Summary: Put yourself in Mary’s shoes and experience the shock and wonder of the news...Mary, a virgin, will give birth to the Son of God.
Sermon for CATM – “Advent 1 – The Promise of a Son” - November 29, 2009
Play Video: Psalm 130
What are you waiting for? What do you long for? In your heart of hearts, what yearning within you most commonly rises to the surface? Our longings are part of what defines us and defines our lives. Our yearnings speak to our deepest needs that still need to be met.
Our Scripture passages today speak of waiting, of hope, of anticipation. This ‘waiting’ has a deeply personal meaning of course. The passage we’re about to look at is about Mary, and in Mary’s case this waiting, this anticipation was both very personal and at the same time it expressed the longing of her people, Israel.
And for Israel, a people who historically had known the regular, direct intervention of God through the Exodus, through many miraculous and many human stories we find in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.
Through the prophets through whom God regularly spoke; to this people who knew the abiding presence of God had come a staggering, deafening silence and seeming absence.
Nothing. For 400 years. Nothing. 16 generations of silence. 16 generations of oppression under one overbearing authority after another. And except for a period perhaps 150 years before Jesus was born when the Macabees rose up and threw off the yoke of the oppressor of the day for some parts of Israel, there was little or no sign of movement.
In the canon of Scripture there is silence between the prophetic book of Malachi and this remarkable moment in a small town in Nazareth, when an angel speaks to a young girl who has recently been engaged.
This is the first time God has spoken for 400 years. This is the beginning of the end of longing. This is the start of our advent story, the first hint at what would become known to us as The Incarnation.
LEt’s stand and read together Luke 1:26-38:
Luke 1:26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." 34 "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon 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. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God." 38 "I am the Lord’s servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.
There is so much here that speaks to human longing and divine response that it’s not really possible to unpack all of it in the short time we have today. But we’ll do our best.
Let’s try to put ourselves in Mary’s place for a moment. She’s young, she’s innocent, she had a predictable and prescribed life ahead of her. She is a member of an oppressed people.
She is part of a rich faith community and would have been connected to a synagogue whose people had perhaps grown weary of waiting. Her faith’s tradition spoke of God’s intervention in Egypt and of God’s abiding presence as shepherd, law-giver and deliverer.
But there was no sign of intervention. There was little sign of God, really, in terms of anything supernatural. God had been contented to be visible only to those who had eyes of faith. Great displays of divine power and authority rarely had had the effect you would expect. Something the human heart was strangely unmoved by such displays.
There was no visible manifestation of God, no Red sea crossing, no snake-in-the-desert, no plagues unleashed this time against Israel’s oppressors.
And to Mary, this young virgin, an angel appears, gives greetings…greetings of the type usually reserved for royalty actually. “Greetings, you who are highly favoured”.