December 24, 2017 Christmas Eve
2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16 Romans 16:25–27 Luke 1:39-55
It is interesting how Jesus’ mother’s image has changed over time; even in the relatively short time that I have been alive and aware of her. The statues and images that I grew up with of Mary, which were mostly Catholic, or from Protestant picture book Bibles, made her look like a young woman in her early twenties. Even in the pictures of Jesus on the cross she looked like she was in her twenties. And that always seemed weird to me because if she had been in her twenties when Jesus had been born, she would have been in her 50’s when Jesus died, and people in their 50’s do not look 20. She was always interestingly ageless and unreal.
But then, as I got older and learned about the history behind Christianity, I found out that she was probably in her late teens when she gave birth to Jesus. Most women in their teens do not look like women in their twenties, so all those images that I grew up with were way too old.
Personally I cannot imagine how Mary, as a teenager, processed everything. I understand why we are tempted to represent her in her twenties and NOT as a teenager because when you read the Biblical account she is this calm saintly figure, who is completely accepting of what happens to her. (And teenagers aren’t usually that mature) But what happens to her is so radical and unusual, and puts her in such a precarious social position I can see why we want to make her older than she probably was.
Think about it. Here is a young girl, who has probably never been outside of her home or family influence when she is visited by the angel Gabriel. I think if any of us were visited by and angel we would be terrified! Then Gabriel tells her that she is going to have a baby by the Holy Spirit. I give her points for asking how that is going to be possible. Gabriel explains the process and then Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Now that reply is significant for two reasons. First because Mary accepts the commission that she has been given. You might say that it was already a done deal and that she didn’t have a choice, but actually she did. I think that if she had said that she couldn’t do the task that God would have found someone else to work with. God doesn’t take away our free will. Mary is told what is going to happen, but then she agrees to be a part of God’s plan.
Second, in the acceptance of being a part of God’s plan, even though she might not have realized totally what she was getting into, shows a great deal of courage.. For her to become pregnant is to break one of the big cultural taboos of that society. She was already engaged to Joseph and when he finds out that she’s pregnant he has every right to have her stoned to death for infidelity. The fact that he plans to send her away quietly shows him to be a very kind, merciful person. Her life would basically have been over as a respected member of society. And I am sure that in the close-knit society that she lived in she must have known the possibility of that happening.
But she still says, “Yes.” So you have to ask – where does that courage come from? It comes from her faith, which must have been pretty strong and abiding before Gabriel showed up and had that in depth conversation with her. Her calmness, even during a radically unusual spiritual encounter, and her ability to respond with faith in God shows me the level of trust that she has in God and His ability to be with her while she sees this through.
Methodism says that our faith is built on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. I am sure that Mary, while she couldn’t read knew about her Torah, Law, and other stories. She was surrounded by her Jewish traditions, and I am sure she had the faculties to reason what was right and wrong. But I am sure that the experience of talking with an angel topped all of that.
Mary’s story is also our story of what happens to our faith when we encounter the divine in our lives. Most of us are not asked to radically put ourselves on the line when do encounter God. But when we do encounter God we are changed and strengthened in our faith and often we see that what we thought was impossible is now possible.
This theme of impossibility becoming possibility continues when Mary visits Elizabeth and finds out that this woman, who no-one thought could ever get pregnant is now going to have a baby. And Mary’s song is all about making the impossible possible. The little village girl is going to be called blessed for many generations; the proud will question what they do; the rulers who are evil will be brought down from their thrones; the hungry are going to be fed; the rich who prey on the poor are going to be denied what they want; and God is going to deliver on His promise of a messiah. That’s a lot of impossible becoming possible.
And that impossible – of God becoming incarnated into a baby – is the possible of what we are all waiting for this evening, and what we are going to celebrate tomorrow morning.
But in the meantime we have to wait.
After the initial good feelings of being with Elizabeth, Mary had to go home and wait. First she had to wait for Joseph to accept her, which he did with a little help from an angel. And I am sure that both she and Joseph had to convince her family and his family that everything was going to be all right and that they were working on God’s plan. But then they had to wait.
That’s how it is with God’s work, sometimes we have to wait. There is a process and a timeline with a pregnancy that you can’t change. As miraculous as the birth of Jesus is, he still had to go through the whole process of gestation and birth. If he hadn’t then his life wouldn’t mean what it does mean for us.
Sometimes we want to rush our projects that we are doing, whether they are projects for God or our own day-to-day living tasks – we want to get them done now. I know that I have a part of me that is type A, who wants to make lists in the morning and spend the day crossing things off. At the end of the day it feels very good to look at that list and know that I accomplished all that. But the flip side to that is when I don’t cross something off my list, I get discouraged that I didn’t get it done. And even more frustrating is when the universe doesn’t cooperate with me and my designated timeline.
But would I have even started my projects if I didn’t have faith that God was working with me? Like Mary I have the free will to accept or reject the tasks of life that are put in front of me. Like Mary I accept them because I have faith that God is going to be there with me while I am working on them. Some things I can get done right away and cross them off my list. Other things I have to accept that they are going to take time and that I just have to wait for certain things to happen, fall into place, and then the next step can be taken. I just need to learn to wait, and remember that just because nothing seems to be happening it really is.
I get that feeling of waiting that Mary had to go through, because I’ve been pregnant three times. You can’t speed up the process of a baby – it has it’s own natural timeline that you need to bend your life to. The best thing to do while you’re waiting is to keep living your life and do as much as you can to create a healthy baby. Sometimes when I want to speed up a process it would be good if I could remember that everything has it’s own natural time-line of creation and that if I just keep living my life and do as much as I can to create a healthy environment for the project then whatever I am working on will come into fruition.
During this Advent/Christmas season I have been waiting. A few months ago my son told me that his girlfriend was pregnant – but it was still early in the pregnancy, which is a scary time. So I told them that whatever happened I loved them and would keep praying for them. I didn’t tell many people because I had to wait to find out what they wanted to do – I knew what I thought they should do but I am not them, so I had to wait. This week I found out that all is well and tomorrow they will be going down to city hall, in Tokyo, and get married. The baby is fine so far, it’s a boy, due in April, and next month they will be moving to Okinawa where her family lives, and my son already has a job lined up there.
Waiting is hard, sometimes we get impatient and we want to push God’s plans forward. WE WANT TO DO SOMETHING. But we often need to have faith that God is working with us and it’s all going to be well and come together. God worked a long time to bring us the Christmas miracle of Jesus. Let Christmas remind you that he is working his miracles in your life. Just be patient, have faith, and wait and a lot of impossible things in you life will become possible.