Scripture: Luke 1:39-55
How often do we really step back and sit in the stories surrounding Christmas? Have we ever really considered what our own thoughts and feelings would have been if we in their shoes? Imagine a scared teenager in a very religious community. Imagine the wife of a priest; a wife who had been barren as long as you can remember and who in advance years ends up pregnant. To top it off the priest is no longer long winded because he cannot even speak and has not spoken for around six months. Ok I think maybe some people might like the silent priest. Have you imagined it just beyond the surface?
Today’s passage begins with Mary setting out in haste to a Judean town in the hill country. In the 2000 years of telling this story we often forget the intensity of the situation. Have you like me so many years just quickly read over this passage as if Mary was just rushing over to Judea for a Thanksgiving meal? I do not really know why, other than the fact that this portion of scripture is usually read between the end of November and December. I know that sounds juvenile but then I hope you weren’t under the impression that you had a really mature pastor.
Imagine Mary after the angel came to speak to her. She was a young girl, she was considered a woman but that mainly means that she was over the age of twelve years old. She was betrothed to Joseph a carpenter. The betrothal process usually took a year, unless the marriage needed to be rushed so her age probably would have been above thirteen years old. This is about the closest we can probably get to knowing her age. She was young and unmarried. She was caught in a situation where she was with child and the announcement she had to make was not one that would be easy to speak of. I will let you in on something, around 14 years ago I found myself in a very similar situation. I was filled with mixed emotions: joy, hope, excitement, dread, and fear. I can explain my situation though. I was able to tell my parents just exactly happened. Mary could not explain. I sat up the night I heard the news for hours. Finally after hours of wakeful sleep I slowly rose from bed, walked the hallway from my bedroom to speak with my mother.
Mary had to say something. She was excited to be obedient to the will of God. In many cases she was like every other woman of that time, hoping to be the one chosen to give birth to the long awaited king. She was excited, she had a religious and spiritual devotion that was off the charts, yet how was she going to tell her folks. By all traditions and legends Mary’s parents were very devoted followers of God. Some accounts say that her father was a priest and her mother was much like Elizabeth. We cannot really know for sure who or what she was in a way that we can know our own friends and family members. Mary in the excitement knew that her parents would have questions of which she could not explain.
Now let us consider Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim. We know very little about these two people because very little was told about them except in tradition. We can learn something from our own emotions though. Imagine if your daughter came to you and told you that she was with child. You are Joachim. What is the first thought that comes into your mind? What is the first words you would say? You are Anne. What is your initial reaction? Are your arms reaching out to a crying confused child or are your hands covering your mouth holding back your own cries. Imagine once again that you are the Mary’s father, are you searching your mind trying to consider the wisdom of your own choices, considering if you or the family had unwisely let Joseph and Mary spend time unattended.
Do you understand the raw emotions that surround the miracle of Christmas? Anne and Joachim knew that there was something different going on. They chose Joseph to be Mary’s bridegroom for a reason. He was honorable. No matter how he thought about it, no one could find a way or a moment of any dishonorable activity. So what exactly will you do? You love your daughter, you trust her even though the story seems a bit far-fetched. Yet you also know that the community will find this hard to believe. They needed some time, they knew that Anne’s sister was with child and they decided that it would help their daughter to help her aunt. So quickly they sent her down to Elizabeth’s.
It is not that far fetched to think that Mary was in many ways sent away in some form. A birth in this manner was not taken lightly in the first century community. At the mere mention of any infidelity an individual could be brought to trial where the end result could be death. The parents had to discretely confirm what was going on without the rest of the community talking about the maternal glow growing around Mary.
Now back to Mary making that journey to the hill country. Imagine the walk. As she walk up the inclines singing the praises of God and the hope for Israel. Giving thanksgiving for having the opportunity to participate in the unfolding or emerging kingdom of God. Then as the path wound down the hillsides and the footing became more treacherous she began questioning why she was chosen, the reality of the situation began to set in. What was she going to do? She was too young to have a baby, she was not married, what were people going to think? Then in the distance she saw the homestead of her relatives and began to grow nervous. She was really about to enter into a life totally out of her control, people were going to say what they say and she was going to have this baby, and the first test was just before her. What would the priest’s family say?
It is odd that we know more about Mary’s aunt and uncle from scripture than we do her own parents. I think there is a reason for this. Mary’s parents were common people, they did not necessarily stand out in the community. I am not degrading from their status or importance to our faith traditions; I am just saying that they were for the most part common. They were well respected and loved but they were not seekers of power. Zechariah was a bit different. He and Elizabeth may have been a bit more important in the community. We know that Zechariah was selected to tend the incense before the most holy of accessible areas of the temple. At least for a moment he was a very important priest. How was this righteous family going to react to Mary?
Did Mary hesitate or did she boldly approach the house? Either way she approached and she greeted her aunt; this meeting is one of the most important events in all of scripture. I say this because the response of Elizabeth could either encourage Mary in her faith or cause Mary to lose heart. With a loud voice Elizabeth cried, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”
Our faith tradition was confirmed by those words. It was at that moment that all hesitation from this little girl exited and she was prepared to face the world. The course was set and Jesus would be born. Even in those ancient days a woman could choose to stop a pregnancy, but from the encouraging words of an old aunt Mary chose life.
She chose life. God chooses to work with willing people. At any moment if Mary decided in her heart that she could not handle this task, God would have honored her decision and Jesus would have been born of another. It is true that God knew that she would be obedient to His call, but he also allows us to choose as well. God does not control every action in our lives like a divine puppeteer but he uses our choices and actions to mold us into the people we are to be. We can only fully see our potential when we open our lives and release ourselves into His hands.
Mary is blessed among women because it is through her devotion and obedience to God that the hope of the entire universe hinged. Mary provides us an example of just how important one life willing to follow God can change the world. One life. One seemingly insignificant life is important. Do we recognize the full value of life? As Friends this is central to our beliefs. We encourage people to live in simplicity, so that we can be free to use all the tools available to us to encourage the lives around us instead of consuming the energies of others. We promote a testimony of peace because each life no matter how much we disagree with them is important. We live lives of integrity because without truth and honesty we cannot encourage others in their life journeys. We encourage the building and support of communities because this opens communication between people so that we can embrace the life in others, and ourselves and we recognize that all people are loved equally by God and should be treated likewise. Life is important.
Mary took a journey from her home to the hill country of Judea contemplating her future and that of her people. She was sent away quickly by her parents who also had to spend time contemplating the future of their daughter and their people would they allow this to continue? Elizabeth stood there and upon hearing the voice of her niece she was filled with the spirit and saw the hope of the universe in the eyes of one life. Each person each had to choose if life important.
I imagine the tears shed between these two women after Elizabeth’s joyous cry. The hope that Mary found as well as the strength that filled both by just recognizing that obedience to God was the beginning of true life. And Mary sang to her aunt:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)
She sang a song about the kingdom of God, a kingdom based on the love of God and mankind. She sang a song about the end of an age and the beginning of something new. The new kingdom is not based on the success in the eyes of the world, but on the honoring of life in others.
How important are the lives around you? How would each of us respond to this pregnant teenager? We do not know how God will mold the lives of those around us. The only thing we can control is how we live our lives and how we respond and encourage the lives around us. Mary could have left her aunts house rejected and broken discouraged from embracing a life with God, but instead she sang.
This is the heart of Advent, and Christmas. It is the hoping for the end of one age and the beginning of another. This week many in the world sat in anticipation wondering if the end of the age would come, many of those people woke up Friday morning thinking nothing changed. But what if the last age did end? What if a new age did come? What if in each of our lives, like Mary, chose to be obedient to God no matter how crazy the path sounded? What if we were to look on the lowly people and cry out joyfully that they are blessed among mankind and highly honored by God? If that happened then we may just see a new age.
As we enter into this time of open worship and as we anticipate the excitement of Christmas. I pray that we will take some time just to consider and image what the emerging kingdom of God in each of us will bring.
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