Luke 1:26-45 3rd Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert 14 December 2014
We have been discussing the gifts of Christmas – hope, peace, joy, and love. Today we read the story of Mary, the one who received the gift of God in all its fullness of joy, despite her concerns. We talk about receiving gifts, but all hail to Mary. She received the best gift of all. She caught in her very own womb, God’s miraculous fullness to transform all of creation. She was chosen to be the mother of God with us, Immanuel. Let us pray: Ave Maria.... Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
For some of us that prayer is as deeply inbedded in our souls as the Lord’s Prayer. For others of us, only the sung version, Ave Maria, is part of our repertoire. Mary is the greatest example of human faithfulness. She represents the person I could become, were I to be as receptive to God’s will as she was. Jesus was fully human, fully divine. I cannot relate to being fully divine, even though through the power of the Spirit I am able to grow in Christ-likeness. But I find it easier to relate to Mary, who fulfilled her calling by being receptive to God in her body, mind, and soul. Receptive to God in body, mind, and soul.
Protestants often resist praying the Hail Mary prayer because we have been taught not to worship or pray to Mary. But I think Protestants might grow in respect for Mary by attending to this prayer, as it relates to our scripture today. The first part of the prayer is the greeting of the angel. “Greetings, favored one is the same as Hail, Mary, full of grace, or graced one.” Then the second part of the prayer is Elizabeth’s greeting, mother of John the Baptist, who says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” But it is the third part which makes some Protestants uncomfortable. “Pray for us” Yet I invite you to notice that we’re not praying to Mary, but asking for her prayers, in the same way we might ask for anyone to pray for us. Of course, Mary is the consummate saint in heaven. So if you believe in the communion of saints, then perhaps you are okay with asking for Mary’s intercession.
Hear the prayer again, this time the way the Eastern Orthodox Church prays it: God-bearing Virgin, rejoice! Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have born the Savior of our souls. Mary was called in the early church, the “Theotokos” which in Greek means “God-bearer.” Her womb is said to be more spacious than the heavens because she held there and nourished with her own flesh and blood, the God of love, the One who made the heavens and the earth.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God." 38 Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her. 39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." (NRSV)
Imagine Mary’s surprise at the message of Gabriel. She was a young teen girl, and as was customary in the day, she was promised/betrothed to Joseph. Imagine the challenge of telling Joseph – fortunately, he had his own visitation by an angel in the night, according to Matthew. Young women who got pregnant accidentally were not just scorned – they were subject to abandonment and sometimes torture. And yet this young peasant girl, not powerful, not expected, was the favored one, the one chosen to carry the Messiah, to contribute her own chromosomes to the Son of God. Why? Because she trusted. She heard the message of the angel. She responded faithfully, despite her doubts.
If Jesus was just a great prophet, a highly visionary teacher/leader, then Mary is just an ordinary woman. But if you have a high Christology, if you believe that Jesus was fully divine as well as fully human, then what Mary contributed is amazing. That her body could contain all the holiness of God is overwhelming to imagine. Mary trusted from the beginning and she had to trust through to the end. No one has ever been closer to Christ our God than Mary. The one she carried had a special purpose far beyond her own love. She had to make a huge sacrifice to allow him to be for the world, and not just for herself. This required deep trust on her part – to permit him to have his identity with God his father, and not just with her, his mother.
The beauty of God’s love is that it is never coercive. We have to be willing and ready to receive it. That’s what Mary was able to do to the extreme – to be receptive to God, able to trust God and allow God to do whatever God wanted to do with her.
One of my favorite carols is O Little Town of Bethlehem. In the last two verses, we hear these wonderful words.
“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.
O holy child of Bethlehem descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell.
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.
Can you be pregnant with the power and presence of God? Yes, I believe you can. Christ can be born in you. Let me remind you of the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus about these matters of being born twice. 3 Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. (Joh 3:1 NRS)
Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he says, it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. (Gal 2:20 NRS)
And in the letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul or one of his followers prays
that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 1 (Eph 3:17 NRS)
Jesus Christ dwelt in Mary’s womb. Christ dwells in our inner selves, as we live according to his Spirit. It is no longer we but Christ in us.
The Angel Gabriel said to Mary when she wondered how she could be mother of the Son of God, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will over shadow you.
Mary responds, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Supreme act of trust. God, whatever you want with me. With most of us, our prayer is “Let it be with me according to MY word.” We pray to God, telling God how WE want it to be. Mary prayed that it would be as God wanted it to be. That’s faith. That’s trust. And, in the end, that’s joy for all the world. Nothing is impossible for those who allow God to work in them and through them, who are willing for their own personalities and wishes to be over shadowed by God’s.
Maybe it is not so surprising after all that God so often chooses the powerless to accomplish great things. It is easier for those who have no stature in the eyes of the world to listen to and abide by God’s will and to believe that God can do impossible things. The powerless are much more likely to acknowledge the presence of angels and to be radically open to God’s will and way, rather than insisting on their own way. Mary became the new Eve. She is the woman who undid the great disobedience in Eden by her great willingness to do just as God wanted.
So in summary of the Annunciation, Mary receives the comfort of HOPE as she hears from Gabriel, “Do not be afraid, God is with you.” She receives the promise of PEACE, as she hears that she, an unlikely, powerless person, is favored by God and will give birth to the Son of God. Like many in the Bible who are called by God, she initially questions, “How can this be?” But then having heard about her relative Elizabeth’s equally unlikely news of a coming child” she agrees that God can do the impossible and says, “Let it be with me according to your word.”
(slide) And she quickly travels to visit Elizabeth, filled with hope and peace. As soon as she enters the doors of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house, she receives the joyful confirmation of the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth, filling Elizabeth with knowledge and joy before Mary even says a word. We too need the confirmation of others who see that we are called, who announce to us what we were afraid to say ourselves. Elizabeth knows and even her infant John is jumping for joy in the womb. This reassurance fills Mary with the confidence to sing her famous song, the Magnificat, which we will read on Christmas Eve.
Mary demonstrates the joy of trusting God, even under difficult circumstances. We too can be called upon to do things that at first seem ridiculous, impossible. Like Mary we can move from doubt to discipleship. Mary went from lowly peasant to powerful prophet. Mary went from being an ordinary girl engaged to Joseph of Nazareth to Mother of God, Christ-bearer. Blessed is she who believes that God’s word is trustworthy. She brings joy to the world by trusting God, by believing, despite all reasonable fears, that God can do things that seem impossible. What child is this growing in Mary’s womb? Elizabeth knows, “She says, “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should visit me?” Blessed Mary, Hail Mary, for you trusted in God and brought into the world a Savior. Joy! Joy! For for Christ is born, the babe, the Son of Mary.