The woman who said Yes (fourth Sunday of Advent)

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a young woman who was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The young woman’s name was Mary.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

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 the Son of God. 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. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Then the angel left her.

– Luke 1:26-38

Good morning, Friends!

We’re almost up to Christmas. Just a few more days of waiting. Just a few more days for everything to come together.

I know some of you’ve had parties and you’ve all probably been busy buying presents. Some of you have family coming home for Christmas, or you might be planning to travel yourselves. All those things occupy our attention.

But we need to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season. What would Jesus want us to be thinking about? What would Jesus want us to do?

I’ve been so impressed by the generosity of people in this community during Christmas time. People are giving to missions. You’re helping the poor. You’re remembering the lonely. I think that’s what Jesus himself would want from us. For all your generosity, in Jesus’ name, I thank you.

This morning, on this last Sunday before Christmas, I want us to remember how important it is that we say yes to God. The person in the Bible who did this in a special way, was Mary.

We don’t really know very much about Mary, for all that she’s such an important person in history. We have no idea what she looked like. We don’t know how old or young she really was, when she bore Jesus.

She might have been in her 20’s, though that would have been pretty old for marriage back in that time and culture. More likely she was in her teens.

Imagine that – the responsibility, the awesomeness, not just of parenting, but of being asked to be the mother of such a special child, at her age. I doubt she understood what was being asked of her.

How could she know what God had in mind? How could she understand what her baby boy would grow into?

Do you think Mary had any idea of God’s plan? She might have known that her people needed help. She probably saw lots of suffering and poverty all around her.

But could she ever have imagined the number of people who would call on her son Jesus to help them? How many people would come to him, pray to him, or throw themselves at his feet? And not just in Mary’s own small community, but throughout the whole world, for ages to come?

I don’t think that any person, young or old, could possibly know the depth of what God was inviting her to. We just aren’t mentally equipped to handle such a challenge. I’m sure that Mary didn’t realize what God was really asking.

When the angel first spoke to Mary, it says in our translation that she was “greatly troubled.” Actually, it means that she was terrified.

I don’t know what angels really look like. Do you? Sometimes in the Bible, it says that angels look like human figures. In some stories, the angels go up and come down from heaven. Maybe that’s why we sometimes draw pictures of them with wings.

In other places in the Bible, angels appear with smoke and fire – it’s like they’re white hot, so hot that you can’t touch them, without getting scorched or burned. Maybe they’re like stars – so hot that nothing physical can stay together in their presence.

So, Mary was scared. She was terrified. She had no idea what she was being asked to do. She knew she was unprepared. She knew she had no experience, no strength, no special abilities to handle this. She knew she couldn’t even have a child – she didin’t have a husband yet.

But the angel said, “Mary, God loves you very much. You going to have a baby, and you’ll name him Jesus. He will grow up to be great. They’ll call him God’s own Son. He’ll be King David’s son, too. He will reign over God’s people forever, and his kingdom will never end.”

Then the angel went on to explain, about as clearly as we’re ever likely to understand, how it was all going to happen, and how the Holy Spirit would be with her. The angel finished up by saying, “Nothing is impossible with God!”

There are so many things that I could say to you about Christmas. I enjoy all of the sweet, sentimental stuff. I love the trees, and the carols and the decorations. I love to give presents, and I enjoy getting presents.

But that’s not the heart of the Christmas message. And before Christmas comes, I need to repeat what I think the true message of Christmas is.

God had a plan to save the world. That’s what Christmas is all about. God’s plan went way back, for hundreds of years before Jesus was born.

In fact, if you believe some of the gospels, God’s plan goes back to the very beginning of everything. God knew that things were going to get messed up, and so God had a plan from the very beginning for how to restore and heal the world.

I don’t know if that means that God predicts every last little detail. I think we have some choice in the matter. It’s possible for people to obstruct or delay what God wants at times.

But God had a plan, a big, overall, active plan, to redeem and heal the whole world. God has been working that plan, down through the ages. God’s plan is to love the world, till it changes, till the world takes on the shape that God wants it to have.

God’s plan is to heal this wounded world. God’s plan is to save the world, not destroy it. And with the patience and love that only God can have, God keeps working away, planting seeds, calling people, healing people, blessing people, inviting people to turn back, to turn around, to trust and hope, to get on board with what God is doing in the world.

That’s what Christmas means. Christmas means that God has a plan to save us, to end the violence, to restore peace and good will, to tear down the walls and bring the enemies together. That’s God’s plan.

Christmas is also about God keeping promises. God promised to send us a Savior.

A couple of weeks ago, I said that people remembered the prophecies about Jesus from hundreds of years ago. I asked if we would be willing to stake everything, on a promise that God made 180 years before Columbus. Or if we’d still remember a promise that God made 550 years before the Revolution. The Jews had been waiting for the Messiah for as long as that.

One of the things we’ve been talking about in our midweek Bible study this fall, is that God always keeps the promises that God makes. That’s the heart of all the stories we’ve been studying on Wednesday nights this year. And it’s at the heart of the entire Christmas story.

The promises God makes, God always keeps. God remembers promises, even when we forget. Even if the promises were made to our ancestors, even if the promises have become blurred and distorted in our memory, God always remembers.

Christmas also reminds us that God works in unexpected ways, through unexpected people.

Mary was nobody special. She wasn’t famous. We know almost nothing about her background. Yet she became the mother of Jesus.

David was a shepherd boy. He was the youngest of his brothers, and he was the smallest one in the entire family. Yet he rose to become the greatest king in Israel’s history.

Moses didn’t think he was anybody special. He was the son of slaves. He had no self-confidence. He stuttered when he talked. He had no idea what he was going to say when God sent him to Pharaoh, the greatest ruler of the world at that time.

Moses wasn’t a general. He had to ask God what to do, all the time. People kept rebelling against Moses. But we remember him as the greatest leader Israel ever had.

Do you see what I’m saying? God uses humble people, unknown people, people who know they aren’t equipped or strong enough. Jesus grew up in a village people used to make jokes about, it was so poor and backward. “Nazareth!” they used to say. “Has anything good ever come out of Nazareth?”

If we wait around because we don’t think we’re special, well, the answer is, “Yes! That’s right! We aren’t special. Maybe we’re nobody. There are lots of people who are more talented, or more experienced, or more holy than we are. There are lots of people who come from better families. There are plenty of people who have better track records than we do.”

But God doesn’t care about that. Christmas says, over and over again, that God took a quiet, unknown couple, and chose them to raise and nurture the Savior.

God didn’t choose a rich family. God didn’t choose a privileged family. They never sent Jesus to an expensive school. He wasn’t on the honor roll, or any of the things we think lead to success.

It all started with one simple thing. It all started because Mary said yes to God.

If you stop and think about it, that was Mary’s most important contribution to the whole story. She said yes.

God has a plan. God makes promises. God can overcome any obstacles. But God needs someone to say yes to it all. God needs our cooperation. God needs our acceptance.

When we wonder, “Why doesn’t God do more amazing things in the world today?”, maybe we need to remember the story of Mary again.

God had an amazing plan in mind to bring light into the world. God had been planning it for ages. God chose the time, when all the right people could come together. God chose the right opportunities. God sent messengers ahead of Jesus, to prepare the way, to open peoples’ hearts and minds.

But before any of it could happen, God needed one more thing. God needed one person, to say yes to her part in the plan. Mary was the woman who said yes.

In fact, she said more than that. She said, “I am your servant, Lord. May your word be fulfilled in me. . .”

And later on that week, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, she found that God’s promise was confirmed again.

You see, Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were too old to have a baby of their own. They had hoped and prayed for many years. But there was no baby.

Then, through God’s intervention, Elizabeth and Zechariah were able to have a baby together. God promised that they would have a son, who would grow up to become a great prophet, who we know as John the Baptist.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice as she entered the house, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb started doing handsprings! Even before Elizabeth’s baby was born, he was filled with joy that the Savior was coming.

And Elizabeth was filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit, and said, “Blessed are you among all women, and blessed is the child you will bear! Why am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord should come to visit me?”

And Mary, who was still kind of frightened, was reassured by her cousin’s greeting. And she made up a song – the one we heard the choir sing earlier this morning. The song said,

My soul gives glory to my God,
My heart pours out its praise.
God lifted up my lowliness
In many marvelous ways.

My God has done great things for me,
Yes, holy is God’s name;
All people will declare me blessed,
And blessings they shall claim.

That is what Christmas is all about.

It’s about God’s plan. It’s about God’s promise.

It’s about a Savior. It’s about a baby who was born in humility, in poverty, out in a stable, and laid to rest where farm animals ate their food. It’s about people who waited, and hoped, and prayed. And today, it’s about a young woman who said yes to God. She was afraid, but she still said yes.

And when we think about all of the amazing things that followed, the life and teaching and miracles of Jesus, his suffering and death and resurrection, the countless lives Jesus has inspired, all the people who call on Jesus and pray in his name – for any of that to happen, it needed just one person to say yes.

Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Brown

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