Mary: The Advent of a Child
| Luke 1:26-56
||Sun, December 19, 1999
Rev. Ed Searcy
|"We're expecting". When someone says this it can, in purely grammatical terms, mean just about
anything: "We're expecting a phone call ... a package ... a visitor ... you." But it doesn't. When a woman says "I'm expecting" we know it can mean only one thing ... that she is expecting to give birth to a baby. "When is it due?" we wonder. And the mother says "I am in the third month" so that we can calculate the rest (let's see, nine take away three equals ...). Notice that Luke dates the arrival of the angel Gabriel at Mary's doorstep by calculating when it occurs during her cousin Elizabeth's pregnancy. "In the six month" ... says Luke ... in the sixth month of baby John the Baptist's growth in Elizabeth's womb the angel comes to tell Mary the news ... the news that she is expecting a child.
Mary cannot believe it ... cannot believe that she is expecting. "How can this be?", she asks. It is not possible. Women do not have children on their own. Babies don't arrive 'out of the blue'. It cannot be. But the angel Gabriel is insistent. Yes, Mary is to give birth ... and not just to any child, but to one who will rise to the throne of King David ... one who will reign over a kingdom that will have no end. The Annunciation. That is what we call this brief scene. It is the moment when the angel announces the good news to Mary. If you look carefully at your new Church Calendar you can even find this holy day marked ... right there on March 25th, 2000 ... nine months prior to next Christmas. Now here we are, six short days from the birth, listening to the news ourselves ... and, like Mary, wondering what to make of it.
Of course, we are used to receiving amazing, unbelievable news. "Buy a lottery ticket, win the
big one, live happily ever after". "Shop today, no payments until the next century". The
'advertisements' for Christmas that the Junior class are sharing with us this morning go against the grain of the many 'annunciations' that we hear and see and read during the Christmas rush. They announce that Christmas is not to be found in the boxes that lie wrapped beneath the tree ... nor in the bills left to be paid in the new millennium. They remind us that to believe in Christmas is to believe in something even more unlikely and impossible than that. These ads created by the Junior class point to Jesus as the 'impossible possibility' at the centre of our celebration. And they remind us of the very first Christmas ad ... the Annunciation given to Mary by the angel Gabriel.
The ad ... I mean the Annunciation ... startles Mary. "Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with
you." Mary, says Luke, is perplexed by such an introduction and ponders just what it can mean.
'Favoured one'? Mary has, apparently, done nothing particularly noteworthy in her life. There is no mention of great faith on her part ... no great acts of charity, say, or of a deep and rich spiritual life. She is a young Jewish peasant girl married to one of King David's thousands of descendants. 'Favoured'? Mary must wonder why. She is not alone in this. Our Protestant ancestors wondered, too. It is one of the reasons that they removed statues of Mary from their churches and stopped the practice of venerating Mary in the church. They would be aghast to see this carved statue of Mary here, in this Protestant church, this morning. It would remind them of what seemed a misplaced favouring of this one woman ... and for what reason?
Of course, there is no 'reason' for Mary to be 'favoured'. This is precisely the point. The Greek New Testament is clear on this matter. There you will find that Gabriel actually says "Greetings, graced one". Mary is selected by God not because she has earned the right to bear this Anointed Child. Her pregnancy is purely a gift of God's amazing grace. Or as Gabriel puts it later in his sales pitch: "For nothing will be impossible with God". This will be the story of Jesus' life and of his death. It will also be the tale of the Acts of the Apostles. It will be a story of impossible healings and miraculous feedings, a tale of captives escaping prison and of Jesus' rising from death. Gabriel is not only telling Mary about her pregnancy ... he is alerting her to what is about to take place through her child ... namely, the impossible possibility of God's kingdom breaking in upon the ordinary, everyday world.
And Mary says 'yes'. That is what she says. 'Yes'. "Here am I, "she says, "the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word". With this the angel Gabriel leaves ... because with this the angel's mission is complete. Mary accepts the message as the truth. Mary is the first believer. She believes that she is miraculously pregnant ... but more than that, she believes that in her God is doing an extraordinary new thing. So convinced is she that Mary's song - the Magnificat - is written not in the future tense ... not even in the present tense ... but in the past tense. God "has shown strength ... has scattered the proud ... has brought down the powerful ... has filled the hungry". All this and the baby has not even been born yet! But, then, Mary does not look that different than us, gathered here on this fourth Sunday of Advent ... singing joyfully that God has triumphed over death and defeated evil even as we wait, expectantly, for the 'long-expected Jesus' to return and for history to reach its final destiny.
Do you see why so many statues like this one have been carved in Christian history? It is a votive
statue that has made its way here by a tortured path from its original home in a German church.
Donated to the Vancouver School of Theology a number of years ago, no one knew what to do
with it. After all, what is a Protestant school to do with a statue that venerates the mother Mary? That is how it came to find a home in Gerald's office ... where she stands each day, facing a statue of Martin Luther! If you look closely you can see that Mary is holding a church ... in fact, she is holding the very church which she once stood in. Statues such as this one were made especially for each congregation. Imagine her holding the Chapel of the Epiphany in her arms and being called 'Our Lady of University Hill'. Why? For protection? Sure. But more, as a reminder that Mary is the first believer ... she is the first one to say 'yes' to God in Christ ... she is, in other
words, the founder of the church and a symbol of the church.. Mary, a humble peasant, favoured
by the grace of God to bear the Body of Christ in the world. Not that different, I might say, from
the people who make up many a congregation like this one. And look, Mary stands on the great
dragon pictured in the Book of Revelation. She tramples down the forces of evil which had once
so tempted woman and man in the garden of Eden. How? By responding to the news with one
To be Christian at Christmas is to join Mary in saying 'yes' to God. Can it be true? Can it be as impossibly possible as this: that those who, by the grace of God, hear the message and believe it become themselves the bearers of the Christ in the world? Who knows how Mary finds it within
her to place her trust ... to place her life ... in God's hands. Who knows how we come to believe
that, in Jesus Christ, God has already upended the proud and mighty and is even now uplifting the
lowly and the hungry. Who knows, indeed. But this we do know. Gabriel is right: "Nothing will be impossible with God"!