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Our souls magnify the Lord.

Luke 1: 26-38;    2nd Samuel 7:1-11,16;   Luke 1:46b-55;   Romans 16: 25-57

Good morning.  I am Pastor Pam Stewart, retired United Methodist minister,  and part of the Preaching Team during this Interim Kingdom time at Tomoka UMC as we wait for a full-time Pastor to be appointed hopefully in July 2021.   We appreciate your faithfulness in worship as you participate comfortably from home or as you gather here in the sanctuary following the CDC COVID-19 guidelines.   Today we explore the 4th Sunday of Advent Gospel passage from Luke referred to as “the Annunciation,” in which profound faithfulness is asked of Mary to birth and be the mother of the of the “One who saves….Yeshua [or as we say, Jesus]”.

 

 Mary was probably between the ages of 13 and 15 years old…typical for the times, but Joseph, her betrothed, was probably around 22 years old.   As I was preparing a crockpot meal in between multiple pastoral care calls the other day, I got to thinking, or you could say pondering, about Mary as a young girl, not yet woman, living with her parents and siblings, helping with household chores.   She lived under the political unrest and tension of the West Bank and was engaged to a man not of her age group.   I can imagine that her focus would be divided between assisting with the grueling daily work of acquiring the items to make into bread and protein dishes and the required learning of the teachings and rituals of the Jewish faith she would need to follow andteach as a wife and later mother.  Plus, she might be imagining what her wedding would be like. She may have been anxious about leaving the safety of her home and starting her family arranged married life as she was being exchanged as property of her father to be property of her husband-to-be.    An anticipated, yet unknown future, awaited her as Mary contemplated her upcoming marriage…perhaps similar to how children anticipate presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

 

 

 

 

And then, unbelievably, an unknown entity suddenly appears to Mary!  She says she is the arch-angel Gabriel, bringing Good News, not just to Mary, but for the whole world!  This was not the fierce archangel, Michael, who is often pictured as bold, powerful, and protective.   This is the wise woman arch-angel Gabriel, who announces God’s intentions: for Mary to be the chosen one to bear and birth the Savior Jesus, whom God is sending into the world.   Gabriel guides Mary from being fearful and awe-filled to her being full of joy and accepting the awesome responsibility being thrust upon her.  Gabriel moves Mary from incredulous and questioning to saying YES to the honor and task bestowed upon her.   Because Mary totally loves God and isn’t afraid to clarify and dialogue with Gabriel [she’ll need that kind of hutzpah later], she makes the greatest commitment needed for a woman to be the Mother of Jesus.  Mary gives her loving “YES” trusting that “Nothing is impossible with God.” 

Mary must quickly rely on this, her new life-long mantra, when she shares the news of her pregnancy through the Holy Spirit with Joseph, her betrothed.  It would be difficult for her to not pick up on Joseph’s lack of support.  Perhaps her prayer discussions saying, “OK, Lord, I need your help here” began with this first hurdle.     According to Matthew, Joseph, in his disturbance from this news, acts with dignity for that time period:  he makes the loving decision to go ahead with the marriage but plans to divorce Mary quietly after the birth.   In today’s world, we would just go ahead and say Mary is crazy thinking she’s going to have God’s son, and we would quietly Baker Act her, sending her to the Psych Unit at Halifax…and get out of the marriage.    However, since “nothing is impossible with God,” in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth, Joseph also receives an Annunciation message from an angel.  Joseph follows Mary’s lead and also is obedient in love to God.  From here on, the actions of Mary and Joseph are a measure of their love of God and Mary’s knowing with the swaying of Joseph, that “Nothing is impossible with God.”  

Have you ever had the experience that once you’ve said YES to God and because you’re at peace with the decision you think or expect that things will run smoothly, but they don’t?   When Mary learned of Caesar’s tax edict/census and that she would have to leave her parents and home to travel for about 9 days (90 miles)  to Bethlehem from Nazareth,  I can imagine her despair of not having her mother and familiar midwives with her for the birth of Jesus.                                 And what if he should start to come before they got to Bethlehem?  But then the prayer/ affirmation would come: “Nothing is impossible with God”.  And because Mary loved God, and had said YES, she went.   By day 2, being 9 months pregnant, and  most likely” bumpily” riding a donkey  (since walking the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem would be even more arduous), I would have been in major complaining mode in my prayer/conversation with God.  But Mary is obedient in her love and rides on possibly with the hope of rest in their accommodations in Bethlehem.

But the closer she gets to Bethlehem, the more crowded the road is with fellow travelers!  Everyone of the primitive inns is full!  I think Mary’s hutzpah, (the Yiddish term indicating extreme audacity, nerve, or gall) grows in leaps and bounds on this trip away from the comforts of her home!  What do you mean there’s no room at the inn?  We’ve heard that too many times!  Surely, Lord, you didn’t bring us this far without some kind of place in mind for the birth of your holy child!  But then that prayer/mantra rises from deep in Mary’s heart:  “Nothing is impossible with God!”  So, they try again…and this time, though he has no rooms left, the Innkeeper acts out his love of God and offers the safety and warmth of his stable…and perhaps sends his wife to help the young, exhausted, very pregnant Mary prepare for the birth of her first child, the baby Jesus. 

God blessed her with the Angels’ Songs, and the visits from the shepherds, who left their flocks in God’s care to act out their love of God in following the Star to see the newborn King, the Messiah.  And later, the Magi from the East would come, too, to pay homage to the King of the Universe out of their love of the great Creator.  When news of King Herod’s edict to kill all male babies age 2years and under disturbed Mary’s sphere of being again, her unwavering love of God and this precious baby Jesus, empowered her to push away fear and follow Joseph’s dream warning them to flee to safety in Egypt.  In her quiet acceptance to go further away from her family and home, Mary’s action to obey was again a measure of her love of God, as was Joseph’s, and the Magi as they obeyed the warning in a dream to go home by a different way.   And her hope, peace, and joy were in her belief that “Nothing is impossible with God!”

 

 

 

What about us as we continue the path of Advent to Christmas?  Our world has been rocked with great changes in our perceptions of justice and our lives and livelihoods being threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic.  In spite of the discomfort of our daily and weekly routines being disrupted by confinement to our homes, wearing masks and social distancing when out, washing our hands and using hand sanitizers , are we intentional in our actions being rooted in God’s love?   A nearby church has had masks made for its members.  The masks read: “Because I Love You.”   Vaccinations, which we wondered would ever be developed, are rolling out in several companies and becoming available to us.  Will we take them as a measure of our love for God and all of God’s children?  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, encouraged the People Called Methodists to live by Three Simple Rules: 

  1. Do No Harm   Do All the Good You Can   3. Love God with All You’ve Got

 Are these not ways we can love our neighbor and prevent harm to others?  Our Florida Conference United Methodist Facebook page includes a line that reads: “Wearing a mask is a way to love your neighbor!”

We may not be chosen for the kind of role and fierce love that Mary accepted as she became the mother of Jesus.  But like Joseph, the Inn keeper, the shepherds and Magi, and travelers that helped the Holy Family escape to Egypt, we each have a calling from God. We each receive the loving grace and merciful forgiveness of Christ Jesus.  Therefore, we can always go forward with actions that are based on our love of God and our faith that “Nothing is impossible with God!”    Amen