4th Sunday in Advent
"The Faithful Hand Maiden?"
26 ¶ In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"
29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.
30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."
34 And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?"
35 And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing will be impossible."
38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. RSV
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus the Babe in the manger. Amen
The beginning of our gospel lesson this morning has a word in it that I would like to draw your attention to. The angel when he addressed Mary used this word twice, Listen he says, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you." And again the angel said, " Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." Did you notice the word that was used twice in these verses.
Yes, it is favored, or favored one. Mary had found favor with God. Chosen to give birth to God’s only begotten Son is no small thing. When we think about Mary and the baby we think about the animals arranged neatly in the stable, we picture warm glowing lights, we see a halo over the head of Mary and the Babe. When we think about Mary and her favored status, we think everything was easy, everything was neat, everything was good.
And then notice another word in verse 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.
Mary was troubled at the saying. She did not go out and seek the favored status with God, God came to her through an angel. Mary was surprised by the grace of God which found her.
Mary then said in verse 38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."
Mary then consented to act as God’s way of bringing grace to the whole world.
Mary was graced by God. But was it an easy life, or a difficult one as one is graced by God.
"Let’s take a good hard look at the life of Mary who was called a favored one. Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Now that would be a tough one to explain to anyone. Can you imagine the gossip that the gals of Nazareth might have passed around when they went to the will to draw water. Being engaged to Joseph certainly would help the matter a bit, but we all know how humantongues wag.
Besides having to endure all the gossip, imagine how awful it would have been to ride a burrow all those miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It was a tough, wearisome journey. Bouncing around on the back of a burro couldn’t possibility be a delight to a pregnant woman. And then when she got there, there was no hospital, no doctor, no comfortable surrounding waiting for her, she couldn’t even find a place in the inn so she had to go off into a stable with the presence of cattle odor and beds of rough hay to lay on. There in the humblest of surrounding the king was born. You call that favored, but wait there is more.
What happened after Bethlehem? Joseph and Mary with the new born king were out on the road as refugees in order to escape Herod’s massacre of the children. Way down to Egypt land they went, by foot mind you. Then it was back to Nazareth, back home. But back home to what? Not living high on the hog, obscurity and poverty were perhaps the trademarks of Joseph’s family.
Then as her oldest son grew, she became more and more proud of him. Humble people loved him. But as he began his public ministry the powerful ones regarded him with increasing hatred. People were beginning to line up either for him or against him. Mary’s heart must have ached.
And then one Friday it happened.... what she feared came to pass. Her son was led up to a hilltop, amidst a jeering crowd, led by priests and rulers of his own nation, and there on that hill top her son hung upon a cross as his mother stood beneath that cross and cried. "1
Is this what you would imagine to be favored meant? Probably not.
But Mary was called upon by God to bring God’s presence into the world.
"Eugene Burdicks wrote a book entitled, The 480, which is the story of a young American engineer named Thatch. He was assigned to India for 4 years to help construct a bridge across the river that separated India from Pakistan. The 2 countries were always on the edge or war. When he almost had the bridge completed there were thousands and thousands of refugees on both sides who were kin to each other, who wanted to cross and mix once again as one. But a stray plane from Pakistan was shot down by the Indian Air Force. It created a real panic and a terrible crisis.
The U.N. sent in representatives. Reporters came from all-over the world;
They stood tense waiting. Any minute war could begin. Pakistan sent troops to the edge of the bridge, so did India on its side of the bridge. Seeing the thousands who wanted to be joined together, Thatch, risked his life. He told his driver to crank up a bulldozer and pick up the keystone girder, which was the main girder, and drove out in the middle of the bridge. While standing on it, holding the chain and directing the driver, Thatch, lowered that keystone girder into place and the bridge was connected. The people began to move across that bridge and mingle. The two sides became one, war was adverted, and the bridge was eventually finished."
Thatch risked his life, so that bridge could be completed
He knew that once the plan was completed, war could be adverted, lives would be saved. and maybe the two countries now linked by this common bridge would or could try to get along with each other. Thatch had faith in the plan, he had faith in the bridge, he hoped and believed this plan this bridge would bring peace to India and Pakistan.
Mary had that same kind of faith, had hope, had confidence in a somewhat different plan, but was also willing to risk life, reputation, honor, and a loved one, so God’s plan could be carried out in this world. Mary was a lot like Thatch in our story.
She learned of the plan of salvation from God’s messenger, and though, she was afraid, and though she wondered how this plan was to be fulfilled, she decided to take the risk, she decided to have faith, to believe, to trust, to have faith in, God’s plan, God’s bridge for the world.
For in a sense, Mary was helping God to build a bridge between God and the world, and that bridge would be like no other bridge, it would be a human bridge, it would be a baby born in a manger, who would grow up teaching others about God’s love.
Mary was helping God to build a bridge of reconciliation, a bridge which would link God, the creator, and His creation, man and woman.
Mary understood her part, she understood the risks and she was willing to do her part.
She says: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word"
I think the point of these verses for us is that God uses people to bring his grace into this world. No, we can’t be Mary, bringing God’s Son into this world, but we can be called by Grace to be at Luther says: "Little Christs" to those around us.
God’s presence in this world came about because He found Mary and bestowed his grace upon her and Mary said it was okay.
And being called by God does not mean a life of ease. Remember what Mary had to endure. And remember what Jesus had to endure.
I remember reading some years back about a Christmas card that was very unique. I don’t remember exactly who the author was or the exact description of the card, but I do remember that as you looked that the picture of the manger scene, as you saw the beauty of Mary holding the baby Jesus, as you saw the quietness of the animals gazing at these humans, as you felt the warmth, the peace, and glory of God, you could see in the rafters of that manger a cross, and the shadow of that cross falling across the Baby Jesus as he was being held by his mother.
God had to come to earth, had to be born, had to experience the human condition so that his redemption might come to all of us.
Mary, Jesus, the birth, the life of a carpenter, the cross all had just one purpose, the redemption of the world.
The Christmas event is not difficult to understand. It began with God’s grace or favor coming to Mary and it ended not on Christmas Day with the birth of Jesus, but it ended on Easter with the resurrection of Jesus.
It is that simple, but many miss the point. Many get caught up in wondering about virgin births, about a God becoming man, about how can one rise again after one is dead.
We need to be like Mary and have faith. Faith that allowed her to say yes to the angel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word"
But sadly many are like the guy in the closing story:
There was a man who didn’t wan to go to Christmas Eve services with his wife. He had decided not to go because he couldn’t believe the whole jest of the gospel story. It just didn’t make much sense to him. As he settled into his comfortable chair, and picked up the evening newspaper, he noticed that it was beginning to snow. Later as he glanced over the top of the paper, he noticed that the wind had picked up and the snow was coming down even harder. He went back to his reading, when he was suddenly brought back to reality by a large noise at the large front picture window. The noise happened again and again, so he decided he better check it out. When he got to the window, he noticed a couple of small sparrow had flown into the glass pane and were fluttering in the snow drift below. He could see through the snow, a larger group of birds perched in the bushes and shivering. He thought about their plight, so he slowly went to the hall closet, put on his overcoat, and boots and went out the front door.
He had decided to open the barn door so the birds could roost in the shelter for the night. He picked up the wounded sparrows and brought them to the barn hoping that the other birds would hear their chirping and follow.
But they didn’t. So he thought of using the Hansel and Gretel trick of placing bread crumbs on the path to the barn. Certainly, he thought, the hungry little birds would follow. But they didn’t. The man didn’t know what to do next, so decided to get a broom and chase the birds into the bar. But this proved futile also, for the waving of the broom just scared the birds even more.
Finally in a state of exhaustion he sat down on the barn step and and thought: If only I could talk to them. Let them know I wanted to help them and save them from the cold winter storm. But I can’t unless I could become one of them... become one of them." Then the church bells began to ring and the man knelt in the deep show and said, " Thank you God for becoming man".
Written by Pastor Tim Zingale December 12, 2005
1 The following is a paraphrase from Here Comes Jesus by James Bjorge