This Sunday I will be preaching on the announcement of the birth of Jesus from Luke 1:26-38. The choice of the topic was, in the end, a no brainer. We just came back from church camp and the leaders wanted some sermons to encourage members to serve. And since it was the Advent season the sermon must have some reference to the coming of Christ. And so I will be preaching on Mary, model disciple.
I will have to resist temptations to over psychoanalyse Mary. Did she really know that the conception was to be immediate? Or did she think that the promised child would be the first off spring from her pending union with Joseph? If it is the former then indeed she ran the risk of losing Joseph and being ostracised by her community or worse. If not, her response would be a bit more puzzling.
And I am not sure how developed was her theology when she encountered the angel Gabriel. Did she have all the theological nuances of the virgin birth worked out? Luke, writing some time after the fact, had a much better vantage point to work out the implications from his vigorous and thorough investigation (Luke 1:1-4).
But this much we know. One moment you are a simple peasant girl going about your duties. The next you learn that:
*You have found favour with God.
*You are to carry a child named “God saves.”
*This child will be miraculously conceived.
*Miracles are no problem with God. Elizabeth, a relative long past menopause
is in her sixth month of pregnancy.
Quite a lot to process for anyone. Yet one thing was clear. Mary knew who she was and what she had to do.
“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be done according to your word.'” (Luke 1:38a TNIV)
There were many things that Mary may not have been clear about. But she was clear that she was God’s servant. And as God’s servant the only appropriate response to any initiative from the Lord was “yes.”
As Charles H. Talbert commented in his book Reading Luke, “…Mary is depicted as a believer for whom God’s word is enough… Her belief led to an absolute self-surrender to the divine purpose.” (p.22-23) Indeed, for Luke Mary’s claim to fame is not the fact that she was the earthly mother of Jesus. Her claim to fame is her initial obedience that set the whole process in motion. Luke would have this to say later in the gospel.
“As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He (Jesus) replied “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.'” (Luke 11:27-28 TNIV)
We need to hear this word again. The angel Gabriel approached Mary at a very difficult time for God’s people. Israel was under the Roman yoke. Pagan forces reigned with absolute authority in the land and God’s people were seemingly helpless. Yet when we least expect it, God shows that He is on His throne, He is sovereign over history, and working out His purposes. And that He chooses the most unlikely candidates to be channels of His salvific purposes.
Here then is the take away from Mary’s story. At times when evil seems so powerful and God’s people apparently helpless, we must remember that God is still sovereign and active and that His name is still Jesus, “God saves.” We must remember that He still chooses the most unlikely candidates to be His partners. And that all He requires is that His candidates say yes. He will supply the miracles.
There are many reasons to be discouraged this Advent. Every day brings fresh news of a shooting here, a bomb there, innocents killed and maimed. Everyday evil seems to get its way, the forces of good apparently helpless. We live in times not that different from Mary’s.
Yet today, as then, God is sovereign and working. He is approaching the most unlikely people to be channels of His saving miracles. He is approaching you and me. All He asks is that we say “yes.”
It may be worthwhile to remember that the Roman empire that looked so strong and undefeatable in Mary’s time has long since gone. But the weak and vulnerable baby that came from Mary’s “yes” continues to save and spread His saving rule throughout the world. Things are not always what they seem. God’s word will not fail (Luke 1:37).
This Sunday I will probably end my sermon by pointing out that Mary’s yes resulted in the joy expressed in her song recorded in Luke 1:46 – 55. This is a spiritual secret the saints have known throughout the ages. When we say yes to God we look upon in amazement at what He can do through the weakest among us. And then there is the joy. When we say yes to God we enter into a joy that cannot be expressed, except perhaps only through song. We enter into a joy the world can never give.
This Christmas there is much to weigh down our souls. But we remember Mary and remember that God is on His throne and working out His purposes. This Christmas we recommit ourselves to those purposes. We say “yes” to His call upon us and discover/rediscover hope and joy.