Jesus For Mary
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

December 11, 2016
Third Sunday in Advent

Luke 1:26-56

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

For many Christians, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is seen as an exemplar of faith, as the very model of what faithfulness to God means.

In Roman Catholic practices, the rosary is asking Mary to pray on our behalf, since she is by her very nature so close to Jesus.

In Greek Orthodox churches, she is often called the theotokos, the “bearer of God.” And like their Catholic counterparts, it is a source of spiritual practices. The prayer is that we, too, could bear Christ to the world.

And these ideas are not unknown in Protestant spirituality. We sing the words of Isaiah, “Here I am, Lord! Is it I, Lord?” Just as Mary says to the angel. When Thomas Coke asked John Wesley what to offer as he left for America as a missionary and minister, John Wesley responded, “Offer them Christ.” In other words, bear Christ to them.

And Mary is known for pondering. When the angel shows up, she is amazed and ponders what it could mean. When the shepherds tell he about their angelic encounters, she ponders these things. And so we have an example of Christian meditation. To take these things in, and ponder them. Not to rush to judgment, or strive to fix everything. To let them sit and to sit with them.

Like we have been doing in our reVision groups, where we take important pieces of our life as the church, and we sit with them and pray over them.

But what was it like for a young woman like Mary? Alan Culpepper explains the marriage customs of the day:

Although Mary was not yet married, she was betrothed. According to ancient customs, the marriage would have been arranged by her father. She would live at home for a year after the betrothal. Then the groom would come to take her to his home, and the wedding celebration would last for an entire week. Legally, the marriage was sealed after the engagement. Thus, if Joseph had died before the wedding, Mary would have been considered a widow.

And Mary would have been much younger than we picture her. Probably 11 or 12 when she was betrothed.

And we have talked about the setting of the New Testament so many times. Israel is occupied by Rome. The peace of Jerusalem is kept by the legions. Troublemakers are punished publicly, often by crucifixion, so that everyone knows who is in charge.

So Mary hears from all sides what it means to be Jewish, what it means to be a young woman, what it means to be under Rome, what it means to be a newly betrothed wife, what it means to be faithful.

Today we hear from all sides what it means to be an American. We hear the news is false, and then we hear everyone is listening and passing along fake news. We hear Russia is tampering with our elections and that someone, somewhere has come up with crazy Constitutional loopholes to change everything. And all of this comes while everyone is nice and calm, not panicked about getting ready for the holidays or anything, right?

But in Mary’s crazy world, in comes a messenger of God. Not just a holy telegram, but Gabriel, an arch angel.

And when Mary ponders what Gabriel means, what does the angel say to her?

“Do not be afraid.”

There it is again. Do not be afraid. Do these words mean anything to an expectant mother? Is there any job description more filled with worry than that of an expectant, first-time mom?

I can speak as a father. I can speak as a father who has loved children so much that my heart has broken. But I cannot understand the love a mother has for a child. There are connections there that fill me with awe.

So we have so many stories coming together in this moment.

A Jewish woman, under the power of Rome, under the authority of men, within a system where marriage and childbearing are the assumed roles she will have as a part of the covenant of God. She does not even have the options of nurse, secretary or teacher, that some of our older generation had when they were growing up.

And Jesus is her firstborn son. All of those very human expectations and connections and hopes and fears are bound up in this child growing in her womb.

And we also have someone to whom the very angels of God have come with a message. A message that the savior so long dreamed about will be born to her, if she is willing.

Where Rome and religion and society all place expectations upon her, Gabriel comes with a message, and awaits her answer.

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”

For Mary, as for all parents, there is the painful job of holding close and letting go.

For Mary, as for all parents, there is what we want for our children, and what our children want for themselves, and what God wants for our children. And part of our job is to let go of the first one, what we want for our children, so that we might help them figure out the third one, what God wants for them.

For Mary, as for each of us, there is the task of pondering. Of holding these things in our hearts, of making room for what God is doing, of coming to where we can say:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”

As Gabriel says,

“Be not afraid.”

For we are a part of God’s covenant. And we too are called to a faith that looks to God in all things, in all times. We are called to call on God to be as faithful in our day as God was in that day. So that we too can sing:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Thanks be to God. Amen.