Sermon for Advent 4

December 20, 2020 (Year B)

Luke 1:46-55 (the Magnificat) and Luke 1:26-38

She “never wore fine clothes…never entered a palace…and never travelled farther from Palestine than Egypt.” She lived in a backwater so small no contemporary historian bothered to mention it. She was “an obscure peasant girl [who] reared her son in obscurity.” (1) And yet — incredibly — she is inarguably the most famous and revered woman in all of history.

While Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Mary, I imagine what she was like: kind-hearted, hard-working, loving and tough. She’s the kind of person I would want as a friend. I wonder what went through her head as she saw Gabriel standing in radiance before her, as she tried to process his words.

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Our translation tells us Mary was perplexed by the archangel’s arrival and subsequent words. However, earlier in Luke the same Greek term is used to describe Zechariah’s terror when Gabriel appears before him in the Temple sanctuary. It’s no wonder Mary’s response was, in a nutshell: “Whaaat?!” Imagine what her parents must have thought at the impossibly preposterous tale their daughter — likely still a teenager — brought home! Imagine as well their fear! What will their conservative religious community think? They lived in such a small town. How would they escape the judgment and the gossip? More importantly, what will Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, think? If he breaks the engagement, will they ever find another willing husband?

By the time Mary arrived home, she surely thought of these same questions. She shared her parents’ fears of rejection. Yet she knew in her heart the faith she had been taught and that faith overcame fear. God was powerful and God was real. She truly believed the angel’s words: “Nothing will be impossible with God.” She knew from the stories she heard in the synagogue and from her own parents it was true.

The God of Israel was — and is — the God of the weak, the God of the impoverished and the God of the underdog. Mary’s God — and our God — was and is a God of the unlikely and the impossible.

She remembered the unlikely promise God made to her foremother Sarah in her old age, embodied by the life of Isaac. She remembered how God brought Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand, guided and protected them through their lengthy wilderness sojourn and made their unlikely entry into the Promised Land possible. She remembered the story of David, youngest of his brothers, and how his anointing was so unlikely his family didn’t bother to call him in from the pasture. And she remembered Hannah, blessed with not one but six children after years of anguish and bareness. One of these unlikely sons became a renowned prophet of God.

The God of Israel was — and is — the God of the weak, the God of the impoverished and the God of the underdog. Mary’s God — and our God — was and is a God of the unlikely and the impossible.

 

Grotto inside the Basilica of the Annuciation, the traditional location of Gabriel’s appearance to Mary. Source: L. Barber

In addition to being hard-working and loving, Mary was also wise beyond her years. She knew she would need help to fortify her faith during the unknown ahead. So she turned to a trusted, beloved elder, her cousin Elizabeth. It was three days’ walk to reach her. Though we don’t know for sure, it’s entirely possible this young, vulnerable peasant girl walked the dangerous roads in the desolate desert alone. When she arrives at Elizabeth’s home, Mary is so overfilled with joy she cannot help but sing:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him…He has shown the strength of his arm,

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones…He has filled the hungry with good things for he has remembered his promise of mercy…

And then, when the intensity of the joy subsided, Elizabeth and Mary waited. They waited filled with hope and confidence in their faith. They waited, not knowing the heights of joy or the depths of anxiety and grief which were to come.

And so Mary was left, like us, to wait. She waited as we wait, with no choice but to live with and into the unknowing, certain only in the knowledge that God is with us every step of the journey.

(1) Deen, Edith. All the Women of the Bible, Women in Christ’s Time: Mary, Mother of Jesus. Harper and Row: New York, NY. 1955.