Advent IV, Year B sermon
December 21, 2008
Joint service of The Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler, St. Elias Arabic Christian Church, and Immanuel Lutheran Church
The Rev. Laura Gottardi-Littell, preacher
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38 (The Annuciation)
Have you ever felt like people couldn’t really hear you or see you? That they had already made up their minds about who you were, so they couldn’t get to know the real you?
I know what that feels like. And when I tell you my name you will know why. My name is Mary of Nazareth.
Last year at this time you heard from my husband, Joseph. He told you some things about what it was like to be married to me and about our son, the one we called Jesus.
Now it’s my turn.
I hope that despite all you know, or think you know about me, that you can hear my heart speaking to you tonight. For I am a real person with a real story, not just a great lady up in the sky, nor on the other hand, just a vessel through whom God came into the world.
People overlook sometimes the ordinariness of Joseph and me. It was clear that God had something incredible in mind and wanted our help. But Joseph and I were just people. In these many years since the angel came, people have said extraordinary things about our son, about me. Some of these things amaze me, others honor me deeply, some dismay me. Some things make me laugh, like the meek and mild part. I think you should ask Joseph if he thinks I am always meek and mild. :-)
We were not flawless. We were not rich or famous. We didn’t come from a big, important city like Jerusalem or Athens. I was only 13 when the angel came. Joseph was a carpenter.
How can I tell you what it was like, those many many years, when the angel spoke to me? I was so young. I was very frightened and very calm at the same time. I knew it was going to be incredibly risky, and sometimes extraordinarily painful. I also knew it was a risk I needed and wanted to take. The angel – how can I describe it – radiated the realest joy, the most beautiful peace. It would have been so hard to say no to that.
People talk a lot about how I said yes to God. About how I submitted my own will to God’s. But I was not ordered to do God’s will. I was not treated contemptuously, like a slave. I was given a choice, offered a chance to be more than I was. A path was opened for me on an amazing journey, one that would teach me and many of what it means to live, not just survive. It was a way to help turn the world.
The angel asked me to do something that would magnify God, make God’s greatness known. And in the process I too would be magnified, made more than Mary. But God’s ways of greatness are very strange. Later my son would talk about this often. He said the one who would be master must be a servant to all. The last will be first, and the first last. Such strange ideas about greatness. This magnifying business, it turns out, has a lot to do with humility.
And humility, which means being grounded, being secure in who one is, is different from humiliation. If someone asks you to do something that is humiliating for you, I am quite sure that is not God’s will. God may permit it but God does not wish it. God’s will for us, male or female, is that we each might see, like under a magnifying glass, our true worth. God wants us to experience both our humanity and the spark of divinity within.
The ordinary, the extraordinary, God can use it all.
Through Joseph and me, God made something extraordinary possible.
And if you allow God to work through you, things can happen in a new and different way. Although my story may be special and unrepeatable, it is also a story about being open to God. In that sense, it is all of our stories, yours and mine.
Are there things that seem impossible for you right now? Things that seem hopeless, or at best very far away? I am here to say all manner of things are possible with God.
It doesn’t mean following God will make everything easy. We were scared to death when the angel came, as well as hopeful. Joseph and I had to deal with what our families would say when they found out I was carrying a child,. We were not married yet. We wondered, would they believe us, or throw us out? Would they make sure I was killed, to protect their honor? The risks were enormous. But that angel, the love and the peace…it would have been hard to say no to that. And Joseph stayed by me, took the risks with me, defended my honor. And so he has earned my deep love and respect.
If you have a child,, or raise someone else’s child, you know something about taking a risk. When you say yes to a child, you take part in something holy, joyful and difficult. You join forces with something more than yourself. There are big hopes, big fears. Someone little now looms very large, and you are both servant and master. Some say it is like playing God, but with less sleep. There is serving and suffering, but also such joy.
It was like that with Joseph and me, but bigger I guess, magnified. So many hopes and fears. I wondered often, could I do right by this child who was truly a child, but also a king? Was I big enough to help him turn the world? Knowing what he would suffer, could I live with my guilt in bringing him into the world? Because the angel, while full of glad tidings, also hinted at real trouble. Was I willing to walk with my beloved not only through this, but also through that? [Pointing to icon of Madonna and child, and and then to statue of Pieta with Mary holding adult crucified Jesus)....
...There was such a cost to this loving.
I chose to trust God, And in the end things came about as they were meant to. And yes, if you are asking, I would do it again. I think.
If there is a special message I could offer you today, it is this: Trust God. Be open. Even if something completely unexpected happens, even if all your plans for the future get turned upside down, Trust God. Easier said than done, I know. But that is what I wish for you. It’s what’s meant by the peace that passes understanding.
Maybe there is a new beginning in your life. A child, a project, a journey, a relationship. You are excited and frightened, sometimes all at the same time. This is when you need to pray. Hard. And breathe. Give birth to the new beginning.
And remember you don’t have to do it alone. My son was called Immanuel, “God with us.” It may seem sometimes God is very far away. But God is with us. God may not send you an angel, as He did for me, but God can speak through both friend and stranger. God speaks too through Scripture, and through communities of faith. And if you get quiet and listen, you may hear God’s voice within you, still and small.
I guess you could say things worked out for Joseph and me, following the plan the angel brought so long ago. Many things were possible I never thought could be. May you too be open to the possibilities of God, the ways God might be asking you to help turn the world.