Rev. Danielle K Bartz November 28, 2021
Luke 1:26-38 “Wonder of Wonders”
A friend of mine loves to remind me that whenever angels appear in the Bible, they do not appear as cute little rosy-cheeked cherubs with feathered wings, halos, and harps. In fact, in each instance when an angel’s physical appearance is described, it is clear they are frightful creatures. Overwhelming and otherly in appearance. A reading of the Book of Revelation confirms this – that book, filled with angels or messengers of God, offers descriptions that evoke fear, not peace. There is a reason that whenever an angel appears, one of the first things they say is “Do not be afraid” or “fear not.” Their appearance is not a calm occasion, carried on a soundtrack of quiet harp music. Rather, if there were to be a soundtrack underscoring their visits, it would most likely sound like an entire orchestra playing a different tune at the same time – a cacophony of noise, overwhelming to the senses.
Our Advent season is being ushered in this year by one of these divine messengers. While the angel Gabriel’s physical appearance is not described, I think it is safe to assume Mary was not put at ease by his arrival. While his initial words are ones of blessing, “Rejoice, favored one! The Most High God is with you!” there is a quick reassurance of “Fear not, Mary.” Gabriel’s appearance and the announcement he brought with him, does not evoke joy in Mary. Nowhere in the text does it say she was pleased. Nowhere in the text does it say Mary was prepared for this moment. She was being told that she was going to conceive before she was married, which was a crime punishable by death in her society. And if by some chance she were to escape execution, she would be disowned by her family, cast aside by Joseph and his family, and left to the mercies of a society in which she had no voice, no place, and no ability to provide for herself and her child. No, Gabriel’s message was not one that evoked comfort and peace. Gabriel’s message brought with it tremendous amounts of fear. A message that Mary could have run from. A message that she could have refused. A message that she could have said, it is not for me, go away, and leave me in peace. And yet. And yet, this extraordinary woman, in an act of faith and trust in God not rivaled elsewhere in scriptures, consents. “Here am I.” The power of these simple words, uttered by a seemingly simple and ordinary person, is not just something for us to praise. These are words that are to be a guide for us a Christians. A guide to help us create our own miracles with the help of God, in a world desperate for miracles.
I worry sometimes that protestant Christians don’t spend enough time wondering about and wondering at Mary. I remember a patient I had back when I was hospital chaplain. She was in her mid-nineties, Catholic, and devoted to her Mother Mary. I can’t remember what chronic condition she had, but she was frequently in and out of the hospital, so I was able to visit with her often and she always took me up on my offer to pray the rosary with her. Her voice, weakened by age and disease, always grew strong when she would say the ‘Hail Mary.’ I commented about this once to her. “She is my Mother Mary,” she replied to me. “She gives me strength and life, just as she gave Jesus strength and life.” I walked away from that visit feeling a bit cheated that I had only ever really thought about Mary around Christmas time. What had I been missing out on? What could this Mother Mary teach me? Because, as I reflect on it, without Mary’s bravery, faith, trust, and love – none of this would have been possible. Without Mary’s yes, the church would not exist.
The scriptures are full of reminders of what extraordinary things ordinary people can do with the help of God. Remember, it was Gabriel who taught Mary, and us, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” But I think that we sometimes forget that, first, all of these ordinary people had to say yes. And in almost every instance, that yes was an act of tremendous bravery. And Mary’s bravery cannot be over-stated. With no assurances that ‘all will be well’, she allows God to work through her. And because of her yes to God, we gather today, two millennia later, worshipping God in the name of the one she gave life. If an unwed teenage girl can say yes to God and create a miracle, then, my Beloved Community, so can we.
Everyday we are given opportunities to create miracles. Some are extraordinary, and could quite literally change the lives of those around us. Some are very ordinary, small interactions that feel insignificant but are indeed acts of God. Everyday God seeks us out and asks us to say yes to being the hands, feet, and voice of God in this world so desperately in need. True, it is unlikely that God will seek us out through an appearance of a frightful looking angel, one bringing with it fear and one that overwhelms the senses. Perhaps we should be grateful for this. And perhaps that does mean we have to pay even closer attention to what is presented to us. Perhaps God may not speak in the voice of the angel Gabriel, maybe God will speak to us in the voice of a child’s questions or a woman in her mid-nineties whose voice grows strong when she praises her Mother Mary. And I know, my Beloved Community, we cannot possibly say yes to everything. And I also know that we are far too often haunted by the refrain that we are not enough, so why should we even bother. But, I also know this: God is seeking us out, seeking out our yes to create miracles.
Mary said yes to God. And by doing so she said yes to hope for her people. She said yes to persecution, but she also said yes to resurrection. She said yes to loss, but she also said yes to divine treasurers beyond counting. She said yes to fear, but she also said yes to the reassurance that God would always be with her. Mary said yes to life, and that life gives life. By saying yes to God, by giving over her very life and body, she said yes to God’s miracle.
We will be spending this Advent season with Mary. Wondering about her. Marveling at her. Next week we will go with her when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, and after that listen as she sings out her praise to God and blesses the life growing within her. And finally, we will journey with her to Bethlehem, and remember once again that Jesus was not born into a family of privilege, but rather one that, for a time anyway, survived off the charity of others. Through it all we will considering the miracle of flesh made Spirit, and Spirit made flesh that she carried within her. In the Gospel of Thomas, one of those wisdom texts that was not included in the final canon of the Bible, Jesus refers to this connection between flesh and Spirit as the Wonder of Wonders. This miracle, the incarnation, of God becoming flesh – this thing that makes us Christmas people – all began with a scared, unwed, teenage woman who gave her life and body over to God. This woman who carried the divine with her womb, created life, and birthed a miracle. We will wonder at her bravery. We will wonder at her cunning. We will wonder at her love. And we will wonder – how can we follow in her example. What miracles can we say yes to, even when they seem impossible. What miracles is God yearning to create with us, if we can only say yes. During Advent we are not just waiting for the miracle of Christmas. Rather we are seeking to make that miracle real, not just for us, but for all of creation. This Advent we will do this alongside our Mother Mary – drawing from her strength and life. Amen.
Lord our God,
you have revealed yourself as One
who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
In a world that looks away from injustice,
You cast your eyes on the destitute, the poor, and the wronged;
You have called us to follow you,
to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release for the captives
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed
and to proclaim the time of your blessing.
Be present with your church, Lord,
as we respond to your call.
Open our eyes to the downtrodden.
Fill us with compassion for the plight of the alien,
the refugee, and the immigrant.
Lead us into ministries that help orphans and widows.
Give us courage to block the paths of the ungodly
who exploit the poor.
Set us free from pious exercises
that prevent us from the true worship you choose:
Sharing bread with the hungry,
Sharing homes with the homeless,
Sharing clothes with the naked,
Sharing hearts with our own kin.
So may your justice roll down like waters,
your righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Lead our footsteps to stand with the poor,
that we might stand with you.
We seek to do this and so much more in the name of Jesus the Christ.
Your miracle made flesh and given to us by our Mother Mary.
And we pray this day, and every day, in his name, and as he taught us
by saying…Our Father…