A sermon by the Rev Linda Harrison
Advent 4; Dec 23, 2018
Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-55
An audio recording of the sermon is available here.
The angel Gabriel has departed after delivering a bit of surprising news to Mary … unbelievable, actually. The messenger announces that Mary is favored and is chosen to bear God – to which she faithfully and graciously consents – then this same messenger tells her that her elderly cousin is also pregnant. How can any of this be? How can any of this be true? This is way outside the natural order of things.
So, as I imagine the in-between lines of the story, Mary does the only reasonable thing she can think of. She packs up and hurries off to check it out, to see for herself if what Gabriel told her is true. To be honest, I’d run off to check it out, also! Wouldn’t you?
Don’t we, when confronted with the unbelievable, check the facts? Consult the experts? Wait until we can see with our own eyes to corroborate the preposterous?
Mary has just heard the preposterous: she will conceive a child by the power of God and her cousin who is childless and beyond child-bearing age is pregnant. And, Mary sets out with haste and, we can presume, alone. Does Mary think, “This is all so absurd! Can Elizabeth really be six months pregnant as the angel said? If she is, I will be able to tell right away. I will know if what I have heard is true”?
As she enters the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Elizabeth is filled with the power of the Spirit and she extols Mary as blessed for her faith in answering ‘yes’ to God. Elizabeth recognizes that the child her younger cousin carries is the Lord – by the way, the first confession of faith recorded in Luke’s gospel is proclaimed by an old woman living in shame for being childless. Grounded in her faith in God and filled with the power of the Spirit, Elizabeth announces the pregnancy of Mary before it is visible, before Mary has told a soul, before Mary can even believe it herself … and here, in her elderly cousin, Mary has confirmation … what Gabriel has announced is true. And in that moment when Gabriel’s words are verified, in that moment when she is awed and fully open to the power of God’s almighty love and care, she sings!
It all comes together for Mary. God has taken note of this poor, marginalized peasant woman from the backwoods. God has taken note of her disgraced, childless cousin. God takes note of all the ones who are not noteworthy in the eyes of the empires of this world. God lifts up the forgotten and the downtrodden; the powerful will no longer exert abusive power over others. God’s mercy is evident because an economy built on the assumptions of scarcity and competition are replaced with true generosity and parity. God’s justice is wrapped in God’s mercy – none will want, none will abuse, none will be forgotten or left out.
Mary sings, “My soul magnifies God! Because the Holy One has done great things for me, the Holy One will continue to great things! God is our savior!”
Mary’s wonder at and faithful questions about this astounding grace announced by Gabriel are answered: Yes, God can do all things and God has chosen – not a woman of royal lineage or wealth, not the daughter of a monarch – God has chosen a woman of low birth, the poorest of the poor. And Mary answers in beautiful and defiant song of God’s steadfast love and justice.
“Yes!”, Mary sings, “God can and is doing all things!”
Yes, I believe Mary is full of faith and I think Mary questioned. One does not exclude the other. It is her faith that spurs her to action in her questions, to seek out Elizabeth for confirmation. She asks herself, “Could it be?” and in the same breath, “Of course it could, and I know how to find out!”
Mary doesn’t just shrug off the question and go about her business, dismissing Gabriel’s visit as ‘a bit of undigested beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato’. She has a deep and abiding faith in God and when she questions what God can do, she gets up and seeks answers and understanding.
And for that, Mary is blessed by all generations. Yes, this young woman of no account became Theotokos – God-bearer, but we call her blessed because of her faith, even in the questions.
In Advent hope, joy, wonder, and love, on the eve of the celebration of the coming of God in the flesh, let us we bring our faithful questions before the Holy One. Even as we doubt, question, and ponder, we can stand on our faith, however shaky it feels, and sing with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Holy One and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For God has done great things for us and holy is God’s name!”
Blessed be God forever. Amen.