Third Sunday of Advent - Making Room For Christ: "I Am The Lord's Servant"
Today we're going to continue the sermon series that we started a couple of weeks ago--a sermon series entitled, "Making Room for Christ." The basic premise behind this sermon series is more of an exhortation than a premise: "Don't become so consumed with the coming of Christmas, that you miss the coming of the Christ." In other words, even for those of us who think we know better--it's far too easy to lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas in a culture that seems hell-bent on ensuring we do.
I'm going to begin today by reading the passage of Scripture we'll be studying--Luke 1:26-38:
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.Let me just start by saying this about God's intrusive invitations. Saying yes to them is risky. Heck, saying yes to anything has risks, but when it comes to the way God rolls---the risk factor tends to shoot way up.
I was watching football the other day (surprise!) and a beer commercial came on for Bud Lite beer. The premise of the ad campaign that Bud Lite is running right now is "Up For Whatever." The idea is that if you drink Bud Lite, you are probably the kind of person that is up for "whatever." You will say yes to whatever happens. You will be adventurous. You will play ping pong with Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example--that really happened in one of the ads. Or you will play electronic football with legendary football coach Jimmy Johnson.
Because if you are the kind of person who is cool enough to drink Bud Lite, you must be awesome.
I love the theology of this beer commercial. You are shocked that a beer commercial is imbued with theology? You shouldn't be. Pretty much everything is. And by theology, I mean the "God talk" of the beer commercial, so...
Here's what I love about it. It's about saying yes. It's about giving permission. It's about living your life in such a way that you aren't a spectator, you are a participant. This is the kind of life that Jesus encouraged his followers to lead.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way Christians lost that part of the story.
Here's what Christians aren't known for. We are not known for our flexibility, our willingness to change, our openness, our desire to live expansive, open-ended lives where we truly are up for whatever.
Most of us Christians fear change, are intractable in our beliefs, are narrow rather than open and choose to live in small Christian ghettos where we are surrounded by other Christians who think like us, act like us, believe like us and say no like us. Most people know we are Christians not by our love, but by the causes we say we support, the things we protest or the things we absolutely, positively cannot stand...
We're not really known for saying yes.
But Mary, the mother of Jesus--she was...
Mary was 15 years old, she was impoverished, marginalized, powerless and put between a rock and another rock and then a hard place. The angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her that she was going to become pregnant and bear a son. He went on to say a lot of other things, too, but I imagine that Mary kind of stopped listening after he said the words "pregnant," and "bear a son." She was fifteen. She was engaged to be married, which meant that she had not yet consummated her relationship with her future husband, Joseph, which meant that she was still a virgin.
To a young, fifteen year old impoverished, marginalized, powerless girl about to be married--showing up to the altar pregnant was not an option. Because she was promised to Joseph it was the same (almost) as being married. Which meant that in the strict sense of the law Joseph could have her tried for adultery, and she could very well be executed.
So there was that.
When Mary asks the angel "How can this be?" you now get a real sense of the weight of that question, don't you?
The angel replied, "The Holy Spirit of God will come upon you. The same Holy Spirit that came upon your aged cousin Elizabeth who was too old to have children. She was too old, you are too young. It doesn't matter." In one of the other versions of the story, the angel says to Mary, "Nothing is impossible with God."
And then Mary says, "I am the Lord's servant."
There is a persistent legend in the traditions of the Church that Mary wasn't the first young woman that God sent a messenger to that night. She was, however, the first to say yes. This is only a legend, mind you, but it speaks deeply into how the Church and even wider culture has come to view this young woman--who said yes to God's intrusive invitation.
Anti-feminists praise Mary for her submission. Feminists praise her for her courage. Orthodox Christians call her theotokos the God-bearer, Catholics call her the Queen of Heaven, Protestants praise her acclamation of the will of God.
God has a thing, it seems, for nobodies who risk saying yes. The Bible is full of them. Abraham was a random guy living his life in a place called Ur, and God called him to leave everything and everyone he ever knew to go into the wilderness... and he said yes. Jacob was muddy, bruised, limping, running from his past and God called him to return to it... and he said yes. Moses was a murdering, stuttering, excuse-making fool and God called him to lead a nation.. and he said yes. David was a shepherd boy tending flocks and minding his own business and God called him to fight a giant... and he said yes.
Isaiah couldn't speak, Jeremiah was too young... but they said yes.
God has a thing for nobodies who risk saying yes.
When God calls you to a prophetic destiny, your world shakes. It turns upside down. You know that everything is going to be different... if you say yes.
Mary's cousin Elizabeth knew all about this. She and her husband Zechariah conceived a son when they were old and things weren't--well--working anymore. That son would become John the Baptist.
If God can use Elizabeth and Mary to give birth to his plans for redemption into the world--our excuses don't really work, do they?
We can't say we're too young... too old... to poor... to powerless... too used up... too busy.... to---you fill in the blank. Our arguments are invalid.
You see, Jesus' victory--the victory of God in Christ over sin, death and the evil in the world--that victory was hidden in the appearance of weakness, in the appearance of defeat. This was God's intention all along. It's always God's intention. He uses weakness, in the words of the Apostle Paul, to confound the strong, to mess up their paradigm, their understanding of how things should work.
Mary humbled herself... and then she was confident in her actions.
She knew it didn't make any sense to say yes, but then again it made perfect sense. There was no reason in the world why she should have agreed to God's crazy plan, but she did anyway, trusting that God was actually going to do what God said he would do. That he if he called her to it, God would see her through it. Because nothing--is impossible with God.
During this season of Advent we've been encouraged to have our eyes open to where God's kingdom is breaking into this world through Jesus all around us. We've been exhorted to confess, to repent, to let go of the things that are keeping us from being open, ready for the arrival of the Christ-child.
But it really does come down to this. When he arrives... When Jesus arrives as one of those intrusive invitations from God. Are we willing to say yes?
Here's the thing--and I want you to hear this clearly: This story of Mary and her willingness to be God's vessel teaches us something profound and awesome. God is not just with us, God is within us. Hear that again. God is not just with us, God is within us. If the Gospel must make it's way into our world--we have to have holy imaginations. We have to be willing to see ourselves as the servants of the Lord--his vessel through which Christ is once again born into this world.
But saying yes to this intrusive invitation to accept Jesus and his path for our lives is risky...
Just a few weeks before my wife and I were married we came face to face with a moment like this. We had been apart for a long time and had only just found each other. I had broken her heart years before and then mine had been shattered shortly after that when we tried to reconcile and it fell apart. We were wounded. We were young, poor, clueless and carrying more baggage than two twenty-three year old kids had a right to...
It was New Year's Eve and I will never forget the moment when we committed our lives to this adventure we've been having for the past twenty three years. Merideth said to me, "I don't know if I can do this." I can't really remember exactly what I said, but I seem to remember that it was something like, "I know. But I don't see how we can't."
I have always felt like that was a holy moment for us. A moment when God sort of paused the universe and gave us a chance to embrace his plans for our lives. We could have refused. We could have said no. It would have been far less risky than saying yes at that point.
But we didn't. And now here we are.
When God called that day, even though we didn't quite understand all of it, we said yes.
There is a prayer that our brothers and sisters in the Catholic tradition often pray at the close of day. It's called the Angelus, and it goes something like this:
The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary. And she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your Word. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.Putting aside the differences in our theology, what can this prayer from our Catholic brothers and sisters teach us?
To begin with, it forces whoever prays it to answer a very important question. How did I respond to God's call today? Mary said yes. It's my turn. When the Christ-child comes will I be ready for his birth? Will I do my part to bring his presence into the world?
Saying yes is risky. But it's riskier by far to say no.
Christmas is coming. We are almost there. But we can't be so consumed by the coming of Christmas, that we miss the coming of the Christ.
It's time to say yes. To let the words come from your heart and to your lips--"I am the Lord's servant..." Say yes to him today.