The fourth Sunday in Advent
Just days from Christmas
Listening to a story most of us have heard many times before.
We know what is going to happen as soon as we hear
“the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth.”
The angel announces, Mary says yes.
No surprises here.
And we know what comes next.
A baby in a manger.
Traditions of trees and cookies,
posole and posadas,
luminarias and hand-held candles and Silent Night.
But perhaps if we take a closer look at Mary and her story,
we will find something there that we need to hear -
a word that speaks to us in the midst of our busy and often stressful lives.
The gospel story today begins with a blessing
Before Mary says Yes to the angel Gabriel – says yes to God’s plan –
she is blessed.
The first thing the angel says to Mary is,
“Greetings, highly favored one. The Lord is with you”
God sees Mary
God loves Mary
God has work for Mary to do – to be a blessing to the world.
Mary is often hailed as an ideal.
There is even a Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary was immaculately conceived,
so that at the moment of her physical conception she was miraculously freed
from the taint of original sin.
I guess the thinking is that a sinful human being could not possibly carry the divine Son of God within her body.
But I think that misses the point of the Incarnation.
I think the very point is that Mary is a regular person.
Especially in that time a place,
a young unmarried woman was a person with no status or position at all.
Yet God chooses her.
Just as Jesus will choose his disciples, not from among the rich and powerful,
the wise and learned, but from ordinary fishermen and even despised tax collectors – and even women!
The point is that God chooses to bless and use ordinary people for God’s work.
People a lot like us.
As familiar as this story is to us,
it is the first step in God’s most amazing, unexpected plan.
God chose to become Emmanuel – God with us.
And God chose to come, not as Ceasar or Pharoah, a god-king elevated above the people –
but as a regular, ordinary person.
God becomes incarnate, takes on flesh to live a human life,
and in so doing God affirms the holiness of human life.
God chooses an ordinary young woman to be the mother of Jesus
– just as God has chosen the lowly and ordinary throughout history to do God’s work.
Even King David was chosen by God when he was a young shepherd boy.
Some scholars have pointed out that Mary’s conversation with the angel is a lot like the stories in the old Testament when God chooses a prophet.
Think of Moses.
God appears to him in a burning bush, and says, “do not be afraid.”
Like Mary, Moses is skeptical at first – “how can I do this task? I cannot speak for you!”
Like Mary, he does agree to God’s plan – and his actions change the world.
Remember Isaiah, who sees a vision in which God calls him to be a prophet.
“I cannot do that!” says Isaiah. “I am an unclean man, from an unclean people!”
An angel purifies him with the touch of a coal to his lips,
and he becomes a prophet, speaking God’s words of love and judgment to God’s poeple.
In a way, Mary too is called to a prophetic task.
I like this idea of Mary as a prophet, whose message from God is Jesus.
She is called to bear the Word of God in her very body,
to bring that Word into the world in a new way.
Mary is skeptical, too.
How can this be? she asks.
I think she is wondering not only about the physical reality – I have not been with a man!
- but about how it can be that God has chosen her to do this thing.
And here is the question – did Mary know what she was agreeing to when she agreed to go along with God’s plan?
And the answer is, of course not.
Any of you who have parented a child know that there is nothing predictable or simple about a baby – especially once it becomes a toddler – or a teenager.
The angel doesn’t tell her that Jesus is heading for a cross.
But if there is one thing we can be pretty sure of,
it is that Mary is a faithful Jewish woman.
She knows the stories.
She knows the kind of people God chooses to do God’s work.
And she knows the outcome aren’t always easy.
But Mary, like the prophets, is willing to commit herself to this God,
who often works in unexpected ways.
She is willing to embrace a new future, of which she has little understanding,
based solely on the fact that God had seen her.
God knows her.
God loves her.
And God has work for her to do – work that will change the whole world.
And so it is with us.
We like to think we know what is going to happen next,
that we have it all worked out.
We like to think that God will answer our prayers in the way we expect and hope for,
and we will continue on our merry ways
But we, too, know the stories.
The Bible stories – and our own stories.
We know that God often shows up in unexpected places,
bringing something new when we have given up hope,
or calling us to a new challenge when we were going a different direction.
Sometimes God just shows up - in a smile or a flower or a sunset or in music or art or a million little ways - to let us know we are seen and loved, when we least expect it.
Our stories, too, begin with a blessing.
God sees you.
God knows you.
God loves you.
That is one reason we baptize infants –
to remind us that it is God who chooses, loves, and blesses us.
Before we have a chance to prove ourselves.
Before we either succeed or fail.
Before we do much of anything, God sees us and loves who we are.
God splashes us with a blessing.
And then, then God invites us into the work of carrying God’s blessing into the world.
May each of us learn, with Mary, to say “Here I am, the servant of the Lord” when God calls.
Thanks be to God.