Sermons

"Mary: She's More than Just a Supporting Character," Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B

"Mary:  She

Dec 24, 2017

Passage:Luke 1:26-38

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Advent

Category: Love, Incarnation

Keywords: god's will, love, mary, redemption, annunication

Summary:

Despite how Mary is often portrayed in art, music, literature, and even the Church, this announcement from Gabriel is much richer and deeper than we sometimes believe. Mary is a key player in her own right. And we are more like her than we often realize. We, like Mary, are called to respond to God's call to bring love and redemption to all people.

Detail:

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

​In the reading of this gospel passage from Luke, we just heard our beloved Annunciation story...the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary.  The angel comes to announce that Mary is going to bear the child of God.  We hear this story over and over and over again.  It speaks to us, not only today, but in every generation.  It has spoken to artists and writers and theologians throughout the history.  Each generation rendering its own image of this announcement.  Artists continually ask what it must have been like.  We conjure images in our own minds as we read this scripture.  These images are influenced by the art we’ve seen over time, the sermons we’ve heard, our own ideas about what we think Mary was like.

The artistic, musical, and literary representations of Mary and the angel’s visit seem to run the spectrum from Mary as meek and passive, immediately obedient to Mary the revolutionary, standing up to the powers that be in the midst of oppression and injustice.  It seems that that we often want her to be one or the other.

But where does the truth lie?  What’s it like for Mary to receive this vision?  Who is this girl who takes part in the redemption of the world?

When I was a girl, I looked to the Scriptures to try to find someone I could identify with and be like.  So many of the women in the Bible are described in ways that are rather one-dimensional or as supporting characters to the “heroes” of the Bible.  Although Mary is a supporting character to the birth of Jesus, Luke portrays her as a main key player in her own right.  But still, it’s hard to identify with someone who our culture portrays are “perfect.”  The gentle, unwavering Mary who does whatever she is told and is grateful just for the opportunity to be part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world no matter how hard it will be.

Of course, my image of Mary was also one-dimensional.  It was based on the images that had been passed on to me by the church, by art, and by literature.  But part of the beauty of Luke’s recounting of this event is much richer and has much more depth than I could understand then. 

The Gospel of Luke tells us of a girl really, maybe 13 or 14 years old, depending on different sources.  She is engaged to Joseph.  She still lives with her parents, not yet making the transition to the home she and Joseph will build.

Imagine this girl going about her daily chores when an angel appears to her.  Now, it’s doubtful that this angel presented in the ways we imagine today.  There probably were no wings or halos or ghostly qualities.  Angel simply means “Messenger.”  We see these messengers throughout the Old and New Testaments who appear as visitors or people bringing messages to the people of God.  Gabriel most likely looked like any other man.  A strange man suddenly appears in a girl’s presence, greeting her, calling her favored, and proclaiming that the Lord is with her.  This in itself would certainly be cause for concern.

So, a “messenger” appears in front of Mary and greets her.  Now the next part is what we often gloss over:  “she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”  Of course, she was perplexed!  Perplexed is probably an understatement.  No matter how friendly an appearance or greeting the angel brings to her, this is a tense situation.  Is she in danger?  Who is this man?  And why is he saying these things?

Then we hear one of the Luke’s favorite words when he refers to Mary—"pondered.”  In the Gospel of Luke, Mary “ponders” the important things.  She thinks about them, she mulls them over, she contemplates them not just intellectually, but with her heart and soul.  In our reading, it’s only a couple of sentences, mere seconds, but for Mary and Gabriel, there is a sense of pause...a sense of taking this in and trying to figure out what is happening...and surely a palpable fear. 

Recognizing this hesitation and anxiety, Gabriel tells her not to be afraid.  Gabriel knows that she needs reassurance before she can hear the rest of the message.  The angel tells her that she has been chosen to bear the Son of God and that she will name him Jesus. 

Unlike the stories our culture has created, Mary doesn’t immediately say “yes.”  She’s still confused and has questions.  She is only a young girl and not yet married.  How is she supposed to have a child?  And the Son of God?  “How can this be?”

Once again the Angel responds to Mary’s questions and concerns.  Gabriel offers her reassurance in the news about her cousin Elizabeth who is already pregnant with a child whose conception is evidence of extraordinary events already set in motion.

It’s now starting to dawn on Mary that her world is changing...that whole world is changing.  Something amazing is happening.  She has no way of knowing, at this point, what all of this means or how it will play out.  But she has that “knowing,” that sense deep in her heart and soul that nothing will ever be the same again.

Only after Gabriel answers her questions and reassures Mary does she agree with these simple words:  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

This encounter offers us a Mary who is neither demure nor passive.  She is human.  She is more like us than she is often portrayed.  She’s not God’s “puppet” or merely a vessel through which the Savior comes to humankind.  She is a person with real fears and questions.  Even when she agrees, she doesn’t say “Oh, now I see...I believe everything you’ve told me.  That makes sense.  I’m going to the mother of God.”  She says she’s here to take part in bringing God’s will to earth, whatever it is...regardless of whether she understands it or knows how it will play out.

Sometimes our traditions about Mary have portrayed her in ways that are so “perfect” and so unattainable that we can’t identify with her.  How could we even dare to identify with the Mother of God?! 

God created us to help the world see that love is what will heal all of us and redeem us all forever!  Mary is not a one-dimensional “character” who blindly and passively says “yes.”  She, like us, hesitates.  She questions.  She ponders.  She doesn’t fully understand. She shows great courage as she trusts that God’s plan is for peace and justice for everyone. 

Maybe that’s a more realistic response.  Maybe that makes more sense to us.  Maybe, when we’re faced with the great questions of faith or how God wants us to respond to God’s call, it’s okay to ponder...to pause...to think...and to search.  Not only in our heads, but in our hearts and at the depths of our souls.  

We don’t have to understand it all.  We don’t have to know how it will all play out.  We have to look for the ways in which we can be part of bringing God’s will to earth, however big or small those things ways may seem to us.

You and I are just as vital to the unfolding story of God’s redeeming love as Mary.  God created us to be part of this story...the story of God’s continued reaching out to the world to bring the love and peace that will restore and heal us all! Amen.