by Steven Kurtz
Scripture: Luke 1:2638, 2 Samuel 7:111, 16
Last week we noted that interest in angels increases in hard times and that we are in hard times, therefore, angels times. This is another angel story a hard-times piece.
Gabriel gets the call to be the messenger. We could have expected the he would be picked for this assignment he was, after all, the one who went to the prophet Daniel to tell him about the coming Messiah, (or in Greek-ish English, Christ).
Now Gabriel takes a very similar message to a young single Jewish girl, named Mary.
There are some profound differences between the message Daniel received and the one given to Mary; Daniel's did not come with the burden of pregnancy and childbirth.
But the angel Gabriel did greet both of them in practically the same way: Greetings favored one!
Luke signals that we should reflect on this greeting until we make the connection because, even Mary had to wrinkle her brow over it:
29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Gabriel understands that the connection does not come easily, so he repeats the words he said to Daniel:
30 Mary, for you have found favor with God.
The connection is important because the new thing that God is doing, through Mary, must be seen in continuity with the story of Israel Daniel's story; so, same angel, same greeting.
Gabriel says to Mary some powerful words, but before we look at them we must notice something: Mary responded to the angel twice.
The first time was to ask the question, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" and the second time is to say those famous words, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
Both of those responses are possible only if Mary believes that this angelic message has not yet been carved in stone. The "how" question has to be settled first, and then there is the issue of cooperation.
Nobody says, "let it be with me according to your word" to a command from the general. "Yes sir!" is what you say when you have no choice.
Mary did not think she had a silent role; she believed that she had some lines to deliver in this scene. She was under the impression that she could have declined the offer.
After all, it was going to mean pregnancy and childbirth which is still life threatening today all the more so in the ancient world.
It was also going to mean more than a lot of blushing and explaining that would never convince anyone. People in her culture could get killed for what it appeared she had done. (Deut 22:2, ff.)
So, even at the cost of enormous personal sacrifice, Mary makes the choice that she believes is hers to make, and accepts her role as God's servant.
Thinking of yourself as God's servant is ironic because it is always a choice, never forced. It is precisely the definition of a servant that they have no choices, but we always do.
In fact, when we say we are God's servant we are saying yes to God's will and we are saying "I want to think of myself as a person who does God's will so completely that it is as if I did not even have a choice about it."
But we always do.
Gabriel tells Mary what will happen if her answer is "yes."
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Mary's "yes" to God will certainly entail sacrifices, but the result will be nothing less than God's work, start to finish.
The child she will bear and give birth is the one who will finally and fully bring God's presence to us.
32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High,
35 the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
These are opaque names; like glimpsing through ripple glass; they feint towards divinity is that clear? Not entirely so; not yet.
What does this mean? Mary's "yes" to God is the means by which incarnation happened God became human because Mary said "yes."
Part of what the Christmas story means is that God's action in the world is un-coerced; and if un-coerced, then is dependent on people being willing to say, 38 "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
Mary was willing.
So what was God's plan for this child with the God-names?
32 the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
This is a bitter pill to all of those whose hopes and aspirations for God's work in the world is no larger than their little nation.
But to those who are willing to say "yes" to God, he has prepared a kingdom that has no end, a "forever" reign of God.
Mary's "yes" to God opens the door for God to come to humanity, and to bring with him a kingdom which has no limits, across time and across space.
Mary has no idea yet how big this is. She can be forgiven for hearing words about her ancestors, Jacob and king David, and thinking that Gabriel has just made her the mother of the king.
Luke, who gives us this story, however, has the advantage of hindsight: Luke is not Jewish he is Greek. He understands that the fulfillment of these hopes is inclusive of all of humanity.
Mary's willingness to say yes to God's will opened the door to a new thing that God was doing among people: opening the doors of a kingdom that is big enough to transform the world, forever.
Luke knows that the child born to willing-Mary will grow up to be Jesus, God's anointed one, the Christ.
He will show us God's will, he will teach us God's way, he will suffer and die on our behalf, and he will be raised from the dead deserving of those god-names, "son of the most high, holy, son of God."
Luke will write his gospel, and then he will write volume 2, the book of Acts, which narrates the story of the world-wide kingdom of God growing outward from Jerusalem to the limits of the empire.
We will read about that early church and see that people who, like Mary, say "yes" to God and who embrace Jesus as their King are transformed.
They worship together in each others homes, across social and economic class lines unheard of in that time!
They will follow Mary's example of willing sacrifice as they pool their economic resources together to help those in need.
They will organize food distribution and widow-support, they will be agents of healing for the sick and of freedom from people in bondage to spirits.
This Christmas story about the birth of Jesus begins with the "yes" of Mary and the result is huge!
And this is the pattern of God's work in the world; which is where it touches our lives today.
We will probably not meet and angel like Gabriel, but God is calling all of us to commitment. It will not do to be a passive observer.
The Christmas story shows us that the invitation is given: here is what God wants; but God does not consider that invitation answered until he gets a response.
The angel-messenger does not leave until Mary gives him the reply.
She is not a part of God's mission to bring the kingdom of God to earth until she says, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
What would it mean for us to say those words today?
What sacrifice would we be willing to make in order to say those words today?
What lifestyle changes would we need to make in order to say, "let it be with me according to your word"?
What values would change?
What habits would have to be un-acquired?
Is it even possible that people like you and me, normal, middle-class caucasian North-Americans could ever say and mean "let it be with me according to your word"?
The answer is also here in this story. It may well be that such a commitment is impossible for us to make.
But this is not normal story, this is the Christmas story; it is about God doing a new thing in willing people.
We therefore have the courage to ask the question: what is impossible? and hear the angel say to us, 37 "nothing will be impossible with God."
Nothing is impossible with God; even empowering little people like us to make that bold commitment to Him:
"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
We will take a moment of silence now, and I invite you or rather God invites you to reflect on the sacrifice it may require, but to say in all sincerity to him:
"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
Let us pray.
Sermons, Bible Commentaries, Bible Analyses on Annunciation to St. Mary
Malankara World Special on St. Mary
Malankara World Special on Shunoyo of St. Mary
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