December 20, 2020
Grace Lutheran Church
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, whose coming we await. Amen.
Time after time in Scripture we see strange and atypical things. I’m not talking about miracles of walking on water or feeding thousands from a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread.
No, I’m talking about the way that God seems to turn things upside down.
In ancient times, there was a very strict social rule about honor and favor. Honor was given to one who could return favor which in turn would generate more honor and more favor. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. A VIP would give favors to the Vice-VIP’s and they in turn would give the VIP honor and would show that in various ways – they might come to his courtyard and hang out so that all the neighbors could see how influential he was. Or they might recruit even more Vice-VIP’s to come to the courtyard so the VIP would look even better.
Holding on to one’s honor – one’s public reputation – was most important. One was known by the company they kept. Mary lived in this social environment. She knew full well about honor, for she had none – at least not in the usual way that it was understood.
Let’s go over some of the details of this story in today’s Gospel.
Mary lived in Nazareth, a very small village about 65 miles NW of Jerusalem. It was inhabited perhaps by only a few hundred people. And none of them were very famous or important outside of Nazareth.
Mary’s father had promised her to Joseph for marriage. Betrothal. This was a usual custom and one that happened when a girl was around 12 or 13. It wasn’t like current day engagements. It carried all the legal standing of marriage. In the event that the groom-to-be died, the girl betrothed to him was considered a widow. Following betrothal, the girl would live in her family’s home for one year and then the groom would come and get her and take her to his home and a wedding feast of several days would ensue.
Transport yourself in your mind’s eye to the time when you are an early teen – for some it may have been a very long ago and for others it may have been a very short time ago and for still others these years are yet to come.
Gabriel, one of the three archangels, comes to Mary.
There’s our first upside-down thing – one of the three mighty archangels of heaven (Michael and Raphael are the other two) come to this little town and to this little girl. That’s like the VIP coming to one of the cleaning staff.
And then, Gabriel begins to speak to her with good news. He calls her “favored one” – the second upside-down thing. What? Mary –this young girl from a tiny village is FAVORED by God??!! Not only does the VIP come to and address one of the cleaning staff – but now she is told that he has bestowed favor on her! She who has nothing to offer in return. No exchange of favors as would be expected.
Then Gabriel tells her even more – get this Mary – you are going to give birth to the Son of the Most High God. Third upside-down-thing. Mary’s world has been shaken –Who??? Me???
Remember, in the times of Mary, this was not necessarily good news. When Joseph got wind of this he could have her stoned for adultery! How would she ever explain this to her mother and father? And in only a few short months it would no longer be a private matter – everyone would know.
In her curiosity, Mary asks, “Ummm, how can this be? There is no way that I could become pregnant. I’ve never been with a man.”
Gabriel goes on to tell her that this conception won’t be like anything that has ever happened in human history. Using images that hearken back to the creation accounts in Genesis, Gabriel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the power of the Most High God will overshadow her and because of this the Son of God will be born.
“Overshadow” is a key word – what does this mean to us today? Something is overshadowed when something more important comes along at the same time. One of the first Thanksgivings that Earl and I had together, we planned to go to Minneapolis to spend it with my parents. We had our flights scheduled and all the arrangements made. Then came word that our oldest son, Jeff – born to Earl and his first wife – had been seriously injured and was headed to the hospital. This event overshadowed the plans that we had for Thanksgiving. It changed everything.
Mary was overshadowed by the power of God – her lowly estate faded from existence so that God could do a mighty thing.
My friends, each of us are Mary’s – we are each cleaning staff in God’s kingdom. And yet the power of the Most High God comes upon us SO THAT we can do amazing things for this kingdom.
This first happened in our baptisms in which we were drawn into relationship with the Most High God. We were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit who washed us and made us new. God favors us with his very presence. He gives us the honor of his favor and all that we have to offer in return are the words of Mary, “Let it be to me according to your will.”
In these final days of Advent, be attuned to the many ways in which God comes into your life. Seek out the presence of Jesus in one another. Let the Holy Spirit move freely throughout your life and times. And then with Mary may we too say, Let it be to me according to your will.’