Gabriel himself would appear in the house of a young woman to tell her that she will be the mother of the Messiah, awaited since the time of David, the first King of Israel. As in every beginning of a new life in a woman’s womb, this is a watershed announcement. Her life will never be the same. God noticed her. God favored her. God blessed her.
Mary, the bearer of God, is nearly treated as God herself in some traditions, and almost ignored in others. And I wonder sometimes at how easy it can become to think of her as some other species than the ordinary girls around us, and the ordinary people that we are. Every new pregnancy is a cleaving of a life. Nothing will ever be the same when the baby comes. Everything will become an event that happened before or after this event. When you’ve lived as long as some of us, you realize that there are many such events in a life: births, deaths, diagnoses and pronouncements of remission, graduations, new jobs, new homes. Our world is made up of watershed moments. It’s what it means to be human. It’s what it means to be human.
This baby, announced in this morning’s story will not only change the life of Mary and her fiancé, Joseph, he will be the before and after event of the world. He will challenge the way of the world, testifying that God is present in human history, and able and willing to change the outcome of every life. No matter what we know and experience – joy or sorrow – God knows it too, because God grew up completely human in our world.
In Jesus, God challenged the systems that cut people off from polite society, allow some to ignore the needs of others, allow religion to be used against people, and brought kindness, generosity, and healing to those who were victims of the status quo. In his resurrection from his unjust death, Jesus demonstrated God’s power to overcome the evil that haunts our world and the brokenness that results from it.
We are born anew through the love of God brought to us in the life, death, and rising to new life of Jesus. It is the deepest truth of our life that nothing we do or don’t do can pull us out of God’s new life for us, God’s forgiveness of our failures and self-centeredness. God’s love trumps it all. God’s presence with us is guaranteed. God’s hope for the world is ongoing, generation by generation.
You see, that’s the thing: God saves the world through people. We have been given the power and the command to spread this as Good News. Jesus came to get us, to gather us into God’s family. Nothing that happens in this world is un-noticed by God’s heart, and everything that happens rests in God’s abiding grace. To us who live in trust of God’s promises, that means that we are the agents of that grace and that good news.
God saves the world through ordinary people, like Mary and Joseph, like us. The little things you do because you are loved and blessed matter. They bear the message that God is here, that God cares, that love wins. Who will tell the stories of God’s grace if not us? Who will show how the Scriptures are not just some old stories but living and breathing examples of how God works in the world if not us?
It often strikes me as supremely ironic that God’s presence in the world is mediated by us, God’s Church and God’s people. As if we had some special place from which to work to bear God’s message, rather than being just regular folks who are not always patient, kind, loving, and inclusive, even to each other. No, we are just us, with all our flaws and misguided attempts to do the right thing. And, like Mary and Joseph, God notices us. God invites us into God’s efforts to change the world. God blesses us, favors us, gives us new responsibilities and the transformed hearts to become what God invites us be. We’ve been singing Holden Evening Prayer for the past few weeks, and as I hear this morning’s reading, the setting of the story in Marty Haugen’s song keeps threading through my mind: “The angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, O Highly Favored, for God is with you.’ “ Mary’s not the only one to whom these words are addressed. God has called you to be here, to be part of God’s own people. Whatever was going on in Mary’s heart and mind, she accepted the favor, the blessing, the notice of God, and the challenge to bear the good news. May your answer be the same. Amen.