12/21/2014 Fourth Sunday in Advent Text for today’s sermon is Luke 1:26-38.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was the last day of swimming lessons at the Y, the day of the test to determine whether those in the tadpole class would pass through to minnows or would stay in the same class for the next session of lessons. Some of the test was done in a group, as a mass of would-be Mark Spitzs swam across the pool. Other parts of the test were done on a one-by-one basis.
The final test item was one of courage – to see if the young swimmers felt secure enough to be in water over their heads. To pass, each child was to jump off a diving board into the deep end of the pool. Of course, all safety precautions were taken. There was an instructor treading water a short distance away who would pull any child to the edge of pool who needed help. There was an instructor at the edge of the pool holding a long grab pole. And as if this wasn’t enough to encourage the students to take the plunge, each child was fitted with a floatation device.
With everything in place, child after child jumped right in without problems, in fact all of them did except for one young girl who hung back. She had done marvelously on all the other parts of the test, but this final feat boggled her mind. There was no way she was going to jump into ten feet of water, floatation device or not. She may have looked ready. She pulled her arms over her head and got into diving position. But, on the inside, Mary was saying, “You have to be kidding!”
Mary’s instructors encouraged her to make the leap, reassuring her that they would be there to catch her and help her. But, even though Mary had trusted her instructors when they were in the shallow end of the pool, this was different. The whole thing looked impossible to her and no amount of safeguards could melt away her doubts and her fear.
The Mary in our gospel for today is faced with the same type of dilemma – the choice between leaping in or walking away. But, she is listening to no instructor’s voice prodding her to step into the danger end. No, it’s an angel’s voice that she hears – and the angel is suggesting that she do something far more preposterous than jumping into a pool. She, a young lady who is betrothed and not married, is being encouraged to have a baby which is to be conceived by a most unusual method.
It all starts out with the angel coming to her and saying, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Mary is taken aback by these words. She is troubled by this saying and wonders what kind of greeting this might be. For, who is she that she might be favored by God? She is but a child, a poor peasant woman with no special qualifications. She is no Moses or Elijah or even a prophetess. She has no status in society as she is not a man, and angels, if they do appear, would not come to a person such as her, giving greetings from God. So, on the inside, an astonished Mary must be saying to herself, “You have to be kidding.”
From here on the story gets even more bizarre, more ridiculous. For, the angel tells Mary that by the grace and power of God, she will conceive and bear a son who will be named Jesus. This Jesus will be greater than anyone who has ever lived, including King David. Her son’s kingdom will have no end.
Now, if the first part of the angel’s message is hard to swallow, the second part is even worse. “You have to be kidding!” Even Mary, as young as she is knows that a baby needs a father. A woman does not conceive by herself. Yes, Mary is engaged, but she has no husband (a requirement in those days before having children). This means that Mary has not known a man in the most intimate way.
But the angel assures her that this is no barrier. She will conceive by the Holy Spirit and will bear a son…a son to be named Jesus, for he will save his people. This will happen for with God nothing is impossible – nothing, not even the pregnancy of an aged and barren Elizabeth…a pregnancy unknown to the general population.
With God’s message delivered, the angel’s task is done. The rest is up to Mary who is left standing in awe, ready to take a leap of faith or to seek a safe way out – ready to believe or to be overcome by doubt and fear.
Today’s stories of the two Mary’s end up differently. When we left our first Mary, she was on the diving board, deciding whether or not to jump. In the end, she doesn’t dive in. Her doubts and fears were such that nothing short of wild horses would drag her into that pool. So, that day she didn’t make it out of tadpoles and into minnows. But, the story has a different ending for the other Mary. Although she is presented with even a more unbelievable set of circumstances, by the persuasion of God’s angel, she takes the leap of faith and she becomes the handmaid of the Lord. Her faith and her leap make all the difference in the world.
There are many things which happen in our life time which challenge us to leap in faith, to put aside our fears and doubts, and to listen to God’s reassurances. Some of the challenges we face are matters of our self-worth and confidence that God indeed cares about us and provides for us in spite of what we or society may say about us and our value. Some challenges we face deal with life and death…risking treatment for an illness and seeing that treatment as gift from God, or placing our life in God’s hands, trusting that God will bring us to the place where pain and sorrow will be no more. Other challenges are practical ones of day to day living as Christian people…such as whether or not we are willing to invite a neighbor to worship or talk about our faith with someone else or give an extra dollar or two or three or more to the church each Sunday in spite of limited resources. And, some challenges we face are purely faith issues which have practical implications well beyond the challenges themselves…such as a firm belief in God’s salvation, or the Mary-like acceptance of the possibility of a virgin birth and angels, messengers from God, or the trust that there is indeed nothing impossible for God.
All these challenges bring us to the edge…the edge of believing God, accepting His will for us, and trusting firmly in His words in whatever circumstances of life we may find ourselves. All these challenges bring us to the edge of the diving board, ready to jump off into the reassuring arms of a gracious God or to step away in fear and doubt.
As another Advent comes to a close, we are left with a choice. No one knows what he or she will do until the time comes to leap or step back. Yet, may we live in the assurance that the same God who enabled Mary to conceive and bear a son calls us to leap in faith with her…to put our trust in God and His grace and power. And may we join with Mary in that leap of faith, exclaiming that we too are servants of the Lord. Let it done to us according to God’s will – and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.