In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. (Read the whole passage)
Stir up your power Lord Christ and come.
Four Candles are finally lit today, and it isn’t long until that central Christ Candle is lit. Advent, as it always, starts by talking about the end, and then giving us two weeks to hear John the Baptists’s preaching about the coming of Messiah. But isn’t until Advent 4 that we get a story the feels like it belongs to the season… or least it isn’t until this Sunday that we hear a story seems to move forward our desire to roll the calendar over to Christmas.
And with the unusual experience of Advent concluding this morning and Christmas beginning this evening, we get a true mixed experience today.
But before we can bust out the carols and presents, Advent needs to give us our last reminder of what it means to wait for Messiah, a qualifier for our celebration of Christmas.
Just in case we think the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary is a Christmas story, we are reminded today that it is an Advent story. And quite the Advent story it is. We hear this story of Gabriel and Mary and it is easy to imagine a young grade schooler wrapped in a bath robe and shawl, woodenly reading lines as she receives the news that she is pregnant. The pageant version of this story is the one we easily imagine, but certainly unlike the moment when most women find out they are pregnant.
It is easy to imagine the young virgin, meek and mild, humbly and graciously receiving the angel’s news. It is natural to picture the made for TV Christmas movie version of the story, the version where there is no doubt that whatever tension presents itself in the story everything will turn out in the end. The idyllic nativity sets confirm this. The nostalgia laced Christmas greeting cards confirm this.
And yet, the actual story was anything but idyllic.
The story of Gabriel’s annunciation is a story in the real and messy world. A story that is less made for TV movie or Christmas pageant, and more real life stuff that usually happens in the privacy of our personal lives.
When Gabriel told the young Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, it was likely not welcome news. Mary’s life plan was certainly different than this development.
In Mary’s world, women had few options. Marriage and motherhood was the ideal, a woman’s worth was in the ability of her body to give sons to her husband. Sons to carry on their father’s lineage who would also be the retirement plan for most women, someone to care for them once their husband died.
Yet, if a woman couldn’t provide children, or couldn’t reliably provide children that belong to her husband because she wasn’t virgin before marriage… well that likely meant divorce and being tossed onto the streets. Pregnancy outside of marriage meant becoming a single mother living on the streets in the best case, execution by stoning at worst.
And so as Gabriel announces this news to Mary, she is right to be much perplexed. This just about the worst thing that could happen to a young unmarried woman. Hardly the stuff we think about during the Christmas pageant. This is messy and real life. This is the kind of stuff that many of us had to deal with – life altering changes of course,
This is kind of stuff that we know all too well in life. Things that happen to us beyond our control that change the entire course of our lives. Things like job loss, death of a loved one, separation, diagnosis of an illness or unplanned pregnancy…. The most difficult life altering parts of our lives that require all we have just to keep it together.
Mary’s story is a real life story, a story about the messiness of life.
But it also the story of God finding us in the mess, in the struggle, in the realness.
Long before the angel interrupts Mary’s life plan with news of her pregnancy, Mary lived in a world where she was less of a human and more of a piece of property or livestock, where her marriage was likely arranged by her family as they were making a business deal. And of course there was the messiness of her own people and culture that was compounded by the fact that they all lived under Roman occupation.
Yet, when the Angel first greets Mary, the Angel says, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”
Right from the very beginning, God does something new and unexpected with Mary. God determines her worth and value before anything else. Mary is favoured by God. Not because she is a fertile body waiting to be impregnated. Not because she will bear the Messiah. But simply because she is herself.
Greetings favoured one!
And then God gives Mary a purpose, she will be the one who will bear Messiah to the world. In a twist of irony, by choosing Mary to do the one thing that her world values her for, bear children, God takes away her cultural and social value. And instead, God imbues her with divine value. She is favoured because God has said so, and God then gives her a purpose in bearing the Messiah. God establishes her value and then gives her a purpose, opposite of the way her world works – where value is only given if one produces something considered valuable.
Right from the beginning of the story, God is at work doing something new, transforming Mary’s life in unexpected ways.
God is at work in Mary’s real story, her messy, struggled filled story.
And remarkable as Mary’s real life story is, it is not special.
Because Mary’s story is a universal story, it is our story.
God has a way of finding us in the midst of our messy, struggled filled and very real lives too.
God finds us in the middle of real life, and breaks through all the things around us that would tell us our value is based on what we can do in the world…
God breaks through all the things that would tell us we are barely more than things that can be owned and that which is less than human.
God breaks through to us, and declares that we too are favoured.
God breaks through and says that the Lord is with us.
As we gather round the font of baptism, God sends a message to us, given through divine messengers – Angels, you could say – but truly the Church, the body of Christ.
The church, through whom God speaks, to each new member among us:
You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.
And as we welcome the newly baptized among us we say:
We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share:
join us in giving thanks and praise to God
and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.
Join us in bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world, just as Mary, Mary the God bearer did.
Just as the Angel, the divine Messenger, tells Mary that she will bear a son, the son of God – that she will bear the Christ, the Christ who is the Word…
God tells us the same.
God declares that we are favoured, that we are marked with the cross.
And that God us will use to bear the word, Christ who is the word, to the whole world.
So you see, Mary’s story is not truly a pageant story or made for TV Christmas story.
It is a real story.
It is our story.
Today, as Advent takes us through the final parts of the story, the ones that lead us to Christmas, we are reminded that this is a real story. A messy story. A story more like our lives than the nostalgia so prevalent this time of year.
And it is real because it is the story of God’s breaking into our lives. Breaking into our mess in order to bring Messiah, the Word, the Son.
In order for Christ to come and take flesh among us.
So, stir up your power Lord Christ and come.