Father Nicholas Lang
Fourth Sunday of Advent
What was she thinking? What was going on in her head that day? What didn’t she say out loud? What would a teenage girl be thinking after that visit from God’s messenger? Remember that Mary is a female in a world that prizes males and subjugates women and children. She is just a nobody in a nowhere town. God never prepared her for the visit by an angel and sends the angel to prepare her to be the God-bearer for the world.
"Greetings, favored one!" In the original Greek, “Καιρε κεκαριτόμενα!” Note the alliteration in this lovely sound that no translation can convey. Naturally, she would be perplexed by these words. No doubt she wondered if this messenger was in his right mind. No doubt she wondered if she were in her right mind. Why has she found favor with God? Twice, Gabriel tells her that she is favored. That lovely Greek salutation “Καιρε κεκαριτόμενα!” carries the root word for what we call “grace.”
The expanded version of the message the angel delivered to Mary was “You are a precious and wonderful gift for you bear within yourself God’s own image and likeness. God’s love is your origin and your destiny. You are God’s own and you will bear God’s Son.” No wonder she was perplexed. Being favored with God potentially means big trouble. When grace enters the picture, our life can expect to be changed. Being favored can bring us some perks but it can also bring us more than we bargained for.
I think the challenge to the preacher with this text and the rest of Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus is to unwrap the message for those who live in a post-Christian, secular world in truthful, helpful and not just sentimental ways. What does the annunciation have to do with us? What does it matter that God favored Mary and asked her to bear a son who will be called the Lord God and will reign over the house of Jacob?
In the Old Testament lesson, God promises to build a house for the people Israel. The fulfillment of that promise in the Scripture is in Jesus’ ministry and in his founding the church. You and I are not here as members of a private club or secret society. We are not even here because we necessarily think exactly alike, vote the same way, drink the same brand of coffee, or enjoy the same kind of foods.
We are here together because, for better or worse, we are that “house,” that church and the church—like Mary and the chosen people of Israel before her—exists to bear witness to God and God’s extravagant love for all people. And, in some strange way, having to worship virtually and not in our consecrated worship space drives that point home for us.
Just as Mary was called to bear God’s Son, you and I are called to be bearers of the Gospel Good News. We are pregnant with God’s abundant grace and asked to share that gift with everyone and anyone we can. We are favored ones and, because we are, the task God calls us to is sometimes thrilling, sometimes scary, but most often overwhelming. We are favored ones and, like Mary, filled with new life.
We are called “favored ones” to be bearers of the Gospel in a world torn apart by religious intolerance, in a society that labels others at the drop of hat, thoughtlessly draws the line that determines who is “in” and who is “out, and in a political climate that promotes religious extremism rather than broadmindedness and compassion. The outcome of all that, I believe, is that many people, like Mary, are perplexed. How can this be? How can I be God’s favored one?
It would seem to me that the real test of how “true” the church is lies in how much it looks like the church Jesus founded and how much it operates like the community he intends it to be.
Bishop Steven Charleston, former President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, puts it this way: “Jesus of Nazareth brought the gospel into the center of human life for a reason. He did not withhold it from those that others thought were unfit or unclean. He did not proclaim it to a private club of the self-righteous. He did not entrust it to the ecclesiological hierarchy. Instead, he scattered it like seeds among all people, giving each of us a chance to claim it for ourselves and share in its abundant harvest together. In short, he placed the message of peace exactly where it needs to be: in the very center of our struggles with one another. And he called us to be his disciples to make our witness for love where we most need to be: in the center of a world grown weary with religious extremism.”
“Καιρε κεκαριτόμενα!” "Greetings, favored ones!" Here is God’s message to us this morning: You are a precious and wonderful gift, for you bear within yourself God’s own image and likeness. God’s love is your origin and your destiny. You are God’s own. You are called to create for God’s people a community that does not resort to demands for doctrinal conformity, but rather allows people the freedom of conscience and right to disagree. You are called to offer the world living proof that women and men of very different backgrounds, opinions, and beliefs can live peacefully together in a shared search for the meaning of God in their lives.
It seems such a daunting task in a dark and ever darkening world. Being favored with God potentially means big trouble. When grace enters the picture, our life can expect to be changed. Being favored can bring us more than we bargained for. Two thousand years after the birth of Christ, God is still needing to be born and we are, all of us, meant to be mothers of God— pregnant with the power of the Most High and the grace of the Holy Spirit. “How can this be?” we may ask. How will we be able to do such strange and wondrous things? Because nothing, nothing will be impossible with God. When we allow God to be born in us there is no telling, no telling at all, what can happen.