Sunday Sermon Advent 4, December 24, 2017

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38
Canticle 3 or Canticle 15 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

Mary’s Hopefulness

Today is Mary’s day. It is our brief and all-to-short glimpse into the life of the mother of Jesus. Interestingly, most of what we have come to associate with Mary didn’t come about until hundreds of years after she was alive, and frankly, much of it is lore. It speaks to the abiding need within the church to understand the virgin birth, and the vast mystery that comes with it. If we could just tie Mary’s story up with a neat and suitable bow, it might all make more sense.

However, I want to propose that it’s precisely the ambiguity and vulnerability that comes with Mary’s story that makes her compelling. Mary chose to respond faithfully in the midst of ambiguity and vulnerability, which become a key component to her character and the faithfulness she comes to represent.

Mary’s story involves several distinct elements of ambiguity. First, there is her relationship with Joseph that becomes tenuous as soon as the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary.

As one might imagine, the circumstances surrounding engagement were particular in those days, not unlike what we find in today’s society. If one were engaged to be married, expectations surrounded that period of waiting and preparation for marriage. Mainly, females were expected to be emotionally and physically monogamous to their fiancée. With the news of Mary’s pregnancy, her commitment was no doubt called into question, not only by Joseph, but by those in Nazareth. To say that Mary and Joseph had a normal engagement would be to ignore the obvious complications the angel’s visit presents. However, Mary makes her commitment to God, and to the angel. Likewise, she keeps her commitment to Joseph, and Joseph to her. In the midst of deeply troubling ambiguity, Mary remains true to God and true to her fiancée.

Mary’s journey is also isolating. Her experience was and remains unique among women, and truthfully beyond just the female gender. Mary did have the gift of Elizabeth’s companionship, and simultaneous pregnancy, though Elizabeth was at an entirely different stage of life.

And, it was still just the two of them. Without a path forged in front of them, Mary and Elizabeth were living out a faithful “yes” to God’s calling, lacking a clear indication of where the journey might lead. Isolation is enough to paralyze any of us, despite our best intentions. It brings me to my knees when I stop and ponder the courage required of Mary to respond to God’s invitation with such little support, clarity, and understanding.

The Rev. Beth Magill

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