A Sermon for Advent 4: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 3 or Canticle 15; or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Gabriel has a message to deliver. The angle knows what to do because that is what angels are, message delivers. So, Gabriel follows the pattern, he tells the receiver “Do not be afraid.” calls the receiver by name, and assures them of God’s favor (Culpepper). It is exactly what the Gabriel tells Zechariah (Elizabeth’s husband and John the Baptist’s father) in the Temple several months before (Luke 1:5-25). To say that Mary is perplexed is an understatement (Epperly). She has not been yearning to have a baby like Rebekah, or Hannah. She is not ready, she’s barely old enough. She is not like Sarah 80, or Elizabeth who is not quite but almost as old. She hears that she is favored by God, but it feels so strange; where are the customary ideals that connect it all to day in and day out life (Culpepper)? If that is not enough there the folktale from Tobit about the wicked angel Asmodeus visiting Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, on her wedding nights and killing her husbands. Seven deaths have raised suspicions (Tobit 3:7-8) (Culpepper). With all this running through Mary’s mind, I wonder if Mary really hears Gabriel’s message? So, with more and better reason than Zachariah Mary answer the divine question with a good question: How can this be? You can easily imagine her asking Why will this be? (Hoezee).
Gabriel now has a different role the giver of comfort in perplexity. Steve Pankey writes:
Mary wasn’t just confused by the reality of an angel standing in her room [~] she is downright scared, anxious, confused, and totally taken aback.
We know Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid, we know she is called by name, but we may not realize how rare this is for women in biblical days, thus we may miss how Gabriel assures her that she is valued, that she is beloved of God (Pankey).
I’ll credit the divine muse for drawing my attention to Mary’s answer. She follow’s Hanna who answers Eli’s somewhat curt answer to her prayers Let your servant find favor in your sight (1 Samuel 1:18) telling Gabriel Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38).
Mary follows a long line of divine servants,
- from Moses, who when the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, … [and] called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” … [answered], “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4)
- to the young Samuel, who after 3 ttimes getting up to serve Eli, who had not called him follows Eli’s advice, and when the Lord called again Samuel! Samuel! answered Speak, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10)
- to Isaiah, who heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? answers, Here am I; send me! (Isaiah 6:8).
Christopher Seitz notes that the emotional response to a divine call is the experience of standing in the presence of God (Seitz). Like the prophets, like God’s servants before her Mary now claims a place in God’s household, her partnership with God (Harrelson).
Far beyond simply holding Mary in high esteem her reply Here I am, … let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38) has implications for how we live into our baptism. Mary is not unique because she was so perfect; no, Mary is unique because she was willing to say “yes” to the unexpected and the apparently impossible (Epperly). In our baptism we are called to believe that the world is transformed when we say “yes” to the unexpected, and to what we see as impossible. God still presents possibilities for new birth and we are called to carry these possibilities to term and nurture them into the fullness of their lives (Epperly). A measure of how we are following God’s will is how our obedience flows from divine blessings. And the greatest of blessings are bound up in our fellowship with God (Culpepper).
Gabriel’s reply to Mary’s perplexity Do not be afraid reverberates throughout the rest of Luke’s story and, if we are honest, throughout our stories. When the status quo is about to be altered and the rhythms of the everyday life are about to be disrupted our calling is to speak and be the comforting image of God’s presence (Smith).
The glory of Christmas came about because of Mary’s and other ordinary people’s willingness to obey God’s claim on their lives. The light continues to shine as you, and I, and our neighbors, and other ordinary people follow Gabriel’s role to provide comfort in perplexity, and Mary’s “yes” Here I am, let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38). Thus, as we just say “Yes” we will sing as our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord.
Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 24 12 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 1:26-38. 24 12 2017.
Pankey, Steve. “A comfort in perplexity.” 24 12 2017. Draughting Theology.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Seitz, Christopher R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Book of Isaiah 40-66. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Song of Songs 8:8. Vol. IV. Nashville: Abingdon Press (NIBC) Song of Songs 8:8, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.
Smith, Shively. Commentary on Luke 1:26-38. 24 12 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.