God with Mary; God with Us!

December 21, 2014

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Advent 4– RCL Year B
2 Samuel 7:1-11; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Although the Advent wreath prayers today were focused on Joseph, the text from Luke’s gospel is centered on Mary; specifically, the visit that she received from God’s messenger, Gabriel.

From out of the blue Gabriel appears to Mary saying, “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Luke’s gospel gains immediate credibility for me when it tells us that Mary is confused by this greeting. Here she is, a young woman, probably in her early teens, most likely living a very ordinary life. As a girl, she wouldn’t have much influence on what would happen in her life. Her father had already decided who she would marry, which we know was Joseph.

From there, after their marriage, Mary would dutifully carry out the tasks of tending to the household. She doesn’t study or read scripture, but instead prepares the daily meals, carefully adhering to the dietary rules of the Jewish tradition. She makes sure that her husband’s needs are attended to, and there would certainly be an expectation that Mary would have children – hopefully male children, to carry on the family line.

And while all of these things are essential and good, they would not likely earn the greeting bestowed upon Mary this day, “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you.” So, Mary is perplexed.

Day6 - 01Seeing her confusion, this angel sent by God responds,

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Well, as familiar as those words may be to us, sitting here today, having heard them year after year, these words from Gabriel would certainly NOT have cleared up the confusion for Mary.

Although he begins with, “Do not be afraid”, which is nice, perhaps calming, he then tells her that she will conceive a child. I’m pretty sure Gabriel lost her right then. How could she hear anything after that phrase “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,” – for Mary, it’s probably just BLAH, BLAH, BLAH after that. All the stuff about the child being called the Son of the Most High, and the throne of David and the house of Jacob was wasted breath, if you ask me.

Mary’s next question shows her very human response, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
And Gabriel, in an attempt to explain, says,

537442_10200233033101250_2091201868_nThe Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t clearing things up for Mary… but she keeps listening. Gabriel goes on…

And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.

Okay, now he’s got Mary’s attention. Her much older cousin, Elizabeth, who hasn’t been able to have children, is now six months pregnant. Now, that’s news! But, I contend the real clincher for Mary was the final phrase that carries all the weight of explanation. Gabriel ends by saying: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And with that, Mary heard clearly and understood fully that God is God. What’s more, she embraced the reality that God is WITH HER; the ordinary young girl that she is. God sees what Mary is capable of, beyond Mary’s own perception of herself. And trusting in God’s wisdom, Mary responds, courageously, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Now, I always find it interesting that at this point we are told that the angel departed from her. Here is Mary, a young girl who has just accepted this amazing and difficult responsibility. She has no real idea what she’s getting into, and then, as soon as she says “Here am I” the angel leaves. But, what’s essential to understand, is that although Gabriel leaves her, God doesn’t. God was with her then, and would stay with her through it all.

The Advent-wreath lighting prayer we heard last week was about Mary. And with this story in mind, let me re-read what it said:

Today we remember Mary, innocent and powerful, sacred and scared, worried and waiting as the Savior of all grows in her womb. She sings boldly when she might be meek; she bears her role in history with the confidence of a warrior; she is the beginning of a mighty revolution as the proud are brought down and the lowly lifted up.

This prayer articulates the dichotomy of our Christian journey. We are human and have human tendencies, yet we are made by God, and in each of us is God’s divine nature. Mary was human. She wasn’t given any special super-human powers to prepare her for the struggles she would face. She was understandably scared, but also had taken on a sacred task.

We too are called to do sacred things in our ordinary selves. Like Mary, we may not feel “favored by God”, but even if we don’t think so, we still are. Like Mary, we aren’t given special super-human powers to bear the burdens these tasks may ask of us. But, also like Mary, God is with us! God’s presence sustains us. We are able to do what God asks of us, simply because God is with us, and nothing will be impossible with God.

The Processional Hymn today is our call for God to be with us, as a song that prepares the way of the Lord coming into the world. We sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – Emmanuel is translated “God with us”. And while this is the quintessential Advent hymn, it can also be our mantra any time of the year. When we are unsure of our ability to live into the work God calls us to, we can simply say “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

The verses of this hymn contain reminders of “God-with-us moments” and the great things that have been accomplished through God’s power. The verses also hold prophecies of Jesus’ birth, and compel us to live a life in a God-with-us kind of way.

o-come-Emmanuel

1 O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. 

This verse reminds us of God’s acts of liberation, not just for the Israelites, but for each of us that is held captive by self-limiting images of who we are and who we can be. God-with-us helps us through those times of exile when we feel isolated, alone, or excluded. God-with-us compels us to help liberate those who are oppressed and marginalized, because until we are all free, then none of us are truly free, and we are all still wandering in the desert.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

2 O come, O Wisdom from on high, who orders all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
3 O come, O come, O Lord of might, who to your tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times did give the law, in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

When Moses, himself was called by God, even he had feeling of inadequacy, but like him, when we embrace the power of God-with-us, when we allow ourselves to trust God enough, it is then that we are able to hear more fully God’s commandments to Love God and Love Others. These two things will then guide all that God calls us to do.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

4 O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, free them from Satan’s tyranny that trust the mighty power to save, and give them victory o’er the grave.
5 O come, O Key of David, come and open wide our heavenly home. Make safe for us the heavenward road and bar the way to death’s abode.

The prophetic voice of Isaiah foretells of the coming of Jesus, a descendant of Jesse’s tree. He will wear a belt of righteousness and faithfulness will be a sash around his waist. God-with-us clothes us in righteousness that equips us to seek justice for those who are treated unjustly, and faithfulness that empowers us to tackle the struggles of our life by seeking God’s direction and strength.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

6 O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
7 O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace.

Jesus, the King of Peace, desires that we all be of one flock, living together. In an effort to bring peace to all, he spoke up on behalf of the voiceless; challenging the political and religious structures of his time. God-with-us lifts us out of the pit of divisiveness and hatred. It emboldens us to insist on equity for all people; going beyond merely accepting differences, but to actually embrace and admire those differences, recognizing them as another face of God.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

So, in the spirit of Emmanuel, we are all invited to follow Mary’s lead and let God be with us. We are called to carry Jesus – to bring him into the world, and to lift him up, even when it isn’t easy.

And just as we said last week as we lit the Advent candles:

Today we give thanks for the Marys among us, who step out of the roles society has planned; unintended pioneers determined to do as God asks; fearless and fearfully stepping out in faith, and beckoning us to do the same.

And so, joining Mary, we say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” With this declaration we open ourselves to the wondrous things that God has in store for each of us, individually and collectively; the awesome, miraculous wonders that God has entrusted to us.

And in those moments of hesitation or fear, when we just aren’t sure we’re up to the task, keep in mind and trust in Gabriel’s ultimate assurance, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

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One Response to “God with Mary; God with Us!”

  1. Jim Greenwood said

    Beautiful.

    Dad

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