Good morning, Friends!
We are getting very close to Christmas. Not just the presents and the family gatherings and all the fun stuff. We’re getting close to Christmas itself, the reason for all the celebration.
Jesus was born about 2,000 years ago, give or take a little. We remember his birth every year as a special time. We like to imagine that we were there. Christmas is one of those things where time doesn’t really matter very much. We’re all a part of the story.
Today, I want to read a very important part of the Christmas story. Without this, none of it would ever have happened. So, let’s read together from the gospel of Luke.
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, “Don’t 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’ve never been with a man?”
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
I have told and re-told this story so many times over the years. And somehow, it always feels fresh and new to me.
Some years, what impresses me most is the courage that Mary and Joseph must have had. Just imagine – traveling on foot, or riding a donkey, all that way, and having no place to stay when you arrived.
Some years, I think about how much it mattered that Mary said yes. She might have said no, I suppose. What would have God done then? Would God have chosen a different woman, to bear and raise the holy child?
But Mary did say yes. And the world was changed forever. What does it matter – how many changes depend on our saying yes to God? Is the world going to be different, because we say yes or no?
Some years I think about all the dreams that Joseph had – that story is in a different gospel than the one we read today. Joseph may have been a carpenter. But Joseph was also a dreamer.
On many different occasions, Joseph had dreams that he was going to be a father, that it was all right for him to go ahead and marry Mary, that he and his family needed to flee for the lives to another country, and finally, a dream that it was safe for them to come home again.
But today’s story is about the time when Mary was visited by an angel.
We don’t really know what the angel looked like. It doesn’t say. It leaves it up to our imagination to fill in that part of the story.
A stranger, dressed in white? A fierce warrior, from God’s heavenly army? A little shining light, sort of like Tinkerbell? It doesn’t tell us.
The angel said, “Greetings!” which makes it sound like an Army draft notice. Actually, the angel probably said, Shalom – “peace be with you” – which was the everyday, ordinary greeting most people used then.
Then the angel said, “You lucky girl! God’s picked you for something special!”
It says Mary was troubled or perplexed by this. Actually, she was probably scared speechless. I mean, come on! How many times had this ever happened to her? Scared doesn’t even begin to cover all the things she felt.
So the angel said, “Don’t be afraid!”
That seems to be what angels always say, when they come calling. The angel came to Zechariah and the first thing the angel said, was, “Don’t be afraid!”
The angel comes to the shepherds out in the field, first thing the angel says is, “Don’t be afraid!“
The angel came to Joseph and said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid!” The angel came to the empty tomb on Easter morning and told them, “Don’t be afraid!”
I don’t know if there’s something particularly scary about angels, but I can tell you, there’s a pattern going on here.
I don’t know if you have ever felt like you were visited by an angel. What would that be like?
Sometimes, I’ll be out walking in the street or in a parking lot, and I’ll look down, and see something shiny on the ground. We used to call that a good luck penny, or sometimes, we’d call it an “angel penny.” People used to say that when you were down and needed something special to cheer you up, an angel would leave a penny for you to find.
Other people feel sometimes there’s a moment, right in the middle of doing something else, when you suddenly feel like there’s a special presence nearby. I’ve had that happen to me a few times.
Everything looks the same, but it feels special. God seems closer somehow. The world seems brighter, or things seem clearer. It’s like somebody you love is speaking to you.
It can be in a dream, or when you’re doing something, or just thinking. It’s like you’ve suddenly been taken to a whole different level for a moment.
We call those angel visits. They don’t happen all the time. Can go years between them. But God was near, in a very special way.
Maybe Mary had one of those. An angel who had one foot in God’s world, and one foot in our world, who brought a special message, just for her.
And it changed, not just her life, but the life of everyone in the whole world. Because an angel visited her, Mary had a son, who spoke the way no one had every spoken before. A teacher, a healer. Someone who people described as living bread and living water, for a hungry and thirsty world.
Because of her angel visit, we all got a savior, who lifts people up, from every kind of brokenness. A savior who isn’t afraid to go down into the deepest hell there is, to bring people home again.
We got a good shepherd. A light, for a darkened world. Someone who forgives our sins, all the way, and the only price is that we forgive each other.
Mary didn’t know all that, when the angel came to call on her that day. She only knew that she had a choice. And when she heard the angel’s voice, when she saw how bright the angel was, when the angel took away her fear, the only thing she could say was, “Yes.”
This Christmas, I hope you get lots of gifts. But I hope that one of your gifts, sometime this year, will be an angel visit. I can’t tell you what that will look like, or feel like. But you’ll know it. And that’s the greatest gift that any of us can ever receive.