Mary received a gift before she gave one.
Fourth Sunday in Advent (Year B) – Sunday, December 21, 2014 – Luke 1:26-38
St. Jacob’s-Spaders and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“Graced and Gifted” – Pastor Evan Davis
Three and a half days left until Christmas, and gifts are on the mind. But since I’ve been with family this weekend, and will be again later this week, I’m thinking of a certain kind of gift. My little niece Evie has a pointed chin, but her parents do not, so we were wondering where that came from. Sometimes genetics is a mystery! My twin brother Clayton and I, although we don’t look alike at all, we both have the Davis chin – nicely indented. For many of you also, I’m pretty confident, the apple didn’t fall that far from the tree, in more ways than one. From my mom, I inherited a love of history. It’s just who I am – she’d take me to Colonial Williamsburg, or a museum, and I was the kid who read every word of every panel on the wall. I didn’t ask for these gifts, I just got them. I also didn’t ask for her love, I just had it from way before I was born. I didn’t earn her love. I was highly favored in her sight from the moment I first filled her imagination.
She didn’t use these words, at least not that I remember, but surely my mom could have come to me and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” When Gabriel says these words to a surprised, perplexed, and scared teenage girl named Miriam, or Mary, she hadn’t earned anything either. The word “angel” just means “messenger,” so Gabriel is the messenger of God, he’s bringing God’s thoughts right to Mary, face-to-face, and he tells her that God favors her. The word in Greek is the verb form of the word charis, or “grace.” Literally, Mary has been “graced,” by God. She has God’s favor, God’s love and kindness. But the word can also mean a gift of God. Mary has been graced and gifted by God. Notice…she hasn’t said “yes” yet. She hasn’t even been told why Gabriel is there. But like a child carries the family chin, and the love of her parents, Mary, child of God, has the grace, and gifts, of her God.
But God’s favor doesn’t mean Mary will have an easy or pleasant or predictable life. It means she’s been graced and gifted for a life of saying “yes” to God. Of following God where there is no map and no assurance of comfort, only the assurance that God will be with her, God will favor and love her, God’s Spirit will come upon her, and the promise that impossible means nothing when God is working in the world.
Let’s imagine realistically what Mary was dealing with. She is pregnant and unmarried and that is a problem. A commentator points out some of the questions she faced:1 how could she tell her parents? How would she tell Joseph? That is, if he doesn’t hear about it on the streets first! Would anyone believe her story? What would she do now that Gabriel has left, when she is all alone with this incredible, terrifying reality? At best, Mary would become an outcast…a bad girl, shunned by her family and left to fend for herself. At worst, “she risked being stoned to death by the very villagers who raised her.”2 That was the Torah’s prescribed punishment for adultery, and it remains the sentence in far too many places still today. To say “yes” to God here meant putting her reputation, her marriage, her very life, on the line.3
The costs of saying “yes” to God, in the end, are not that different for us. What will it cost us to put our hungry and cold neighbors before ourselves, week after week, month after month, year after year? What will it cost us to ask why they are hungry and homeless, in a society where pointing out that markets aren’t perfect can earn you more than a dirty look? What will it cost us to say “yes” when God is calling us to take on a new ministry, to risk using everything God’s given us – every skill, every insight, every dollar in our bank accounts?
No wonder Mary isn’t sure what kind of a greeting this is! No wonder she’s perplexed how this can be how God treats his favored ones. Maybe we’re perplexed, annoyed, angry, or scared ourselves.
But you see, Mary was gifted with a faith so very much like her son’s himself. Do you hear what she says? “Let it be with me according to your word.” God, it’s your call, but whatever you say, I’m there. Here I am. Let’s do it. It is essentially what her son would say in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.” You may not think you have that kind of trust in God, but listen to what you pray every Sunday, if not more often: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as in heaven.” What a daring, maybe even foolish thing to pray to the God who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty!
Mary was special, but no more special than you. She was a poor girl from a nowhere town, from a common family. She was a human being with questions and fears, just like you. Like Mary, we are favored by our God before we ever know he exists. We are loved by our Creator before we dance across our parents’ dreams. Like Mary, we’re gifted in ways we don’t even realize.
Although often misattributed to Nelson Mandela, the activist and author Marianne Williamson has written: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”4
God believed that Mary was more than adequate, powerful in her faith, gorgeous in her devotion, a fabulous young woman born to make manifest the glory of God in her incredible courage to bear and raise her son, Jesus. God believed this because he was the one who graced and gifted her with his own light. God believes in you, because God has graced and gifted you with that same light. Let it shine.
Christmas happened because Mary said “yes.” Our church and its ministries happen because you say “yes” all the time! God has graced you with his love, with the Holy Spirit who overshadows you, and God has gifted you today with faith and trust and abilities that will change this world. What will happen when we let the words fall out of our mouths too, “let it be with me according to your word?” Amen.
1Debie Thomas, “The Pause Before Yes,” The Journey with Jesus, http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20141215JJ.shtml (accessed December 15, 2014).