Today is an interesting day because we’re going to do two things. This evening is Christmas Eve, and yet this morning we are still in the throes of Advent. This final week of Advent may be only a few hours long, but it is still Advent, and it is still time for us to prepare our hearts and minds and homes and packages for Christmas, for Christ’s coming. This evening we will be celebrating that moment when Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Incarnation of God in this world.
But this morning, we are going back a bit. We’re taking a chronological field trip back nine months to March 25th, the Annunciation. That moment when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you”. And we remember Mary’s fear and confusion, and we remember Mary’s bravery and courage. There is much in this story for which Mary is understandably and justifiably afraid and confused.
First of all, angels are actually pretty scary in the Bible. The angels of scripture are not like the angels of Hallmark. When an angel shows up in Holy Scripture, you’ve got to watch out. This might be an existential moment for you, a moment in which your life is on the line. So Mary is understandably afraid of the angel’s appearance. She doesn’t know what kind of greeting this is: is this one of the good angel experiences, or one of the bad ones of which scripture is full? And she is understandably confused because this thing the angel is saying is not possible. She knows that it is not possible because she has not yet known what is necessary to make it possible. Mary is confused, and the angel gives her this nice religious platitude that “all things are possible with God”. OK? But really? And afterward Mary will rush off to verify what the angel said by checking with Elizabeth, because the angel claims that Elizabeth, too, is pregnant.
There is also Mary’s fear: what if the angel is telling the truth? If she really is pregnant, what is that going to mean for her life? Every pregnancy is a little bit scary. And in the culture in which Mary lived, an unwed pregnant woman would cause gossip. Her clan, her tribe, her family might be ashamed by what has happened, and it would not be beyond the realm of possibility that they would punish her, perhaps even putting Mary in a life-threatening situation. They might kill her because of the embarrassment she has given their name and reputation. There are many layers of confusion and fear in this story.
Then Mary looks that fear in the face, and says, “Let it be according to your word”. She confronts that fear with bravery and courage. We know that courage is not the absence of fear, it is facing your legitimate and real fears. With courage unmatched in all of scripture, Mary says yes to God’s call.
We, the people of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, we who have chosen to take Mary as our Patron Saint, to be marked by her, to be branded with her, can find much in her life, in her calling, in her response, in her bravery and her courage for our lives and our ministries. In all the confusion and fear in this dark and unsteady world, we can find in Mary a model, an encouragement, a hope of how to face it with courage and bravery, and to say yes to the way God calls us to move through it.
Mary is called by God to give birth to God in this world; Mary is called by God to give birth to God’s very presence among us. We are called to do the same, to give birth to the presence of God in this world. That’s what we’re doing in our ministry, what we’re doing in worship, giving birth to God’s presence so God may be made known to people. That’s what we do in our ministry of Pastoral Care and Outreach, we are making God’s presence known to people in their suffering. That’s what we do in our educational ministries, helping people recognize that God is there; we are giving birth to that recognition of God’s grace that surrounds us in every moment. That’s what we’re doing in our fellowship ministries as we remember that Christ taught us that wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, that he is among them. W are giving birth to those possibilities of Christ’s presence with us, the knowledge and recognition of Christ’s presence among us. We are joining with Mary to give birth to that presence of the divine in this world.
So, my sisters and brothers in Christ, in these last few hours of Advent, as you finalize your preparations, as you prepare to celebrate the joyous birth of the Christ child in the manger, spend these last moments with Mary, encouraged to face the fears of this world and give birth to light.