In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Every year I marvel at Mary. I seem to have a soft spot for her. Maybe this comes from my early years in Catholic schools, where Mary is very highly revered.
In my teen years, when the Spirit called me to renewed faith in Jesus through the Lutheran community, I quickly discovered by rather stern words at times that “Lutherans don’t pray to Mary or worship Mary like the Catholics”. There was a fair bit of judgement and smugness in those words.
I could see the point. We don’t pray to anyone except Father, Son and Spirit because we don’t need to. The Father, Son and Spirit are the only God we live in and for. But need we be so judgemental of others and smug in ourselves? I know we don’t.
Later on, I discovered that there are many Christians, including many Lutheran Christians, who are not in the Catholic community, who highly regard Mary, including Martin Luther. They don’t at all raise Mary up as a god or a Saviour. But they do marvel at her unique place in God’s story; her unique calling that no one else got or ever will need to get again – to be the one who conceived, carried and bore the Saviour of the world in her body, and did so with a willing heart of faith, which Luke shows us again here.
Luke wants us to see Mary as THE model of faith; she shows us how we live this life in God’s choosing; in the Spirit’s moving; in the gift of grace by faith.
But it didn’t start out that way.
God, the Holy Trinity, turns up in Mary’s everyday life with a life-changing and rather ominous announcement. The ‘Most High’ God, by means of his Spirit announces the Son. Mary will be the one who bears this Son.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of a big announcement about you by someone else? Maybe your Dad said to you when you were a young man as you looked out over the paddock with the rest of the family there, “All this will be yours one day, son”. In your heart you felt exhilarated to receive such a gift, and then you felt the heavy weight of the gift – the expectation, the hard work, the problems that will come with the calling to live with this gift.
Maybe as a kid someone said in the classroom one day that “You will go far, young woman”. You felt excited to be so highly regarded, but worried about living up to this expectation. You were not sure you could meet the high standard set.
Mary’s mind must have been racing; her heart jumping.
But the “Most High” keeps speaking. And because he keeps speaking his words of promise, Mary can move to a more settled and faith-filled place.
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God.
So what I am being gifted and called to is a gift of favour not rejection, blessing, not curse; a gift of love and kindness for me. That helps ‘calm the farm’, as we say.
“So, what is this gift, this calling that my life is going to be all about from now on?” Mary, surely asked.
Oh, nothing much – just a biologically impossible and socially illegal pregnancy that will make living in small town Israel very tricky. And a gift that puts her in a vulnerable and often dangerous place in terms of health for any young woman in ancient times (pregnancy).
And then of course, a bit of ‘world domination’ – a new King that has been promised for a thousand years arriving now to bring in all that stuff they talk about in the Synagogue and down at the big city Temple; stuff about a new kingdom across the world that will outlive the world! Nothing much!
Not surprisingly, Mary finds it hard to deal with being chosen for this calling.
She knows about the birds and the bees and this is not how it works! Gabriel outlines how this impossible calling will happen. He even brings in the news that Mary will not do this alone. Her cousin, Elizabeth, will be on the impossible journey with her for support.
So, what is Mary going to do with being chosen for this impossibly huge, world changing, life changing calling?
She could try and run away like Jonah did. It did not work for him. Maybe she knows it won’t work for her. God will make his promises stick. They will be fulfilled in his world’s future.
She could try and make all the excuses that Moses made in front of the burning bush when the Lord called him to a similar impossible task of facing off against the superpower, Egypt – bit like asking the Federal minister for Trade, Simon Birmingham, to go to China and demand that the Chinese Government take our top quality products!
“I’m too young”, Mary might say. I can’t speak well enough. I don’t know enough. I don’t have enough power. No one will listen to me. No one will believe me……”.
Mary probably knows Moses’ excuses well. When God calls there is no excuse we can put up that God would accept to revoke his call or his promises.
Mary trust. Mary models what it is to live in this gift of God’s promised bright future for us and his world in Jesus. This is what Mary shows me and why I marvel at her and marvel even more at the Lord.
Why can she live in this faith? Why can she even get to a place of peace with all this uncomfortable choice that will alter her whole life? Why can she end up saying;
“I am the Lord’s servant,”….. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”?
Only because of one thing; one truth; one bankable basis for all of it and all of her. It is the foundation Christmas, and the whole Christian life of faith:
“…..no word from God will ever fail.”
No word from this God; Father, Son and Spirit, will ever fail; ever be unfulfilled; ever return without doing what it was spoken to change.
Trust in this one truth; this one gift; this one foundation for all of our lives, makes for a life of faith.
Only because Mary hears this awe-inspiring truth; that no word from God will ever fail, can Mary be at peace and take her place – her very unique place – in the living, breathing, human promise of our God to stay in this world, stay with his people, see his long promises through to their rightful end and give us the hope we need at this time.
Can you sense hope again today? God is speaking into our COVID world. He has been all year.
God is still calling you for his impossible calling – to bear him, to speak him, to share his words of love and hope at this time and in this Christmas.
This calling we share – like Mary and Elizabeth shared: to announce what Father, Son and Spirit have done in this cattle shed and on that cross and out of that tomb- is impossible for us to bear.
Mary knows this, first hand. It will not be your words, your loves, your visions, your brains, your gifts that will keep you when the going gets tough, the task gets too much, the ‘results’ don’t look great, the ‘progress’ is too slow, the expectations to high, the pride too great, the fear too deep.
Mary heard that her life support, her heart, her present and future survival, and the world’s survival and hope beyond all the mess and pain is this Word – this Living Word of a living God who speaks and breathes and cries like a baby.
“For no word from God will ever fail.”
Now we go into COVID Christmas. We go into it with Mary. Go into it with a hope and a peace that says
“I am the Lord’s servant,” ….. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
May the will of our God, who loves his world enough to enter its human womb, bring to birth unshakable trust in his calling on your life so we bear him well this Christmas. The world needs it. We can trust him as Mary trusted.