“AN ANNOUNCEMENT TO A VIRGIN”[1]

LUKE 1:26-38

DECEMBER 13, 2015

Rev Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            Five year old, Olivia, and her best friend, Claire, were participating in a nativity play at church. Claire was playing Mary, and Olivia was playing an angel. Before the show, a young boy was going around the dressing room proclaiming to all who could hear him, I’m a sheep.” Then asking, What are you?” Each child responded politely, including Olivia, who proudly declared she was an angel.

            The boy then turned to Claire, who was still struggling into her costume with her mother’s help. He repeated the question to her: I’m a sheep, what are you?”

          Claire simply said, I’m Mary.”

            Realizing he was face to face with a lead character, the boy felt he needed to justify his own role, so he said with great seriousness,It’s hard being a sheep, you know.”

            Claire’s innocent response was, Yes, but it’s also hard being a virgin, you know.”

            I suppose so. It’s hard being a virgin, especially in this day and age, but it’s even harder to be a teen-aged mom. Scholars tell us that, according to the customs of that day, Mary may have been as young as thirteen or fourteen when the angel Gabriel appeared to her and made the announcement that would change her life.

            I’ve been picking up my grandson, Eddie, at middle school just about every afternoon for the past four months. Given today’s sermon title I have been watching the the female students walking out of school with him some being thirteen or fourteen. Maybe Mary was more fifteen or sixteen, but that would only make her a high school sophomore or junior today. That’s still pretty young. 

            I like the way pastor John Nadasi deals with Mary’s situation. He envisions Mary as being fifteen and he writes,

 

            Fifteen. It’s an awkward time. Your body is somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Hormones are doing all sorts of weird things to your body . . . And there is this great race to grow up. Still, at fifteen you are not old enough to drive a car, vote, stay out late, or live on your own. At fifteen, there are a lot of things that you are not allowed to do. Now, close your eyes for a moment. Remember yourself at fifteen years old. You are in High School, interested in things fifteen year olds are interested in. You are still a child living in your parents’ home. Then, one night, there is a disturbance in another room of your house. You get up to investigate and there, in the middle of your living room stands this beautiful, supernatural, and absolutely terrifying angelic presence that speaks these words to you . . . “Greetings Favored One, The Lord is With You.’” What would you do? What would be going through your mind? Would you be wondering how fast you could get out the back door and down the street?

 

          Luke tells us that Mary was thoroughly shaken by this announcement, but she did not bolt. She did not run. What an amazing story! An angel appears to a teen-aged girl and tells her that she will give birth to the Son of God. It is a story that challenges credulity. Even some Christians smirk when they talk about it, as if this is the only story that Mary and Joseph could come up with to explain this inconvenient pregnancy. But this is what we believe. God came to earth at Christmas. From his birth to his baptism to his death on the cross, in Jesus Christ God travelled the roads of this planet and experienced what it means to be human . . . What it means to have family and friends . . . What it is to laugh and to love and to lose . . . What it is to suffer and to face death. An angel appears to a teen-aged girl and tells her she will give birth to the Son of God.

            The 1930's play Green Pastures, which was later made into a movie, has a moving and memorable scene. The Lord is looking out over the parapets of heaven, trying to decide what to do with the sinful situation on earth. Gabriel enters with his horn tucked under his arm. Sensing the Lord’s dilemma, he brushes his lips across the trumpet to keep the feel of it and asks, Lord, has the time come for me to blow the trumpet?”

            No, no,” said the Lord, don’t touch the trumpet, not yet.”

            God continues to ponder the problem. Gabriel asks the Lord again what he plans to do. Will he send someone to tend to the situation? Who will it be? Gabriel makes some suggestions. How about another David or Moses? You could send one of the prophets: Isaiah or Jeremiah. There are lots of great prophets up here. What do you think, Lord?”

            Without looking back at Gabriel, God said, I am not going to send anyone. This time I am going myself!!”

            And, of course, that is what God did. In the words of the Gospel writer John “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But why? What is the meaning of it all?

            Years ago Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish theologian, explained the miracle of Christmas with a parable. It goes something like this …

 

            Once upon a time there lived a king who loved a poor maiden. This king was an all-powerful king. He could choose any maiden in his kingdom for his bride. But this particular maiden did not know the king or suspect his love for her. This posed a problem for the king. He knew if he approached her as the king, she would be awed by the differences between them. She might admire him for his power and status, but she could not forget that he was the king and that she was but a humble maiden. Because he truly loved her the king wanted her to love him for himself, not for his power. The king considered the possibility of somehow secretly elevating the maiden to the rank of a princess. Then they would be equals. But he quickly realized the folly of this approach. She would see through his deception. And if she did not, he feared the transformation might alter her character. And he loved her as she was.

            The king grieved. How could he help his beloved to understand him as he wished to be understood, as a lover rather than a king? Finally, the way became clear. If their union could not be effected through the maiden’s elevation to the king, it must be attempted through the king’s descent to the maiden. The king realized he must appear in the likeness of a servant, as one humble enough to serve her. So he clothed himself in a beggar’s cloak and went out to meet the maiden. Did she accept his love? Would he woo her? What do you think?

 

            An angel appears to a virgin, and announces that she will give birth to God’s child. This was God’s way of seeking to woo humanity. God would humble Himself and live among us so that we might come to know His true nature. God had no desire to overpower us. He wanted us to love him for himself.

            Granted, some question the virgin birth, the whole immaculate conception story line, like the man who heckled the former slave Sojourner Truth. After being freed as a slave Sojourner Truth became a fearless public speaker and tireless crusader for women’s rights. It is said that she electrified audiences throughout the 19th century.

            Sojourner Truth spoke at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio in 1863. While Sojourner Truth was speaking a heckler shouted out that women shouldn’t have as many rights as men because Christ wasn’t a woman. Raising herself to her full height of nearly six feet, Sojourner Truth answered, That little man in back there, he say women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ weren’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from?” she asked rhetorically. From God and a woman! Man had nothin’ to do with him.”

            Sojourner Truth was right. According to Gabriel’s announcement, man had nothing to do with him, and that announcement changed all of history. But history was also changed by Mary’s response to the announcement. She saidHere am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” No hesitation, no I’ll get back to you in the morning.” Instead she replies, "Let it be with me according to your word.”

            Writer Philip Yancey notes that, in the United States, a million teenage girls become pregnant out of wedlock each year. We don’t think that much about it, unless of course, it is our daughter or the daughter of a family member or friend. Of course, the news that Gabriel delivered could not have been entirely welcome. The law in first century Judaism regarded a betrothed woman who became pregnant as an adulteress, subject to death by stoning.

          Did Mary know what she was getting herself into? Maybe not entirely. But that did not change her answer. She said Yes” to God and the world has never been the same. No wonder God chose this humble maiden for the most important assignment anyone on earth has ever received. Her courageous obedience was and is remarkable. Suppose we loved and trusted God that much?

            Given Mary’s strength of character, I wonder why more parents don’t name their baby girls “Mary” any more. They did at one time. Mary was the most common name given to girls every year from the beginning of record-keeping, at least back to 1800, through 1961 … except for a six-year dip to #2, behind Linda. And then the name lost it’s cache, and fifty years later the name Mary fell all the way down to 112th on the list of names given to newborn girls. Given the advances in the women’s movement over those fifty years, and the call to female empowerment, one would think Mary would be a great name for a newborn girl, but that’s not the case. In 2015 Mary continues to be left off the top 100 list. Romaine is number 63. I guess her parents really love Caesar salad. Elspeth is number 65. Elspeth? Who would name a little girl Elspeth? Apparently a lot of people. Ireland is number 76 on the list. I loved the four days we spent on the Emerald Isle, but I wouldn’t name a daughter after that country. Another country made the list of popular girl’s names, India.  That name came in at number 75, one slot ahead of Ireland.  Mary is nowhere on this year’s list of the top one hundred names for newborn girls.

            Odd, because you know why we are here today don’t you? Because 2,000 years ago an angel appeared to a thirteen or fourteen or fifteen year old girl in a remote part of the world, and made a most remarkable announcement to her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor 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 … and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

            And Mary answered, I am the Lord’s servant; let it be with me according to your word.” Amen.

            Mary. Now that’s a name of substance. That's a name you can be proud of.

            Amen.


[1] Much of message borrowed from King Duncan on sermons.com.