December 20, 2020
St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois
Frederick Buechner, a theologian and storyteller, renders the scene with Mary from Gabriel’s point of view:
She struck the angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, but he’d been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named [Jesus – YHWH will Save], and [he told her] who [the child] was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. “You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,” [the angel] said. As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.
OK, it’s up to you. You have to bring the Savior into the world. Can you handle it?
Luke’s Gospel tells us how this teenager named Mary came to understand her call to ministry. Her ministry was to be the person God called her to be – both in and in spite of her own culture. She would be the God-bearer.
She is to be a mother – something fairly normal for a young woman of those times. She was to be married. She wasn’t supposed to be pregnant before she was married. So, she starts out on precarious cultural footing. Joseph wanted to leave her, until God gave him a talking to as well.
Who am I? Mary may have wondered. And God replied, “You are my favored one, beloved and beautiful to me.” In truth, Mary does not stand much chance for an identity apart from God. She is too young to have had time to achieve much on which to base her identity. She is too poor to purchase her place in society. Add to this the fact that she is female, which means that even if she did have accomplishments or social stature to her credit, they likely would have gone unrecognized because of her gender. All of this makes Mary a most unlikely candidate for helping God save the world, which is precisely why God enlists her. Nothing about Mary suggests that she can be who she is apart from God’s favor of her.
None of us can do this alone. The real miracles, the really hard acts – creating, saving, giving of good gifts – those can only come from God working in us.
The Eastern Orthodox tradition calls Mary Theotokos, or “God-bearer,” because she quite literally brought God into the world. In the biblical witness, God seems especially fond of calling upon unlikely suspects for such missions. Young people – impetuous, inexperienced, improbable choices by all accounts – figure prominently among God’s “chosen” in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. And while God does not ask any of us to bring Christ into the world as literally as Mary did, God calls each of us to become a God-bearer through whom God may enter the world again and again.
God works in the world through our hands, our voices, our actions, and our relationships. What gifts have you been given? What opportunities have been presented to you? Have you ever felt called? How did you respond?
God’s message to Mary and to us has two parts – affirmation and expectation. Because Mary is beloved by God, because she has found favor in God’s eyes, God has a plan for her. It is an astonishing plan: never mind the angel in the living room, never mind the impossible conception. This child will grow up to be who he will be, and Mary will be witness to it all.
Sounds like too much for such a young girl to handle, especially all on her own. But she is not really alone. Joseph does stay by her side. Her cousin Elizabeth loves and encourages her. And remember, this is God’s miracle, not ours. God is with her. That is the meaning of the name by which Gabriel calls the child – Immanuel – God with us. God is with Mary, and God is with us through all of the challenges of our life.
God’s salvation is coming with or without Mary’s help. But God does not seize Mary and take her by force. God does not enter this girl, or any of us, without our consent. After all, we don’t know how many stops Gabriel made before he got to Mary’s house. What sets Mary apart from the rest of us is quite simple: she says yes, a yes that changes her life forever and, because of her, the world in which she lives. The ministry and the mission do not end with Mary’s transformation; they begin with it.
And what happens when we say yes, when we fling open the doors of our souls so that grace no longer needs to sneak in through the cracks? The Holy Spirit rushes in “like a mighty wind” and fills us, overshadows us, transforms us by forming Jesus within us, restoring us to the image in whose likeness we were created.
We too bring God into the world. It’s a difficult task, it will be hard. Some may not like what you have to say – unconditional love can be threatening to those who desire only power – they might try to take your life. But you are not alone. God was with Mary, God is with us, and God will be with us always. Amen.
 Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who (San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1979), 39.
 Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1998), 44.
 Ibid, 17-18.
 Ibid, 46.
 Ibid, 48.