given on Sunday, December 4, 2011–the 2nd Sunday of Advent
“I am bursting with God-news”
Today really throws us into the hubbub of Christmas season. Watching the news, we plan our weekends, check the sales ads, and keep adding to our calendar. How easy it is to overlook the very cause of all this activity.
Place yourself back 2,000 years and consider what your daily life would be like: up early to start the day–the women probably first because the cooking had to start. The infants had to nurse, the toddlers probably needed cleaning up, the flatbread needed cooking, and . . . how was a woman to do it all!
Now throw into this morning routine daily worship time and prayers. The men are up and leading the worship before hurrying off to make a living whether it was making nets, tents, building a house, trading or even farming. The daily routine looks quite different today, but there is still that basic structure in everybody’s life. The differences are in the appliances and the family structures. Practicing one’s faith typically is not a priority in the morning while everybody is racing about getting ready for the day.
Maybe that is one of the reasons we struggle to understand Mary’s story. Mary was a young, poor Levite woman. Her world at that time revolved around learning the woman’s role in maintaining a home. She was engaged to Joseph so I am sure that she was trying to put together her own “hope chest” as we know it.
Then suddenly, in the midst of the daily routine, Gabriel appears! There you are working by yourself, no one else present, and this angel appears. Saying that Mary was startled might be an understatement, yet, she listened—and believed.
Would you have believed so completely?
Luke, as you may remember, was writing to Theophilus using every skill he had to convince the interested listener that Jesus’ story from conception through crucifixion was true. The story begins with Mary’s faith. Does yours?
Consider Mary’s situation as outlined in the Life Application Bible’s study notes:
Mary was young, poor, female—all characteristics that, to the people of her day, would make her seem unusable by God for any major task. But God chose Mary for one of the most important acts of obedience he has ever demanded of anyone.
Yet, God chose her. It did not mean that her life was suddenly going to be transformed into one of simplicity, ease, and honor. Rather, accepting such news meant an extremely difficult life—a life filled with . . .
. . . pain: her peers would ridicule her; her fiance’ would come close to leaving her; her son would be rejected and murdered.
Mary had faith. She trusted God to use her as he wished. What an amazing sense of faith she demonstrated!
Luke’s inclusion of Mary’s story still mystifies many. As we work to grow in our faith, the virgin birth of Jesus is commonly one of the most difficult foundations of Christianity for today’s faithful to accept. Yet Luke, an educated medical doctor of that century, included it in his story. If anyone could have disproven the virgin birth, he could have. The study notes continue:
These three facts can aid our faith: (1) Luke was a medical doctor, and he knew perfectly well how babies are made. It would have been just as hard for him to believe in a virgin birth as it is for us, and yet he reports it as fact. (2) Luke was a painstaking researcher who based his Gospel on eyewitness accounts. Tradition holds that he talked with Mary about the events he recorded in the first two chapters. This is Mary’s story, not a fictional invention. (3) Christians and Jews, who worship God as the Creator of the universe, should believe that God has the power to create a child in a virgin’s womb. (emphasis added)
Do you have Mary’s faith? Do you have the confidence of Luke? Do you, as 21st century Christians believe that “God has the power to create a child in a virgin’s womb?”
Mary’s faith is a gift even to us. She accepted Gabriel’s announcement and accepted all the ramifications that came with the pregnancy. Her faith was necessary for the fulfillment of Old Testament prophets including Zechariah’s.
Thank goodness Mary did accept the news of her expected motherhood. Thank goodness she had an ally in Elizabeth. I am sure that having a cousin who was in very similar circumstances helped her—helped both of them–manage the emotional challenges within their community, too.
After Gabriel departs, Mary decides to visit Elizabeth. She, having been born and raised in the Jewish faith–also in the line of Aaron, one of the tribes who were priests—is received in faith, too. Elizabeth must have known that Mary was going to give birth to Jesus, the Messiah. Even Elizabeth’s unborn son John knew: the baby in her womb leaped.
Regardless the translation of the Bible, they all say that the baby leapt. And the two women shared in their excitement. Luke’s scripture, remember was written after talking to Mary herself, and he adds the song found in verses 46-56:
I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Elizabeth and Mary had worshiped faithfully and this hymn echoes that of Hannah’s in I Samuel. Hannah’s song is Mary’s song, and she turned to those words to praise God. Their faith was a gift that God rewarded with the gift of a son. Faith carried them through their pregnancies and even through the ministry of their sons.
We sing the praises throughout the Advent season. Our hymns are filled with words from the scripture. We return to those familiar words of our worship as we remember the gift of Mary’s faith, of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s, too.
Thank you for the gift of Mary’s faith:
A faith so strong that you chose her
To be the mother of Your Son.
Help us to grow our faith
Through worship, study, and service.
Let Mary’s faith reflect in our lives
So others may see how Your love
Truly transforms our lives.