Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent 4-B Sermon, 2014 - Mary, Gabriel, Go.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. 

-Luke 1:26-38

This morning, as we hear the story of the promise of Christ’s 

birth made to Mary, 

and the words of the angel, Gabriel, 

we should notice 

(as we are beginning at verse 26 in the first chapter of Luke) 

that we’re coming into the story leading up to Christmas 

just a little bit late. 

Actually, about six months late. 

Six months prior to today’s reading,
(and about twenty verses ago), 

prior to the news of the young-isn’t-it-a-cryin’-shame?!her-whole-darn-life-was-ahead-of-


Six months prior...

someone else had already gotten a

surprise!-you’re-pregnant!!!-angelic visit. 

You see, old, old, old 


had also seen the angel.

Zechariah was Mary’s cousin-in-law.

That is, he was the husband of Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth. 

And in this story, in Luke, he had been assigned the special task (Six months ago) of offering incense to the Lord in the temple. He was priest. And this particular task with the incense was kind of a big deal. 

So, of course, he did it. 

As he was in the very holy incense-offering spot at the temple, 

assigned to this very holy chore, 

Zechariah was visited (six months ago) by a very holy angel—

by Gabriel. 

Now, Elizabeth 

(Mary’s cousin, and Zechariah’s spouse), 

who like Zechariah was also “advanced in years” 
had never had a child. 

This was the case with many of the women (and couples) God had chosen, throughout the Hebrew scriptures. 

Elizabeth, the angel told Zechariah, 

would give birth to a boy who would one day become… 

[hold up picture] 

this guy. 

that madman in the desert with the camels hair and locusts and the honey—the prophet we spoke about the second and third weeks in advent—John, the baptist, the one “crying out in the wilderness.” 

But at this point in the Gospel he has yet to cry out, 
or even to cry. 

He is still in the womb, foretold by Gabriel, and already, 
he said “filled with the Spirit,” even before his birth. 

After conceiving, Elizabeth was rather secluded 

for about five months. 

(And that brings us to today—to the sixth month!)

IN THE SIXTH MONTH, Luke’s Gospel tells us, 

Gabriel was sent back. This time to another chosen woman—this time, to Mary. 

And much to everyone’s surprise—or, rather, disbelief—

the Angel Gabriel appeared not to a priest, and not to a priest's wife, 

not in a temple, and nowhere near the holy of holies. 

Rather, this times, the angel appeared in Nazareth. 

In Galilee. 

In, you know—“that neighborhood.” 

The... “other side” of the tracks… 

The slums, the yards, the projects, 

the Southside… 

The angel appeared in the “ethnic” neighborhood… 

You can hear them whispering: 
"The angel 'appeared,' (well, allegedly appeared!) 
to a girl who wasn’t-even-married-yet-can-you-believe-it?-." 

"To a young woman. A 'virgin.'" 

“I mean, she was alone when this apparition was supposed to have happened… So you know…” 

“an ‘angel of the Lord…’” 
“to a ‘young woman in Nazareth…?’” 

"Can we even trust her....?!" "Nazareth..."

This is the stuff shrouds and talk-shows are made of…

"Apparently her fiancĂ© made himself out to be a good guy." 
"I mean I guess they were engaged." 
"I mean they went to temple, and prayed, 
and memorized a bunch of scripture." 

"They had those nice cover things that went over their bibles with, like, the handle on it, and their names embroidered right on there…"

"I mean, supposedly, he was even a carpenter." 
"And he even had some royal blood." 


You can imagine the talk of the town...

[turn off sarcasm here]


When the angel Gabriel appeared, 

and he greeted Mary, 

(to return to the story)

the angel said something strange. 

He said to Mary, “The Lord is with you.” 

And he said that she was “favored.” 

An angel blazing in glory told a teenager that she was favored. 

And that the Lord is with her. 

(The Lord be with you!—we still say this to one another every week in church.) 

But this greeting threw her off. 

What could it mean, to be favored, or gifted, or full of grace—to have the Lord with her? 

Doesn't the Lord live in the temple? How could he dwell with her? 

What could all of this mean?

Mary was perplexed. 

And confused. 

And afraid. 

So of course, the angel said to her what angels say:

“Don't be afraid.” 

He then went on to tell her 

that not only would she have a kid, 

but that that kid would take back the throne that belonged to her ancestors, 

a throne that was currently sat upon by a Roman king. 

This kid, claimed an angel to a teenager, would overthrow an empire. 

Gabriel needed to work on his understanding of what might make teenagers to “not be afraid.” 

Of course, at the angel’s news, Mary doesn’t ask about the king or the throne or the empire.

She doesn’t even ask this guy in the robe to prove he is really an angel. 

Instead, of course, 

Mary asks the more pressing teenage question:

“How can this be? What do you mean I’m pregnant? I’m a virgin.” 

To which Gabriel replies:

"Don't worry. This one’s coming from the Holy Spirit.”

He tells her about Elizabeth, already six months along, 
almost as proof—If she can do it in her age, 
c'mon Mary... you can do it, too. 

“Nothing is impossible with God.” 

But then… 


perhaps the most miraculous thing in the whole story leading up to Chritmas happens. 

Perhaps the most miraculous...

Echoing the words of prophets who had come before her, and in anticipation of the Son she would bring up,

In her youth, in her poverty, in her fear,
from the projects, the yards, 

or some wrong side of some tracks somewhere, 

Mary, full of grace,

responds, to the call.

“Here I am.”

“Let it be with me according to your word.” 

And the angel departed from her

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