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, favored 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 favor 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 forever, 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.
SERMON Accepting the Gift of New Life December 20, 2020
So yes, finally, we get to a text that sounds more like Christmas! After three weeks of Isaiah we finally get to Luke’s Gospel where we hear about Mary and the announcement of her impending pregnancy.
I want to talk about Mary this morning….Mary…..the one whom so many Protestants ignore because the Roman Catholics seem to love her so much. Too often for Protestants it’s always and only about Jesus….and his mother’s role consists of two cameos…one at the manger and one at the cross.
I got hooked on Mary when I listened to some feminist theologians suggest that she is the symbol of a completely self-sufficient women. . .who didn’t need to depend on a man ever….not even to get pregnant! Well that’s an interesting way to look at her, isn’t it?
Meister Eckhart, a 14th C German scholar and mystic suggested that to embrace Mary is to embrace the idea that we are all meant to be mothers of God. After all, he writes…
…what good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? Then, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.
It is a remarkable statement, made all the more so by the fact that it was written by a man…..and not a post-modern enlightened man, like the fabulous men who are part of this church community, who aren’t afraid of strong and self-reliant women. This was written by a man in the early 14th century….long before words like feminism and patriarchy existed…. long before Carl Jung had developed the notions of anima and animus in the human psyche, long before Arnold Schwarzennager played a pregnant man in the movie Junior.
Long before all that Meister Eckhart is writing about his identification with Mary, imagining himself pregnant and giving birth. I say that if Meister Eckhart can do that, then all you enlightened, open-minded, wonderful men also ought to be able to ponder this possibility as well. Real men aren’t afraid to identify with Mary.
And so today we are invited to ponder the notion that we are all pregnant with God…that God has implanted life within us….and that while that life might not be the life we would have chosen, it is ours to accept – ours to nurture – ours to birth – or not.
I mean being poor and pregnant before being married is not something Mary would have chosen….Yet and still, at some point she fully embraced it…she owned it…claimed it as her own.
She could have resisted it…protested it….or rebelled against it. She could have even tried to find a way to terminate the pregnancy or chosen to end her life right then and there…those things happens every day. In any number of ways she could have chosen death over the life she was being given….people say no to their lives all the time. But Mary didn’t. She said yes to carrying God within her.
Oh, I know there are those who question whether Mary really had a choice. It’s true that when the Angel Gabriel came and announced that she was to conceive, it wasn’t put in the form of a question: “Mary, what do you think of this idea? How would you like to have a baby? Would you be willing to give this thing a go?” No. The Angel told her what was going to happen. And initially Mary is confused….wonders how this could be….experiences the kind of disorientation that often comes when God touches your life in a very personal way.
But she still had a choice….if not about the pregnancy, then about how she would respond to it. And while we know how the story ends, Mary didn’t. Not really. All she had was the word of an angel that in spite of the fact that she was poor, single, and pregnant….in spite of all the evidence to the contrary…..something miraculous was happening. God was giving her a different life from the one she had chosen…and she fully embraced it as a gift.
Hail Mary, full of grace….amen….may we too be filled with even a small measure of such grace when life hands us something we never would have chosen ourselves but that can be life-giving if we choose to embrace it.
The Eastern Orthodox Christian churches call Mary Theotikos which means God-bearer. And like Mary we are invited to be the bearers of God. To say yes to the completely unexpected gift of life growing inside of us.
And yet allow me to push this a little more and suggest that we are also invited to be God-birthers….to give birth to that new life.
Because it is one thing to feel alive in unexpected ways….quite another to bring life into this world….to birth hope and peace, love and light, reconciliation and liberation into this world.
I have never given birth, but I’m told that it is literally a very flesh and blood experience. Giving birth is about as real…about as incarnate…as it gets. It’s not a warm and fuzzy experience that could ever be portrayed in a Hallmark Christmas story. It is a struggle and it’s messy.
I heard of a church that adopted this very simple mission statement as their own. They said they were simply called to make the love of God REAL to everybody.
Yes….to make love REAL…put real flesh and blood on the bones of love.
Birthing God doesn’t mean feeling at peace inside of yourself…..though that might be a good place to start….but ultimately it means actively building bridges of reconciliation between people who are estranged. It’s not enough to be concerned about someone struggling financially when what they need is a bag of groceries. It’s not enough to call out injustice when we see it. If we want to make the love of God real….then we need to get to work and shape the kind of institutions and systems that empower and heal people instead of oppressing them.
So, yes, we are invited to be God-bearers, but also God-birthers, making God incarnate in this world….real to all…real enough to be able to see it and touch it…and, yes, embrace the gift of a new life for themselves.
Let me end by inviting to you listen once again to those wonderful words of an old German guy named Meister Eckhart:
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? Then, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.