Sermon; Advent 4B; Luke 1:26-38
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Today is the fourth Sunday of our preparation for the coming of the Messiah. And today we hear from the ultimate preparation story, that of what we refer to as “The Annunciation.” In this story the angel Gabriel appears before Mary to announce that she will bear the Son of God.
Today I want to focus on Mary and how she might help us in our Advent preparation and Christmas celebration.
Over the years Mary has been ascribed a variety of traits and characteristics that may or may not be true. My goal here isn't to debunk stories and ideas of Mary as much as it is to challenge our assumptions and maybe give her character a little more depth.
Those assumptions about Mary include the idea that she was a young teenage girl, that she was passive, maybe that she had no choice, and that she was “meek and mild.” There are probably others, but that will give us a good start.
Mary may or may not have been a young teenage girl. There is ample evidence that she was – the use of the word virgin certainly implies a young teenager, along with our understanding of the social constructs of the time in which girls were married at much younger ages than men, give evidence she was a young teenager. Add to that the fact she was engaged, which means this was probably a family arrangement. So yes, she could have been a young teen.
But then again, she may have been older. Certainly not Elizabeth-old, but old enough to have developed a strong sense of self. Consider: when Gabriel appears to Zechariah, the first words he says are, “Do not be afraid.” When an angel appears before the shepherds, the first words are, again, “Do not be afraid.” And in both those cases, Zechariah and the shepherds are described as being terrified at the angel's appearing.
Not so with Mary. The first words to her are, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” And Luke records that she was perplexed, not afraid. So it's possible Mary was older, braver, and more self-assured than a young teenage girl.
As to the assumption that she was passive or had no choice, I will say this wasn't the case. The first clue we get is that she pondered over the greeting of the angel. She pondered. She thought. She tried to make sense of what was happening. She just didn't sit back to observe what was happening without any thought to the matter.
As the gears are turning in her head about all that Gabriel is telling her, she doesn't ask for proof like Zechariah did, but she asks for clarification. “How can this happen under these circumstances?” She reminds me of the girl in the GE commercial who sees a problem (trash, lawn mowing, etc.) and continually asks, “How will this work under different circumstances?”
Mary is always thinking.
And Mary did have a choice. God always gives us a choice. An angel could have come to me and said, “You will become a priest of God. You will move your family multiple times and you will end up on the East coast far from family and friends.” Had the angel said THAT, my answer may well have been, “No thank you.”
But Mary, after hearing all the angel's words, said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” She not only had a choice and said, “Yes,” but she is more gutsy and brave than I would have been.
And speaking of gutsy and brave, Mary was certainly not meek and mild. She faced down an angel without fear. She agreed to being part of God's plan to actively involve himself in the world as he had never done before. And this young, as-yet unmarried woman agreed to become pregnant in order to help fulfill God's mission on earth. Young, unwed, pregnant women have a hard enough time here in the 21st Century U.S. Imagine the difficulties and fear she may have faced in that time and place; not the least of which was a possible death sentence.
When Gabriel tells her to not be afraid, it isn't in reference to his presence, as it was with Zechariah and the shepherds. Rather, this, “Do not be afraid,” is looking forward. Do not be afraid to let God work with you. Do not be afraid of how you may be treated. Do not be afraid of what could happen. Do not be afraid because God is with you.
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent we hear the story of Mary. It is the story of a confident, responsive, brave, and decisive woman of valor. Mary was Mulan, Merida, and Moana all rolled into one real-life amazing woman. In short, Mary was one hardcore, feisty bad mama.
As this season of Advent comes to a close we would do well to follow Mary's example to answer God's call and to be not afraid of where that will lead us. For as we hear in another gospel story, God is with us.
And, really, isn't this what we've been preparing for?