Advent Hope: Do Not Be Afraid (Mary Super Knew)
Minneapolis Livestream · Sunday, December 20, 2020 10:15 am
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
“And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
This could be an unpopular opinion and a controversial way to begin a sermon, but I can’t stand the Christmas anthem, “Mary Did You Know.” I welcome your emails if you want to argue this point with me but hope you’ll hear me out first.
The song wonders aloud how much information Mary had when she said YES to her involvement in God becoming human, if she knew that her son would walk on water and calm the storms and grant sight to the blind.
Did she know the nitty gritty details of her future child’s ministry? Probably not. But did she know that this child would turn everything upside down, disrupt the status quo, center those who had been left out, and save all of humanity — including her?
Yeah. She knew. She super knew! An angel told her and then she sang a song that made it clear — Mary was actively listening and taking in what a YES would mean, both for her life and the whole world.
That’s how human discernment works, right? We can’t possibly know all the data and details about a future event before we commit, but there’s a different kind of knowing that’s rooted in deep wisdom and peace. Think about a big decision you’ve made, a YES that seemed to be coming at you, showing you a way where you couldn’t see one before.
Choosing a college. Coming out to your family. Moving somewhere new. Adopting a pet. Buying a house. Treating a diagnosis. Accepting a new job.
It beckoned you beyond what you’d seen already and beyond what others were expecting from you. A discernment that managed to keep you out of the weeds thanks to a peace that surpassed all understanding. I’m guessing you said YES without being able to plot the fine details 30 years into the future, because that kind of YES doesn’t depend on having all the information. It depends on being known. And believing you are enough.
The angel begins this visit with Mary by telling her that God favors her and God is with her, even before she hears the invitation or answers YES.
She is already highly favored, known and loved by a God who is present in the breath and beats of her life, by a God who likes to create together with humankind, by a God who chooses real people over an efficient process and a perfection outcome every time.
This God also knows that, according to the norms and customs of her time and place, Mary is in the apex of her power and vulnerability. She is a young woman who has started menstruating, whose social and sexual reputation can move household economies and arrange a marriage and bring honor to her families.
And, she is a young woman who has started menstruating, whose social and sexual reputation can ruin household economies, void her engagement, bring shame to her family, and end in death by stoning. She will never be more powerful than she is right now. And she will never be more vulnerable than she is right now.
Or, at least that’s how it’s always been.
The angel suggests there might be more than this strict chronology in which she peaks so early in life. There is another way — a world in which her fullness is necessary — her body and spirit and voice, her power and her vulnerability — all instrumental to the liberation already on the loose.
Mary has just one short term logistical question about how she’s going to get pregnant with God’s baby. Fair enough. The angel assures her that the Holy Spirit will be there, the same Spirit that recognizes her value and grants her peace and makes all things possible — that Spirit — will be there.
And she won’t be alone in this growing and bearing the kingdom on earth. Her menopausal cousin Elizabeth is miraculously pregnant. They have each other and the blessing of being believed. The news of Elizabeth gives Mary a relationship in which to say YES, another who will accompany her in the mysteries of God with us and swollen ankles.
Because our liberation is bound up together, we find freedom in connection, in knowing the story has room for our whole selves – our power and our vulnerability — tangled up and unraveling for a lifetime.
I used to wonder if God had a back up plan in case Mary said NO. But not this year. This year I say praise God for holy YESes that begin with unconditional favor for who we actually are, and a profound purpose that reveals another way. For holy YESes that can be heard and remembered and written because others are quiet and listening.
Praise God for the messengers, who tell us what we need to know instead of everything we want to know, who announce our place in the story and give us something brave to do, who remind us we belong to each other and salvation comes in community.
Praise God for the Spirit, whose peace surpasses all understanding, who stirs up wisdom in our bones and brings us home to ourselves, whose breath fills our lungs and our words and our songs, who is with us even when we are alone.
I am glad the angel asks Mary — not her father or fiancé. She says YES on behalf of her own body, autonomy, and future. She says YES to the possibility of more power and more vulnerability, a world she will help build.
And I am glad the angel then visits Joseph, giving him the same opportunity to participate, declaring a place for him at her side and in the story. His lineage is tied to the prophecy. His dreams will keep them safe from Herod’s wrath. His quiet presence will ensure she is not stoned to death and can keep singing what she knows to be true.
Church, we often sing about Mary’s vulnerability — her youth, her betrothal, her virginity — but let us also remember her power, her favor, her risky YES, her prophetic voice. For this is where we might find ourselves in the story, in the tension of our own human condition, pulled toward a possibility we cannot understand completely, and yet we know.
Beloved, today heaven comes near with deep wisdom and peace, inviting your participation in a new reality: where tyrants fall and the hungry are fed and liberation comes in community. The world is about to turn!
May God’s unending favor grant you courage to embody freedom and love this season and always. Amen.