By The Rev. Sherry Deets
4 Advent – December 18, 2011
I have a question for you. Do you believe that God is still active in the world? Do you believe that God is still active in our world today?
“How can this be,” Mary asks in Luke’s gospel today, “since I am a virgin?” And the angel replies,
“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 called holy,
the Son of God.” (1:35)
Now, I seriously doubt that Mary had any idea what the angel was talking about. Still, she listened, and when he finished, she bowed her head in humble obedience and said,
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.” (1:38)
In her reflections on Mary, Barbara Brown Taylor writes,
“Mary wins her place in history, not for her cleverness, nor for her beauty, nor even for her goodness. She becomes the most important woman in the world simply because she is willing to say yes to an angel’s strange proposal without a clue where it will lead her. Doing so, she becomes the prototype for all of us who are into invited to bear God into the world.” (Kirkridge Readings and Intentions, Dec. 23, 1990)
Mary gives us one of the best examples I know of a faithful response to an unforeseen and unlikely – and uninvited – circumstance of life:
“Let it be with me according to your word.”
But was that the way it was with Mary? So easy? Before Mary gives that faithful response, imagine what was going through her head. Recall that Luke tells us Mary was perplexed, she asked the angel Gabriel, “how can this be?” I believe she went through a very human thought process.
“Will Joseph stick around? Will my parents still love me? Will my friends stand by me or will I get dragged into town and stoned..? Will the pregnancy go all right? Will the labor be hard? Will there be someone there to help me when my time comes? Will I know what to do? You say the child will be king of Israel, but what about me? Will I survive his birth? What about me?” (Barbara Brown Taylor)
All the angels in heaven couldn’t possibly prepare Mary for what she would be experiencing. That’s just not the way it works. We know that. We have to go through it before we know what it’s really like. The only way we really can understand it is in hindsight.
Notice, also, that Gabriel greets Mary by calling her the ‘favored one’. Keep in mind that Mary is a female in a world that prizes males — an almost-child in a world that reveres age and wisdom – she is a nobody in a nowhere town. God has not prepared her for the appearance of the angel, but sends the angel to prepare her for an even greater surprise. “Greetings, favored one!” Mary must wonder whom the angel is addressing. Luke says that she ponders what sort of greeting this might be. No doubt! We can see the wheels turning! What in the world is happening!
“You have found favor with God”. Nothing is said of Mary’s faith or character — “not a single word describes the virtues or vices of Mary or explains why God might have chosen her. That is, of course, precisely the point: God chooses because God chooses…. Mary is not chosen because she deserves favor, but is favored because she is chosen. As Mary will say in response to the angel’s announcement, God brings down the powerful from their throne, and lifts up the lowly. As Jesus will later say, in God’s realm the last will be first and the first will be last.
So, do you believe that God is still active in our world?
Some of you recall the characters in that classic story, The Hobbit. Gandalf and Bilbo. Gandalf says to Bilbo – “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” Bilbo responds: ”I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anyone sees in them.” -J.R.R. Tolkien, from The Hobbit
In his book, In Christ, E. Stanley Jones tells about a child who had a fan–the kind of fan that we used to find in our pew racks before air conditioning–a light cardboard fan with a thin wooden handle.
An artist said, “Let me have your fan, and I’ll paint a beautiful picture on it.” But the child said, “Give me the fan. It’s mine, and I’ll not let you spoil it!” Stanley Jones went on to say: “How often we tell God, ‘This is my life. You might spoil it if you paint something on it.’ But oh, the unspeakable joy and glory that come when we learn to say, ‘Here am I, Lord, use me!’ Take me on the adventure of life.
Do you believe that God is still active in our world?
You are favored by God. God wants to do great things through you! What might that be? Imagine one concrete place you can make a difference — where God may be at work in you — between now and Christmas. Because the God of Mary and Jesus is still active, I believe God is still at work in the world through us. I do not always understand how and why God is at work, but we can still answer, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your world.”
I close with a benediction by Edward Abbey: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you – beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. – Edward Abbey from the preface to Desert Solitairey
Do you believe that God is still active in the world? Lord, let it be with me according to you word. Amen.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.