Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Let It Be

Sermon Notes for December 24, 2017

Read 1 Samuel 7:1-16 and Luke 1:26-38

As Protestants, we tend not to spend too much time talking about Mary. Sure, she gets a spot in the nativity play, but she usually doesn't say much. The focus is always on the newborn baby and those who have come to praise him.

Yet Mary is a remarkable person in her own right. She shows a faith and courage that few other people in the Bible manage, and at the same time, she was a completely ordinary girl. She was not someone of wealth or power or prestige. She just was a girl engaged to be married.

We have to remember that, she was likely between the ages of ten and fourteen at the time that the angel comes to her. Women married as soon as they could have children in those days and she was already betrothed. So when we talk about Mary in these Christmas stories, we have to remember that we are talking about a likely thirteen year old girl making this decisions and taking these risk.

Thirteen. Do you remember what you were like at thirteen? Do you remember the kinds of decisions you made at 13? Would you have been able to say yes so easily to this great responsibility that God asks of her? I'm thirty-six and I don't think I would be ready now, let alone when I was a teen.

And we can't forget what saying yes to God meant for Mary. She is not yet married, and so there was no legitimate reason for her to be with child, for this community. "God gave me a child" will seem like an excuse, not an explanation. Now, in our day this might be a small scandal, but in Mary's day it would have been earth shattering.

Part of the problem is that Jewish law took engagement seriously. The Jewish law said that if Joseph died, Mary would be a widow. If they separated, it was called a divorce.A pregnancy outside of marriage could result in a charge for adultery and the penalty for adultery is death by stoning. Saying yes, could very well have been a death sentence for Mary.

This is largely because at that time law protected male interests. Conversely, a husband's infidelity is punished only if he takes another man's wife. But a wife who commits adultery commits a "great sin". She would be severely punished.  Her husband could forgive her, but he could then divorce her leaving her penniless and disgraced.

Now in Luke's version of the nativity story, the angel never tells Joseph what is going on so he doesn't know about the divine purpose his future bride has been given.  Joseph doesn't come onto the scene until later. In Luke's version, Mary is alone after she says yes, knowing that if Joseph doesn't like it, it could very well be her life on the line.

Her pregnancy would be a disappointment to everyone in her hometown. Most of all, her parents, her betrothed, her rabbi. Even if Joseph forgave her when she told him, she still would likely to have been shamed in the community.

And yet she still said yes to God. Without hesitation. Without questioning. I can only imagine the kind of courage that would have taken this young girl.

In direct contrast to this, the gospel of Luke begins with the story of John the Baptist's birth announcement to his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was old and barren and yet the angel comes and says "You will bear a son."

Zechariah, who is a priest in the temple, doesn't believe the angel and asks for proof. Mary, an ordinary girl, asked for an explanation of what was going to happen to her, and then gave her willing consent.

Zechariah, the religious professional doubted God, but Mary the peasant girl believed, and her trust in God's word opened the door for God to bless her and to bless the whole world through her.. Unlike her biblical ancestors she didn't try and wiggle out of it. Unlike Moses, she didn't try and say that she had a speech impediment. Unlike Jonah, she didn't hop on a boat in the opposite direction. Unlike Abraham and Sarah, she didn't laugh. She said "Let it be with me according to your word."

Then despite everything she is facing, Mary sings this song of celebration to God. "My soul magnifies the Lord," she sings despite an unknown future. She sings of the changes God will make and of a world turned upside down. It is not the most reassuring song perhaps for a soon-to-be mother, but it is a song that glorifies God. And that is how Mary lives, for God first and then herself.

"Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word." I wonder what the world would be like if more people responded to God's interruption in their lives like Mary did.

Because Mary models the kind of reaction we should have to divinity's disturbance in our lives. She wonders and ponders. She questions and considers. She answers in awe. And Mary's reply to God's call understands that fear is characteristic of our response to God when God disrupts our lives. Because God still calls us today.

I want you to look around you at the people in our congregation this morning. Each and every one of them are also favored by God and through whom God plans to do marvelous things. Because each and every one of your has been brought into the work of bringing about God's kingdom. Each time you reach out to someone with a word of compassion or an offer of help you bring that kingdom closer. Every time you stand up on behalf of someone else, and speak words of love to a world that is hurting, God's kingdom grows. Each and every one of you is being called by God, even if most of you won't get your own personal angel to come and tell you so.

Take just a moment or two right now and imagine where you will go this week. Think about what you will do, or who you will meet. In each of these circumstances God is noticing you and blessing you so that you might be a blessing to the world in turn. God works through each of us for good in the world if only we will say yes.

Mary exposes how we tend to react to God's intrusion in our lives. Because God's interruption is often thought of as inconvenience. God's impossibility is all too frequently met with disbelief. And God's intrusiveness is all too frequently met with resistance and control.

But, when God breaks into our world, into our lives, our response needs to be Mary's -- who says, "Here I am, the servant of the Lord." Because when God intrudes, how can you not? I mean, what else is there to say? God intrudes when God must. God intervenes when God's Kingdom is in peril. God interrupts injustice. God interferes when power oppresses. And so we say, "Let it be with me according to you word."

Mary was only a peasant girl living in a time when that meant she had no power at all, and she said yes to God's call.

How can we do anything less?