In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “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.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The 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. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
My sermon from the 4th Sunday of Advent (December 21, 2014) on Luke 1:26-38. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
So what are you going to be doing at 6:03 pm today?
I know that some of us will be eating or making dinner. Others will be wrestling kids into their bedtime baths. Some will be seeing if the Giants can beat the Rams and a few youth and teens from Christ Lutheran will be busy getting ready for our annual Christmas party later tonight. The amazing thing is that we’ll all be doing something. We’ll be planning, doing, watching, moving – we’re gonna be active. And so most of us aren’t going to notice what happens at 6:03 pm tonight. Because at 6:03, the northern hemisphere of the earth will be tilted its farthest from the sun. Winter will officially start – and we’ll be in the beginning of our longest night of the year. And there’s also a new moon tonight – so once the sun sets, we’re going to be caught in a long, moonless, night.
It kinda makes me want to go home and turn on all the lights, just thinking about it.
And so it’s today – right before we enter our longest night – that we hear this reading from Luke – where the angel Gabriel comes to Mary. This reading is traditionally called the Annunciation and it’s when Mary discovers, for the first time, that Christmas – the birth of Jesus – is gonna happen. And she’s a pretty big part of it.
The text doesn’t tell us what time of day Gabriel met Mary. We don’t know if it was day or night, if she was in her room inside her house, or out in the field or on the street. All we know is that the angel, the angel is on a mission from God, and he comes to Mary. The angel finds her and greets her – saying – “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
What gets me about this passage – about this moment – is Mary. This is how we meet her. We get no back story. There’s no genealogy pointing out her family, like there is in Matthew. We don’t know her age, what she likes to do, or even what she looks like. And the same goes with Gabriel. We know he’s an angel but…that’s it. There’s no talk about big wings or a sword or maybe a bright light. No, we just hear that he’s an angel from God – that he shows up to Mary – and that doesn’t seem to bother her. Mary seems to get that Gabriel is an angel, and that Gabriel is from God. And that doesn’t phase her in the slightest. No, what bothers Mary – isn’t that an angel shows up. What bothers her is what Gabriel says.
The angel calls her favored and that the Lord is with her. And Mary wonders just what that means. And when she finally gives a voice to her questions – she just asks “How can this be?”
Because what the angel says doesn’t match her experiences. What the angel promises doesn’t make sense to her. Mary doesn’t see herself as special. There’s nothing in Luke about Mary’s background that tells us to see her as being anything other than an ordinary young girl in a small town in a part of Israel far from Jerusalem. She lives in Nazareth, in Galilee, in a part of the country far from God’s temple, far from God’s presence, far from God’s light enshrined in Jerusalem.
And Gabriel continues – sharing a story about Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who is too old and too infertile to be with child. And yet she is. Elizabeth isn’t suppose to give birth. She’s not suppose to have a child. In the normal trajectory of how the world works, what is happening to Elizabeth isn’t suppose to happen. But the angel knows God. Gabriel knows that God works in unexpected ways. God doesn’t always do what we think God should do. God doesn’t always aligned with those in power, with those in control, with those who appear to be the most religious and righteous. God has a habit of choosing unexpected people in unexpected places and telling them that the Lord is with them. Gabriel knows this and he shares this with this young girl in the small town of Nazareth. And Mary, as she hears Gabriel’s words, does an otherworldly thing. She believes him. She trusts those words. She has no idea of where these words will take her or where she will end up. She trusts God’s promises – that God knows what God’s is doing by choosing this girl from Nazareth – and Mary commits herself to God’s promise by saying: “Here I am.”
In a moment, after the hymn of the day, I’m going to invite Patrick Kurtz, his parents, and his sponsors to come on up here, in the center of this big step, and stand right by the font. And Patrick, I’m going to ask you some big questions. Important questions. Questions about God and about Jesus and about what we’re suppose to do as we live in this world.
And it’s okay if you’re not sure what all of it means. And it’s okay if you’re a little nervous, or curious, or maybe not sure exactly what we’re saying.
But we’re not here to do anything that God hasn’t already been doing. Like Mary 2000 years ago – when the angel came to her – and said that she mattered to God – God is saying the same thing to you. Patrick, you matter to God. You matter so much that the Holy Spirit saw it fitting to bring you here to Christ Lutheran, today, to be baptized. Any earlier, any later, and in any other place just wouldn’t do. God was active in bringing you, your family, and all of this – together today.
And because God wanted you to be here today, that means God doesn’t want you to stop asking questions. God doesn’t want you to stop doubting. God doesn’t want you to stop being you. Because even Mary wondered. Even Mary got confused. Even Mary was bold enough to ask an angel from God just exactly what was going on. Because the faith journey that you are on Patrick is the same faith journey that we are all on. It was the same journey Mary took 2000 years ago. We are here because God called us – God grabbed us – God chose us first – God said we mattered first and welcomed us into the Holy Family. We’re here because we believe – because we trust what Gabriel told Mary – that God is with us.
The promises you will hear today are a re-affirmation of those promises that have led you and your family and all of us to be here today. And these promises are that no matter how long the night is, no matter how long there is no moon in the sky, no matter how long the world causes pain, suffering, hurt, violence, and death to each other – Jesus is with you. Jesus is walking alongside you. Jesus is holding you tight and not letting you go – because God’s light can’t be overcome.
And, like Mary who believed, we are all part of God’s light. In the long night that our world is in – when some days are so bleak, scary, and awful that it feels as if the sun will never break through – like Mary – we are called to live God’s light out. That means, Patrick, you are about to be given a job – the same job that your parents have – that your friends have – that even I have – and this job is to love everyone. You’re here to follow Jesus’s light, to be a light during the long and cold winter nights – to share God’s story, to fight against injustice, to comfort those who are mourning and sad, and to do all that you can to heal the world rather than cause problems in it.
Now, this job is a hard job. And, sometimes, it’ll feel like an impossible one. There will be times when anger and hatred seems to win – and there will be times when you’ll wonder if you know God or if God knows you – and that’s okay. The journey you’re on is not an easy one. But throughout all of it – trust in this one promise. Like Mary, you are favored. Like Mary, you are blessed. Like Mary, God knows and God loves you. And, like Mary – today, Patrick, you’ll do the hard thing. You’ll join all of us, as part of Christ’s family, and do what we do everyday. We stand here, not because we are perfect or wonderful or awesome. We stand here as people who ask questions, people who doubt, people who get things wrong, and we sometimes don’t love as we should. But we stand here because God brought us here. God grabbed us before we even knew where we were going. And as we go through this longest night – we know we are God’s light in a very scary world. So Patrick, welcome to being part of God’s light in the world. Welcome to being, like Mary, part of God’s future for the world. We’re not going to get everything right – but we’re going to love – because we matter to God. And you matter to God too. And so, lets all together today be like Mary when Gabriel met her in Nazareth. Let’s question. Let’s wonder. Let’s not be sure exactly where God is taking us. But let’s live as Christ’s light because we are favored. We are loved. We are with the Lord. And let’s commit ourselves to God’s promise – to God’s love – and to God’s hope. Let all of us – as God’s people – say “God, here I am. Let it be with me according to your world.”