Sermon; Christmas Eve, 11 p.m.; Luke 2:1-20
At services this morning (earlier today also being the Fourth Sunday of Advent) I preached on the bravery, confidence, and decisiveness of Mary. This was appropriate because our gospel lesson for Advent IV was the story of the Annunciation – that time in history when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a son who would be called the Son of God.
When the angel appeared before her, Mary did not tremble in fear. Mary listened to all the angel had to say and made the life-changing, world-altering decision to allow God to work through her and trust that God would be with her. In short, Mary fearlessly stared down an angel, agreed to become the Theotokos, God-bearer, the Mother of God, when most people have trouble simply talking about God, and she was willing to carry out a mission that could very well get her killed.
Far from meek and mild, Mary was hard core. She was fierce. She was feisty. She was a bad mama.
Tonight we come to worship God. We come to celebrate the birth of God made man. We come to hear the stories and sing the hymns. We come to experience a bit of peace in a chaotic world. We come to partake of a holy meal instituted by a man born in a stable in a town whose name means, “House of bread.”
But besides all of these reasons as to why we come, and besides recognizing the fierceness of Mary, there is something else going on in this story that we need to pay attention to today. To do that, though, I need to go beyond just tonight's gospel passage and look further back into Luke and over into Matthew as well.
Scripture tells us that the virgin Mary became pregnant out of wedlock. Engaged to Joseph but not yet married, she finds herself in a dangerous predicament in which the father of her child is not the man to whom she is engaged. As I said this morning, one possible outcome of these events could have been a death sentence. And yet fierce Mary agreed to let this happen. Fierce Mary agreed to stare down death.
Joseph, as you might imagine, was rightfully upset. But as Matthew tells us, Joseph was righteous, not legalistic. Legally he could have had Mary executed. Instead he chose to “dismiss her quietly” so that she and her child could have a chance at life. Eventually, with a little angelic prodding, Joseph believed Mary and became her husband and father to Jesus.
When Jesus was finally born angels appeared to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. After a few terrifying moments when they had to be told to fear not, they heard the story of Mary and the birth of the holy child. They also believed the story and traveled into town to pay their respects.
We are here tonight because, on some level, we also believe the story. We may or may not believe all the details of the story, but we believe THE STORY. We believe that God became man through the willingness of fierce Mary. We believe that child grew up to become the same Jesus who died on a cross for our sins.
We believe the story of God. We believe the story of a young, yet-to-be married woman. We believe. And this is where this story can speak to us today.
We have been inundated lately with stories from women who have shared their experiences of abuse and misconduct at the hands of men. From Hollywood to Washington, DC, in corporations and in churches, women are speaking out. The #MeToo movement is a movement of stories – sad, hurtful, powerful, and shameful stories – but the stories of women nonetheless.
The responses to those stories have been varied. They range from immediate termination to defiant denial, victim blaming, and any number of responses that fall somewhere in-between. There has not been one universal response.
As unfortunate as that is, it is also a fairly typical response to any story we hear. Some are believed outright. Some are patently ignored. Some are taken with a grain of salt. Some are researched. Some accuse the storyteller of lying. But with accusations of abuse, very rarely will someone invent that charge. And woe to us if we treat all those who have been abused as if they are the extreme minority who make it up.
What do the stories about the abuse of and misconduct toward modern-day women have to do with the Christmas story of an angelic visitation to a young virgin and the birth of God made man? Maybe more than we might originally think.
The story of Mary is that she was visited by the angel Gabriel, that she miraculously conceived a child despite being a virgin, that she gave birth to the Son of God, and that Joseph and the shepherds believed. Tonight we not only celebrate this story, but we proclaim that we also believe Mary's story.
The women of today have stories to tell. They may or may not be as amazing or outrageous as Mary's story, but they are almost always as true. And for women to tell those stories they also need to be as brave, decisive, and fierce as Mary.
This Christmas we have the opportunity to give the gift of belief. We gave it to Mary; we should do no less to the women of today.
So no matter what happens out there, the gift this church gives you is that in here you are believed.