SERMON 12/18/11 Advent 4B
Luke 1:26-38 I remember 20 years ago in a hospital in Orlando, how in my hands, I held a new life. My daughter Erica is now twenty years old, a beautiful young woman who is a world traveler, a fine musician, and most of all, a beloved Child of God. Many of us have had this same experience; the gift of holding a child so precious, so small, so fragile, resting in our arms. Recall how dependent they were on us for their very survival. What a responsibility, what a commitment that was to take on. This decision is no mere casual, “OK, I’ll do it.” The response to become a parent is a decision that is for a lifetime. It is a commitment not only to bring the child into the world, but a decisive acknowledgement of the resposibility to be with that child throughout the entire journey.
Imagine how the Ever Blessed Virgin Mary felt on that fateful night some 2000 plus years ago. At probably the age of 13, she was holding in her arms a baby, but not any baby, a baby who was God in flesh, “Immanuel,” God with us. Mary stands as a significant example of of obedience and faithfulness for all Christendom. Because of our Protestant predispositions, Mary though, has been diminished to a place in our tradition that for some, is less than significant. She has in some cases devolved to a simple figurine in the manger scene, a mere vessel through which the babe was born, but she was and is so much more.
Our church tradition has held Mary in special regard for centuries. Early in our tradition, she was known as “Theotokos” or the “Bearer” or “Mother of God.” Like many church traditions, this title for the Ever Blessed Virgin was one fraught with controversy. In the 5th century, Nestorius, an early church leader, had difficulty with the doctrine that Jesus was mysteriously both fully human and fully divine, thus, the title “Mother of God” was for him, unacceptable. Notorious somehow regarded Mary as merely the bearer of his human flesh and thus, he would have embraced another title for Mary, “Christotokos” or the “Bearer” or “Mother of Jesus.” Well, Nestorius was deemed a heretic by the orthodox leaders of the church because the doctrine of the mystery of the Incarnation, is all about God fully present with us in the flesh; Immanuel (God with us).
Mary was the bearer of God in Christ – both fully divine and fully human in a baby, in a manger. It’s hard for us to imagine that, but as scripture asserts, “nothing is impossible with God.” God dwelt among us as a baby, as a child, as a man. In this mystery God, brought salvation to all of creation and the point is, that “at the root of everything it is God’s initiative and grace. We cannot create ourselves, we cannot redeem ourselves, we cannot “ascend into heaven … to bring Christ down” and we cannot * ‘descend into the abyss … to bring Christ up from the dead.” Everything that is comes from God. Every hope we have for the redemption of all things comes from God.” It was by God’s initiative that we are unlikely recipients of God’s favor, people who are freely offered God’s love, mercy, reconciliation, and joy; not forced to take. We like Mary, are offered the opportunity to have Christ in us, but we struggle to answer that invitation with a “yes.”. Mary said, “yes.”
Mary, the Ever Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, “Theotokos” – she is a model of discipleship for all of us. From the obedient young woman the angel visited, to the broken-hearted mother whose tears at the foot of the cross flowed, Mary teaches us what it means to allow the Spirit to work in and through us. Her journey began when she said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” John Stendahl, a theologian, wrote an interesting commentary on Mary’s “yes.” Stendahl commented, “To me it seems as if her yes has transfigured the story, for now it hinges on her word, her participation and presence in the drama. That’s the kind of story the Bible repeatedly tells. The suggested pattern is no longer so much of divine imposition, but a story as one in which Gabriel and God and all the heavens stand in breathless suspense. All history, the salvation of the world, now seems to hang on this one young woman’s answer.” (1) The notion that God imposes God’s will on us is thwarted by this young woman’s optional response to the angel. Stendahl adds, “Mary’s consent subtly recasts the story of power. It is as if the grand God of Israel has become for us—is willing to be for us—like Myles Standish, dispatching Gabriel as a substitute suitor to plead his case. The case may be pressed with claims of power and promises of blessing, but still the ancient one trembles and waits for an answer. Imagine that. Imagine that he’s waiting for us too.”(1) God waiting on us to respond. Let that sink in for a moment. God is waiting on us – to respond.
God in a sense is asking us, like Mary was asked, to bring the presence of God into the world through our own lives. “Go out and make disciples of all nations.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” The Spirit beckons us, with “claims of power and promises of blessing,(God) trembles and waits for an answer. “ (1)
Mary’s place in our tradition and in our hearts is firmly planted. “Mary should have been central and not peripheral. For who better than she illustrated the fact that every one of us is . . . indeed a virgin recipient of God’s purpose and calling? Christianity is the religion of what God has done for us and to us.” We are more than mere passive recipients of Grace, mere holding vessels, simple figurines in the grand manger scene of everyday life. In us, we carry the Christ, the babe, the Spirit of God and we are given the choice to say, “(Yes) Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (2) The late Ronald Goetz, former Professor Emeritus of Theology at Elmhurst College once asserted, “We could do worse than to claim Mary as our patron saint, she who was the simple and pure recipient of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” We are thus left before the Almighty with the challenge and exhortation, “God is awaiting your Yes!”
God is waiting for each of us to allow our lives to be filled with him so that through us we may birth reconciliation, joy, restoration, peace, and love in a hurting and broken world. The Holy question is before us, but we must wrestle with a great deal before we respond. we may ask, “Am I ready to allow the Holy Spirit to transform me?” “Can I make room to grow in a deeper love and commitment to Our Lord Jesus Christ?” When all that we have and all that we are is challenged and we may have to change our path, to look at life through a different lens, to accept the real possibility of change in us, will we be ready? Will we say yes? The messenger is telling us, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will take into yourself the son whose name is Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.
Our answer should be a rousing, possibly reluctant, but faithful and persistent “yes.”
(1) Stendahl, John K. “Mary Says Yes.” Christian Century 119.25 (2002): 16-22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.
(2) Goetz, Ronald. “The Mary In Us All.” Christian Century 104.37 (1987): 1108-1109. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 13 Dec. 2011