a sermon on Luke 1:26-55
preached on December 13, 2015, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
It had begun as an ordinary day in an ordinary town in Palestine for an ordinary hometown girl Mary, but by the time it was over everything was different for everyone. In the midst of this ordinary day, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and gave her the surprise of a lifetime. She had to have been startled and afraid, to say the least. What did God want to do with her anyway? She was just a young girl, waiting for her day to come as she would move into full adulthood upon her marriage to Joseph, preparing for the journey of life that seemed to be clear before her—but not yet begun—in marriage and childbearing, watching for something new to take hold in her own world and in the world around her.
But the angel Gabriel explained that God could and would do amazing things in and through her. First, he assured Mary that there was nothing to fear in this surprising visit. She had “found favor with God” and would “conceive in [her] womb and bear a son,” who would “be great, and… called the Son of the Most High.” Even her virginity would not get in the way of all this, for she would bear this holy child by the power of the Holy Spirit. After all this, just to make it abundantly clear, he closed by assuring her, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Mary responded with confidence beyond her young age: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” As the angel left her, she returned to her day, her life forever changed by this encounter on this ordinary day.
The days that change us usually start out looking pretty ordinary, too. Whether things change for the better or the worse, there is strangely little that distinguishes days of great change for us from others at first. The day we get a new job offer, the day we learn of the death of a good friend, the day the world around us seems to break down in yet another way—all these days begin in the same way even though they end with incredible shifts of life to bring us hope or cause us despair.
While our ordinary days are rarely if ever marked with the sort of direct encounter with an angel of the Lord as Mary experienced, we might find God in our midst in unexpected ways on our ordinary days. Maybe we will receive a surprising possibility that offers us a new and different way for the days ahead. Maybe a crisis will come that leaves us seeking God’s presence and hope as we respond. Or maybe our hopes and expectations for life have been upended, with no clear understandings of different possibilities for the days ahead even as we are challenged to set aside our fears and live in hope.
Amid all these unexpected encounters with God, the angel’s words to Mary should echo in our lives, too. The angel’s confident words “do not be afraid” and “nothing will be impossible with God” are addressed to us, too. In these fearful days, when even the most ordinary days seem filled with the possibilities of terror, when we wonder when, not if, when we will be victims of some dramatic tragedy, when we learn about disaster and crisis in every corner of the world almost instantaneously, when we are so easily turned against our common humanity because of our fears of things that are different or beyond our comprehension, when even the hopeful things of our lives can lead us to live in fear, the angel’s words to Mary should give us comfort. We do not have to be paralyzed by uncertainty, torn apart by anxiety, forced to live in fear and paranoia, or left wondering what will happen to us. In the light of Mary’s encounter with the angel, we can instead be confident that God’s presence will sustain us on our ordinary and extraordinary days. Even the transformation that we so desperately need and that seems so impossible to attain will not be impossible with God.
Mary’s changed life continued as she set out to meet her cousin Elizabeth. The angel had told her that Elizabeth was also experiencing the unexpected gift of a child, and so she set out to share these days with her relative. When she arrived, their joyous meeting reflected the new ordinary for both of them. They were filled with hope and wonder at the new lives that they were bearing into the world, and there was something incredible about sharing it together.
As their joy and hope met, they both broke into song. Elizabeth celebrated the gift of encountering this woman who would bear such a life into the world. Her son, still in her womb, leaped for joy as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, and they were all filled with the blessing of God as they shared this time.
Then Mary offered up her own words of praise in the incredible words that have come to be known as the Magnificat. Her rejoicing was directly addressed to God who made all these things possible, who lifted up this lowly, ordinary servant, showered great blessing upon her, and showed the wonder of God’s name in these acts. She rejoiced that God was doing a new thing in and through her to transform the world, showing strength and power and might over against the seemingly powerful persons of the world, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry, sending the rich away empty, and helping God’s people by showing the depths of mercy and hope from generation to generation.
We can know these depths of mercy and hope in our own generation, too. We can walk together with our sisters and brothers in faith and life as Mary and Elizabeth did to find the hope that we need in our ordinary and extraordinary days. When we are overcome by fear and uncertainty, we can come together to find support for the journey. When we are tempted to retreat to our own corners of life and separate ourselves from others, we are reminded that we are better together. And when there is cause for rejoicing in our lives, there is no better way to do it than to share such a moment with others.
We can join Elizabeth and Mary in songs of praise to God of our own. When our world leaves us wondering how we might begin to offer thanks, we can still offer our cries for a different way. When we cry out in this way for God’s transformation to take hold, we praise God for the ways in which things have changed before and show the depth of our faith and hope that these things can and will take place again. And as our experiences bring songs of praise, we join our voices with Elizabeth and Mary and so many other generations, celebrating the ways that God has been at work in our midst even as we look for all things to be possible in God’s gift of the days ahead and work to set aside our fears so that we can fully participate in God’s new creation as it comes into our midst.
So as we journey through these Advent days, may we trust that the angel who spoke to Mary speaks also to us on our most ordinary and most extraordinary days, inviting us to set aside our fears and trust that nothing will be impossible with God, so that we might share in the wonder and hope that comes to us in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus Christ until he comes again to make us and all things new. Lord, come quickly! Alleluia! Amen.