Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Hope of the Messiah: From Barren to Blessed

On this last Sunday of Advent, we move into the New Testament - the Gospel of Luke. Luke is of two books, Luke and Act, that are an attempt, as the gospel writer says at the very beginning, to set down an orderly account of the events for Theophilus, Translated “God-lover.” So that you may know the truth concerning the things that have been handed onto us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word.

And so, today, God-lovers, we read from the holy gospel according to Luke.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. 
--Luke 1:26-56 (NRSV)

"Barren. That’s what we both were, Mary and I. Barren. Mary, a teenager, having never known a man, a virgin, without child. Barren. And I, old. Having known a man, also without child. Barren. It is this that perhaps connected Mary and I most. Our barrenness. Our emptiness. Our disgrace - well, mostly my disgrace.

I had prayed for a child during all of my child-bearing years. Like Sarah. Like Rebecca. Like so many other women in our history, in the stories of our faith, who had prayed to God for a child as much as I prayed for a descendant for my husband, Zechariah, and I. We lived righteously before God. Followed and observed all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. Yet, unlike Sarah and Rebecca, I remained barren. My disgrace before others.

Yet, Mary and I would not remain barren. It was nothing that we did - everything that happened was from the Lord, announced by the angel, Gabriel. God’s messenger who came, first, to my husband, and then to Mary. Announcing these miraculous births. My child, who would be another messenger of God. Of the long-promised Messiah.

But, Mary. The announcement she received was different. The angel called her “favored one.” Favored one? Mary? First named in the story without a name, but only that she was engaged to Joseph. This was the status of women in my time, connected only to the men in our lives. And only important based on our ability to bear children. Especially, to bear sons. Mary, favored? Perhaps it was this title that perplexed her. Made her wonder. Made her ask the question how she might become pregnant without having known a man. Not that she doubted the possibility. But, that she was simply curious how this was to happen. Do you notice she never asked for a sign? Unlike my husband. Unlike so many prophets called throughout the history of our people, Mary never asked for a sign. 

But, then, the angel Gabriel gave her a sign. Me. Pregnant in my old age. I was to be her sign that God would descend on her womb in the way God had descended upon the tabernacle at Sinai. And how God had descended upon my womb. Because nothing is impossible with God.

And so she came to visit me. In my sixth month, with my pregnancy showing. When I saw her I felt my unborn baby leap within me. The Holy Spirit moved me, a woman, to prophesy what had already been spoken to her. That she would be the God-bearer. The Theotokos. The one who would bear the Messiah, the fulfilment of God’s promise to King David. And to us, from across the ages. 

No longer barren, either of us. But now blessed. Mary, the Alpha, and I, the Omega. From young to old, beginning to end, both of us, blessed. Not simply vessels to bear children, but Spirit-filled, prophetic, profound people, created by God. Blessed by God. How profound this was in our time! How profound this is for your time!

How could Mary do anything other than singLike Hannah, like Miriam, like Deborah of old, how could Mary do anything other than sing of the freedom and liberation that God has done, is doing, and will continue to do in our world, through her son, Jesus? The Anointed One. Son of the Most High. Emmanuel - God with us

May you, like Mary and I, know and believe the truth concerning the things that have been handed onto you by us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word. May you, like Mary and I, know and believe that God comes to set us free, to liberate us and our world from all that holds us captive. And may you, like Mary and I, know and believe that, even in the midst of our deepest darkness, God is doing a new thing. For nothing will be impossible with God. Amen."

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