In Service to the Lord
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 1: 26 – 38. Focus on how God seems to need us to build his kingdom and creation and why that’s important. Check out Christopher Mateo-Ramiez – counter-tenor and the choir as they sing: I wonder as I wander.
Throughout the centuries, artists have rendered the annunciation scene in very formal strokes, preserving Mary and the angel Gabriel in pristine slender and awe. Mary is always the picture of femininity, dressed in yards and yards of silk, her golden hair plaited like a crown around her head, her nails perfectly manicured. She looks so composed that it’s hard to remember she’s just a girl – in her early teens, who has had precious little experience with men, or angels, or the world.
In most pictures the feathers of the angel Gabriel are spread in a great arch of magnificent white. In his hand he usually holds a lily, an olive branch, or a royal scepter – signs of the purity, peace, and authority he brings from above.
Somewhere in the annunciation scene you can usually find a dove, a sign that what is happening is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but down below, everything depends on Mary. Gabriel is not standing over her; he is kneeling in front of her upon whose answer he, and God, and the whole creation depend.
But Mary didn’t really get to give an answer, did she? The angel didn’t ask her if she would like to be the mother of God; he simply told her – that God had been gracious to her, that she would bear a son, and that he would be the king of Israel forever. The angel didn’t ask how that sounded to her. All that Luke tells us is that Mary was perplexed by his words.
So she did what any one of us would do, she asked the angel, “How can this be?” She wanted to know exactly whose idea it was and exactly how it would happen. She wanted to make sense out what made no sense; that God had decided to surrender himself to flesh and blood, that he needed her help to make his own incarnation possible.
“How can this be?” Mary asked, and that’s all she asked, but there are several questions I would have asked, such as: Will Joseph stick around? Will my friends stand by me, or will I get dragged into town and be stoned for sleeping around? What will happen to me?
But she didn’t ask those questions she just listened to the angel as the angel shared the barest of details about how all of this was going to come to pass. But – Mary still had a choice – whether to say yes or no, whether to take hold of the unknown life the angel offered her or whether to defend herself against it.
It is possible to say no to God’s messengers. It happens all of the time. All you have to do is say no, drop your eyes and refuse to look up until you’re sure the angel has left the room and you’re alone again. Then you just go back to whatever it was you were doing and simply pretend that nothing happened. If life begins to change anyway, you still have several options. You can be stoic. You can refuse to accept it, by putting all your energy into ignoring it.
Now if that doesn’t work, you still have one option left. You can become angry, comparing yourself to everyone else whose lives seem happier than yours and become bitter over it. However, even if you succeed at this, your life will not be any easier, but you can rest assured that no angels will ever trouble you again.
Or you can do as Mary did and say yes. You can decide to be a daredevil, a test pilot, and adventurer. You can set down your routine and listen to this strange creature’s idea. You can decide to take part in a plan you didn’t choose; doing things you don’t know how to do for reasons you don’t entirely understand.
You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no scripts and no guarantees. You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside of your own body.
By the way, if you choose to say yes, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be afraid from time to time. It just means that you’re not willing to let your fear stop you. So you say yes, “Here I am; let it be according to your word,” and in doing this you become like Mary, some one who’s put their lives in service to the Lord.
“We are all meant to be in service to the Lord,” wrote Meister Eckhart, a mystic and theologian. “What good is it to me”, he continued, “if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself?” And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and I am not? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten by us.”
To quote the angel, “Greetings favored ones! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Amen