I saw a meme on Facebook yesterday that had a picture of the Grinch and it read “This year just to do something different I decided to steal the last week of Advent”. I shared it on my Facebook page and wrote “Nice try, but it is not gonna work!”.
I have a reason for upholding the Fourth Sunday in Advent this morning.
The First Sunday (in Advent) was dedicated to the Second Coming of Christ, which is a time and topic we do not want to talk about.
The Second and Third Sundays (in Advent) was dedicated to John the Baptist who was a voice in the wilderness calling for each of us to “prepare the way for the Messiah”.
In my opinion, it does not seem correct or fair to jump from “preparing the way for the Messiah” to “He is Here”, without honoring the message an angel gave to Mary.
Now most of us, as Lutherans, do not know much about Mary or her story.
In fact, Lutherans do not know much about the saints, who have given a great testimony of faith and witnesses to how God has been and is involved in our human history from its beginning until now. Saints, therefore, deserve our admiration but NOT our worship. This was Martin Luther’s point during the Protestant Reformation (16th century).
Thus, let us explore Mary, her story, and how we can learn from her example. The majority of her story is not recorded in the Gospels, but are recorded in other texts and teachings.
First, how many have heard of the “immaculate conception”?
Those are words we know and associate with the birth of Christ, but it is a reference to the conception and birth of Mary.
I see some puzzled faces, which is the same expression I had when I heard this the first time.
The “immaculate conception” was developed in conversation about how can a human being (with sin) conceive and give birth to God, God-self.
Saint Anne, mother of Mary, was unable to have children. She prayed and prayed to God in the Temple. One day, Anne heard a voice from heaven that told her to greet her husband at the gate with only a kiss and she would conceive and give birth to a child. She did as she was told, then gave birth to her daughter named Mary. When Mary was young, she was given to the Temple in service to God, similar to the prophet Samuel.
But, when the young Mary was about 12 or 14 years old, a proper age for marriage at the time, the leadership thought Mary needed to fulfill her obligation as a wife and mother. Afterwards, Mary could return to the service of the Temple. The leadership sought a man worthy of Mary, who would be a widower named Joseph.
The Gospel accounts begin Mary’s story here.
Mary is engaged to Joseph when Gabriel, the supreme massager of God, comes to Mary with the news that she would conceive and give birth to the Messiah.
Speaking for myself, I do not think I would have had as gracious of a response as Mary did.
Mary is told to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, like Anne, had been barren and unable to have children but was also miraculously pregnant. Elizabeth’s son would become John the Baptist, or “the voice in the wilderness” telling us to “prepare the way”.
Therefore, the Gospel accounts begin Mary’s story with what will become her identity as the “God-bearer” and “the mother of God”, which is a task that I personally would not want.
Mary’s story has been cherished and honored throughout history, and yet with each generation new questions have emerged.
One question, “did Mary have a say” (#MeToo Movement).
We, as Christians, have thought of it as being her destiny, but did Mary have a say?
We hear Mary’s response, which we read responsively as our Psalm:
“Here I am, a servant of my Lord. My soul proclaims your greatness. You are going to do great and mighty things through me.”
Honestly, that response alone is miraculous. Most of us struggle to be as willing to serve the Lord full-heartedly and to be as open to the will of God, while not knowing where its leading or what will happen.
Another question, “did Mary know”.
We have a beloved song, “Mary Did You Know”, which shares all these thoughts about what Christ would do and if Mary know it all beforehand.
On one hand, ‘of course Mary knew. If you read Luke 1, it is all right there’.
On the other hand, Mary may have known in her mind, but I personally wonder how much Mary knew about the journey in her heart/soul. I question what understanding Mary had:
Did Mary understand at that moment that she would be kissing the face of God?
Did Mary understand that her son would deliver her and all humanity from sin?
Did Mary understand that her son was born into a broken world that he would heal?
Perhaps, Mary knew intellectually because Gabriel told her, but I do not think she understood or that we understand where God is calling us to be and what that looks like until we are at the end of the journey.
Mary gave us a great gift, beyond bearing the Christ child, which is her example of willingness to be a servant of God serving while not fully understanding where it would lead.
May we, as we prepare for the birth of Christ, spend this day pondering Mary’s response, her willingness to serve God, and her openness to God’s will in, among, and through her although she may not have fully understood at that moment.
May we, like Mary, embrace our journeys. Amen
Focus Scripture was Luke 1: 26-38, 46-55
Originally Preached on December 24, 2017 at Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN)