We made it! We are here, at Christmas Eve. Even if you barely made it here, even if you still have a million things to do, you made it. We are worshipping, and safe, and able to enjoy the music and the people, no matter what went wrong earlier today or this week or this year.
This last burst of preparations, and worry, and just general craziness, as we approach Christmas at last made me think of Mary this year. Part of what we remember is her part in this story: a young teenager, engaged but not yet married to someone who was probably older than her and almost a stranger. She lived in a time of upheaval and unrest, as her people continued to resist Roman oppression and taxes.
And then she is visited by an angel. The angel has a message for her: “You have found favor with God. And so God, who would like to be born as a human baby, would like you to be His mother. God would like you, Mary, to be the mother of God.”
We’ve all grown up with this story, if not in our own homes than on Christmas cards and television shows and on the radio and basically everywhere. It doesn’t surprise us anymore. It doesn’t seem that strange; it’s just how things are, it’s just the story of Christmas. Luke says she was “greatly perplexed,” which I think must be an understatement. But for Mary–there are no words for her shock, and surprise. Of course she knows the prophecies; she knows the promises of God that one day the people will be free because of the Son of God. But–she is going to be a part of this? And what will it mean for her? for her family? for her engagement? In the midst of all that, everything that she is feeling, and wondering, she agrees. She tells the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
This whole story, our whole Christmas celebration, hinges on Mary. She is the one who accepted the angel’s words with deep and willing obedience. She is the one who sees what God is doing and sings to her cousin Elizabeth of God’s coming, of God’s justice and peace that will cover the earth. She is the one who becomes more and more pregnant, deals with swollen feet and an aching back and everything else that comes with pregnancy, eventually while traveling to Bethlehem with her fiancé. She is the one who gives birth, and holds her son Jesus, the Son of God. She is the one who nurses Him and raises Him. She is the one who sees Jesus for who He truly is: she knows that Jesus will change the world, that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus has come to save Israel and the whole world. As Christian author Rachel Held Evans wrote, “At the heart of Mary’s worthiness is her obedience […] to the creative work of a God who lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things.”*
And I know people like to imagine Mary’s obedience as something quiet and traditional and meek, but come on. She’s a mother! I think we all know mothers are not-so-secret mama bears, and that meek is exactly the wrong word for it. And more than that: She’s following a God who was born as a human being! She’s following a God who wants to completely, utterly shake things up in every way to ensure peace and justice for all.
The author Madeleine L’Engle is best-known for writing A Wrinkle in Time, a really gorgeous children’s book, but she wrote a lot as well for adults, often about how to live a faithful life. She imagined everyone who did anything creatively–and I mean anything, from farming to driving to being sick to absolutely anything else–to be an artist. And she wrote about that, “Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am, Enflesh me. Give birth to me.’ And the artist either says, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.”*
And Rachel Held Evans said of this quote, “The same applies to faith. One need not be a saint, or a mother, to become a bearer of God. One needs only to obey. The divine resides in all of us, but it is our choice to magnify it or diminish it, to ignore it or to surrender to its lead.”*
We are given Jesus as much as Mary was. We are given God to bear in our hearts and share with those around us, and we are called to obedience. May we be obedient; may we, too, say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
*All quotes in this sermon are from Rachel Held Evans’ book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Her thoughts about Mary can also be read on her blog. This includes the Madeleine L’Engle quote, which is originally from her book Walking on Water.