In the sixth month, God sent a named angel to unremarkable small town to speak a virgin named Mary. Mary’s family had signed the arranged marriage contract with Joseph, but the wedding was months away. Mary and Joseph may have met a few times, but only in the presence of a chaperone. God’s messenger greets Mary, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But Mary finds the greeting perplexing, perhaps wondering what worth God saw in her life? Perhaps you have felt the same way?
“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 (the Lord Saves). He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High…” Even at the age of maybe fifteen, Mary courageously questions God’s Messenger, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
“ How can this be, for I am a virgin?” Pregnancy is not easy. Pregnancy is beautifully strong, courageous, creative, hopeful, stretching, adjusting, carrying, altering, preserving, and persevering. As God’s plan unfolds Mary will seek refuge with her Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zechariah, until Joseph send for her. She will walk to Bethlehem. Google says that journey is a 33 hour, 163 kilometer, or 92 mile hike up and down small mountains and through desert valleys. They most likely walked through Jericho at 864 feet below sea level, the lowest city on earth, to Bethlehem at 2,543 feet. They walked for Joseph surely loaded his donkey down like a construction worker’s pick-up. Although, Joseph owned land and presumably had family in Bethlehem, the Holy Couple will find no room in the inn; Mary will give birth in a stable without her mother and aunts. Historians tell us to place a midwife in our Manger scenes. Christmas is a pregnancy story. Ponder the angel’s greeting, “Hail Mary, Favored one, the Lord is with you!Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive and bear a child, and you will name him Jesus (the Lord Saves). He will be great…”
“How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary turns the words over weighing the risk, the danger, the dread of unwed pregnancy in a culture of occasional “honor killings”. How can this be? God’s messenger is not offering Mary an iphone ten or a luxurious Mediterranean Cruise. There is no room for the prosperity Gospel here. Pregnancy will change Mary’s life forever. Thirty three years later, Jesus will shame a bloodlusting self-righteous crowd ready to stone a Daughter of Zion demanding, “you without sin cast the first stone!” The crowd responds taunting Jesus as “illegitimate” and “a Samaritan” (John 8)
How can this be? Mary’s deepest fear surely resided in the Levitical Law. “If no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). The scholars believe these tragically misnamed “honor-killings” rarely occurred. Turn this idea over in your head and heart; Jesus is threatened by the religious legalists even before he is born.
How can this be? Matthew shares a possible scenario, “And Joseph her fiancé, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace Mary, planned to send her away secretly” (Matthew 1:19). Joseph was likely around 18, that was the ideal for a Jewish man according to Amy-Jill Levine. Joseph is called righteous, for righteousness flows grace. The practise of shunning seems merciful compared to stoning. But, where would Joseph send his pledged and now pregnant fiancé? Without property rights, denied the right to work, and shunned by her family, Mary would likely reduced to panhandling or prostitution. The Apostle Paul tells us “that the Letter kills but the spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6) Our Creator, who always looks for a way, sends Joseph a holy and disquetting dream. I might prefer a real angel from heaven, not some vague dream. Joseph awakening with a deep sense of spiritual direction goes down a risky path and takes Mary as his wife. Nothing is impossible for God.
“Favored One, the Lord is with you! How can this be?” echoes through the prophets pondering God’s call. Abraham denies. Sara laughs. Moses begs God, “please send someone else”. Elijah goes and hides in defeat. Jeremiah weeps. Peter goes fishing. The church goes silent. Mary fears answering God’s call.
Do you hear God calling today? Maybe we need to hear from Jesus tonight. Listen to our Lord, who traveled throughout Galilee, “teaching in the synagogues, announcing the good news, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” Matthew 4:23
- Blessed are the pure in heart
- Blessed are the peacemakers
- Blessed are those persecuted for seeking to make things right
- You are the light of the world… Shine
- Seek to be reconciled with your brothers or sisters.
- Absorb an insult
- Love even your enemies (offering them redemptive ethically rooted goodwill)
- Forgive and you will be forgiven.
- Do not store up treasures on earth.
- Live seeking that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven.
- Remember, where your treasure is, that is where your heart is
- Judge not
- In everything, treat others as you long to be treated.
- Enter through the narrow gate.
- I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
- I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear.
- I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.
- The way you treat the least of these is the way you treat me ( Matthew 25)
Oh Favored Ones, ponder that message in your heart. Hear the Word of God made flesh calling ua to remake this world. The Lord is with us- let us bring good news to a hurting and graceless world.
But how can we do this? How can we live as disciples? Hear God’s promise to Mary and to us: Do not be afraid, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you …For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Hear God’s promise to Moses who protested “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to liberate slaves?” God says “I’ll be with you.” “I am not eloquent enough” God said “Who gives people speech? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I’ll help you speak, and teach you what you to say.” Exodus 3-4
When Doctor King’s home was firebombed by white terrorists, Martin confessed being ready to give up. In “the Strength to Love,” Martin speaks of his prayer life: “I am at the end of my powers, I have nothing left. I can’t face it alone. At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never before experienced Him. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, saying ‘stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth, and God will be at your side forevermore.’ Almost at once my fears passed from me. … The outer situation remained the same, but God had given me an inner calm. God is able to give us interior resources to face the storms and problems of life. …When our days become dreary with the low hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great benign Power in the universe whose name is God, and God is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows! This is our hope for becoming better men and women. This is our mandate for seeking to make a better world.”
Dear Christmas friend, let us not miss the good news in a season of Christmas sentimentalism. Hear the Good News: God is with us. Hail, Mary, Bill, Tessa the Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you …For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Hear the Good News: hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, saying ‘stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth, and God will be at your side forevermore.’ Know the the prince of peace who gives us me an inner calm. Oh God is able to give us interior resources to face the storms and problems of life. … let us remember that there is a great benign Power in the universe whose name is God, and God is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows! This is our hope! This is our mandate.” Nothing is impossible with God.
Mary, carry that holy child to the temple each year, teach him his evening prayers.
Joseph trust the holy disquiet of your dreams- righteousness is not all about rule keeping
Shepherds, leave your fields for a sabbath giving journey and return glorifying God!
Magi, follow the star, move past the unbelieving King; you will rejoice with exceedingly great joy
Moses, Go speak truth to power- God will give you the words
Martin, stand up for truth, stand up for justice and God will be at your side forevermore
Oh friend, dreading what family mess tomorrow- know God’s love goes with you!
Ingrid, build that tiny home, for Jesus needs a place to sleep tonight
Belmont, do not be afraid, the Lord is with us, the power of the most high will overshadow our inabilities and failures. It may at times seem impossible… But nothing is impossible with God. So let us say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” amen.