SERMON 12/20/20 Advent 4, St. David’s Episcopal Church, OKC, OK
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Almost 30 years ago in a hospital in Orlando, Florida in my own hands, I held a new life. My daughter was an incredibly beautiful baby, and she is a beautiful young woman today. She is a world traveler, a fine musician, and most of all, a beloved Child of God. Many of us have had this same experience of holding a newborn; the gift of holding a child, so precious, so small, so fragile, and resting at peace in our arms.
We may remember how dependent they were on us for their very survival. What a responsibility, what a commitment that was to take on. The decision to support a new life is no mere casual, “OK, I’ll do it.” The response to become a parent is a decision that lasts for a lifetime. It is a commitment not only to bring the child into the world, but it is a decisive acknowledgement of the responsibility, to love child throughout the entire journey, even if their path and yours part.
Imagine how the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary felt on that fateful night some 2000 plus years ago. She was probably only 13 years of age, and there in that manger, she was holding in her arms, a baby, but no ordinary child. This infant was miraculously God in flesh, “Immanuel,” God with us.
Mary was no ordinary mother. She is the central character of the story we will hear, and we will celebrate in only a few days. Mary is the purest example of Godly obedience, and faithful discipleship for all of us. However, for some Christians, Mary’s place in the story may be less significant. She has for some folks, become merely a simple figurine in a manger scene, or a mere vessel through which the babe was born. Our sister, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, and is so much more.
In the 5th century, Nestorius, an early church leader, had a diminished view of Mary’s role in the story of salvation. He asserted that the church’s doctrine of the nature of Christ as mysteriously both fully human and fully divine was wrong. Nestorius regarded Mary as merely the bearer of Christ’s human flesh. Most likely, Nestorius would have called Mary, “Christotokos” or the “Bearer” or “Mother of Jesus.” However, the church has taught a higher Christology, or the study of nature of Christ, as fully human/fully divine. Thus, we have held Mary in special regard. The church teaches that Mary was in fact, “Theotokos” or the “Bearer of” or “Mother of God.”
Mary as mother of God in is a mystery that science cannot explain, and even our own intellect cannot fully fathom. This theological assertion has to be one taken on faith that is, as long as we can accept that “nothing is impossible with God.” We believe that God dwelt among us as a baby, as a child, as a man. In this mystery of God’s grace, we must remember that God brought forth creation, God brings forth salvation and the key point to remember it is by God’s initiative that find our very being.
Saying Yes to God
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, a people who are freely offered God’s love, mercy, reconciliation, and joy. We are not forced to accpet that grace, but merely are we invited to accept it and bear it. We like Mary, are offered the opportunity to have Christ in us, but that invitation to say “yes” to God is not an easy one. Mary said, “yes.”
Mary, the Ever Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, “Theotokos” – is a model of discipleship for all of us. From the obedient young woman whom 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 wrote, “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.
God’s wooing of Creation
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) Can you fathom and comprehend that the Almighty God is waiting on us to respond to beckoning call to love. Let that sink in for a moment. God is waiting on us– to respond.
God is inviting us, like Mary was invited, to bring the presence of God into the world through our own lives. We hear that invitation in the command, “Go out and make disciples of all nations.” We hear that invitation in the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We hear that invitation in the command, “’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” The Spirit of God beckons us, with “claims of power and promises of blessing,(God) trembles and waits for an answer. “ (1) Those who bear God to the world are central people in the story of salvation, and like our Sister Mary, we have a place in the narrative of grace.
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; will you say Yes
God waits for each of us to allow our lives to be filled with him, so that through in God’s power and grace, we may birth reconciliation, joy, restoration, peace, and love in a hurting and broken world. The issue before us, the one with which we Christians today struggle, is found in these questions, “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?”
Like for our Sister Mary (Theotokos), God is encouraging us and offering us the great invitation of our discipleship. God’s messenger says, “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.” If we hear that call to bear Christ to the world, and we answer that call, God will empower us, like Mary to offer an answer that is a rousing, and yet possibly reluctant, but most definitely, a clear, 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