Summary: During the season of Advent, we should examine our hearts and our willingness to serve God so that, like Mary, we are prepared to serve God humbly by saying, "Here I am, Lord, use me."
I imagine that as the Thanksgiving festivities wound down this week, several of us took the extra time and opportunity to begin decorating for Christmas. We pull the boxes of decorations from their storage places, we unpack the Christmas tree and assemble it again, paying careful attention to make sure all the branches are well-placed. Or maybe we pile the family into the car, with saw and rope handy, and head out to the Christmas tree farm in search of the perfect Christmas tree to adorn our home. And that’s part of the joy of decorating for Christmas isn’t it, finding the perfect Christmas tree; well-proportioned, symmetrical, with full branches, and that wonderful pine scent. Yes, when it comes to finding a Christmas tree, we typically walk past the short ones, or the thin ones, or the ones with lots of needles lying at their base, without even a sideways glance.
But perhaps some of you remember Charlie Brown’s quest for a Christmas tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Chuck and Linus have been charged by Lucy to find the perfect Christmas tree for the children’s Christmas pageant, a tree which reflects the “modern Christmas spirit.” As the two boys enter the Christmas tree lot, we see an array of Christmas trees in every color; pink, purple, orange. Linus knocks on one of the trees and we hear the rattle of hollow metal. But then the boys spy the tree they want; a short, spindly pine, with barely a handful of needles. Linus comments, “I didn’t know they still made wooden Christmas trees.” It isn’t much, but it is the “perfect” tree to Charlie Brown and Linus, and so they carry it back to the school where their friends are rehearsing for the pageant. Only, the Peanuts gang isn’t so enthusiastic, and they are quick to make fun of the pathetic-looking tree, and Charlie Brown’s poor choice. So, shoulders sagging and feet dragging, Charlie Brown takes the tree and heads home.
I suppose we shouldn’t be terribly surprised by the reaction of Charlie Brown’s friends, I mean, it really was a pretty pathetic Christmas tree, but Charlie Brown’s choice of a Christmas tree is a good reminder of God’s choice of a mother to bear the Messiah. And that woman, Mary, is going to be the focus of our attention today as we begin our journey to Bethlehem, our journey to Christmas, our journey into deeper relationship with this Messiah whose birth we celebrate each year.
So, it doesn’t take much to realize that Mary, was a lot like that little Christmas tree Charlie Brown picked out for the Christmas pageant. There was nothing special about her. She was not rich, she did not have a prestigious social standing. She probably lived in a very modest home, a cave, most likely. There would have been nothing to make her stand out from the hundreds of other women of her day, who went about regular chores of fetching water, cooking, cleaning, and otherwise looking after the well-being of their family. And, she was from Nazareth. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Nazareth was nothing more than a tiny, insignificant village. It would be what we might call “Podunk” today. There was a reason that when Philip shared with his friend Nathaniel that he had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, Nathaniel’s response went something like this, “Are you kidding me? Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” But something good did come from there, didn’t it?
Of all the places God could have gone, of all the women God could have chosen to bear the Messiah, God sent the angel Gabriel to this tiny village to knock on the door of a normal, humble, young woman, Mary. What does it mean that God went to Nazareth instead of one of the big cities of the day where there would be refined and cultured women? Even before Jesus is born, God is teaching us anew, reminding us of his long-established values. God favors the meek, the humble, those who “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God,” who love others as they love themselves, and who “take up [their] cross daily” to follow him. God saw in Mary the kind of humble servant, that he desires all people to be, and despite all the challenges, Mary did not disappoint.
Could you imagine being in Mary’s shoes? Some of us were sort of light-heartedly joking last week about what it would be like to be visited by an angel, a messenger from God, and told that you were going to become pregnant, not in the usual way, but because God has chosen you, and “the power of the Most High will overshadow you” until you conceive and bear none other than the very Messiah! This is nothing short of crazy! If we were to take such news out into the world today, people would call us crazy, we would be admitted into the local mental institution.