*Adapted from my sermon at Livingstone Alliance Church Dec 17, 2017
She was a young woman, most probably in her teens. She didn’t come from a rich family. There was nothing immediately special about her. She was just a regular girl from a town called Nazareth. Before she would be known as the mother of Jesus, she was just plain Mary. Mary who was engaged to Joseph. Mary who didn’t have a title, or popularity, or significance.
So imagine what it would have been like for her when an angel appears to her. The very first words the angel Gabriel says to Mary is, “Greetings you who are highly favored!” This might be one of the best greetings I can ever imagine. “Hey, guess what Mary, you’re one of my favorites.”
In the Protestant church, we don’t talk about Mary very much except for during Christmas. But she should mean something to Protestants as well. She points to Jesus and like many other people in the bible, she points to something in all of us.
Mary means something to God, we get clued into this when she was called highly favored. There is a tenderness to this greeting that is easy to miss. It’s like saying, “you’re one of my favorites” My parents used to say I was their favorite daughter, and my brother was their favorite son. It wasn’t about one being ranked higher than the other. It was more of a statement that their love was big enough to include us both as their favorite.
Up to this point, there is nothing that we see that would make Mary stand out. She doesn’t seem to have anything special about her before the angel comes to her. This is what I think makes the message so much more amazing. It’s good news right from the start! Mary, you’re one of my favorites! That’s good news! It means you didn’t have to do anything special, you are just you and that’s enough for me! Before this announcement, we didn’t know what grades she must have gotten in school, if she cleaned her room, or if she was a good daughter. But that doesn’t seem to matter. The angel didn’t say, “Because Mary you were so good and perfect and faithful to God, you are highly favored”. She was favored even before she knew what was about to be asked of her.
This is important because I think people often look at Mary and think she was the perfect picture of obedience and faithfulness on her own and that’s why she was chosen to be Jesus’ mother. But I think she was God’s favorite just because she was God’s child. The same way each one of us are God’s children, and the same way I think we are each God’s favorite. That’s one of the things that makes this part of the Gospel good news. It means that we are God’s favorite for exactly who we are right now and not because of anything we’ve done or have not done.
When Mary says yes, she says yes to being an important part of the larger story God is unfolding for all of us. She says yes to being part of what God is already doing. God didn’t need her to bring Jesus into the world, but God chose her to bring Jesus into the world. It’s important to realize that. God chose her on purpose. God could have brought Jesus into the world in so many other ways, but God specifically chose this young, girl who wasn’t legally married yet, who had no title and was vulnerable to the legally, financially, and socially.
God chose her to become pregnant before she was married, which could have been a punishable crime. She could have been tried as an adulterer for cheating on her soon to be husband. She could have been returned to her parents by Joseph if he thought she had become pregnant by another man. This would have caused an economic burden to her family because they would have to give back the money they got for giving her to Joseph (which was the custom at the time) and they would have to feed and care for her again, which was one more person to support.
God chose her as a young Jewish girl, at a time when young Jewish girls were treated like property. They had no rights of their own. God chose her when, as a young Jewish girl with no rights of her own, she had little significance in society, except her ability to have children, and specifically boys. As a young woman, she was one of the marginalized people in first-century Jewish society.
Mary means something to Jesus, she was after all his mother. She was chosen to be the only person in history to have two-thirds of the Trinity dwells in/upon her. Jesus and the Holy Spirit somehow connected in her physical body in a way that has never happened to any other human before. The baby Jesus spent about nine months growing from the size of a pea to a full-grown baby inside of her. She nurtured the baby Jesus. She breastfed the baby Jesus. She cleaned the baby Jesus.
As theologian Dwight Hopkins writes, she was Jesus’ first community. She and Joseph were Jesus’ first encounter with humanity. Imagine the intimate times a mother has with her baby. She knows what the different cries mean, “Oh he’s hungry” or “Oh he’s tired”. She knows what food he liked. She knows what made him laugh. She knew Jesus like no one else knew Jesus. She encouraged him when he learned to walk. She corrected him when we needed to learn that the stove was hot or to not put that rock up his nose. She was also the one that would be with him all the way to the cross. She was there when they took down his lifeless body at the crucifixion.
Mary means something to us. Mary was an ordinary young woman, chosen to do extraordinary things that would change the course of our lives for over 2000 years. God’s choosing her as favorite also tells us that God can choose any one of us to do extraordinary things as well. We don’t need a certain degree or certain income level for God to choose us, we just need to be faithful to the one who calls us favorite.
Her response to the angel Gabriel, was not just yes, but “Yes and….” “Yes, I will give birth to Jesus AND” (Luke 1:50-55). Each was a declaration of justice that this baby Jesus Christ would bring. Notice it’s written in the past tense as if it has already been done, but she is speaking of the future. It’s a prophetic song. In fact, it’s not just a prophetic song, it’s a war cry. It’s a cry against the darkness and the enemy’s attempts at making us forget that there is always hope in the name of the one we call Emanuel, God with us.
It’s a song that says “Yes I will be the mother of Jesus AND he will bring light to the darkness”
- AND his mercy extends to those who fear him
- AND he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts
- AND he has brought down rulers and raised up those who were thought to be lowly (criminals, homeless, undocumented, poor, women, children, insert all the “othered” here).
- AND he will fill the hungry and send away the rich empty-handed.
The first shall be last and the last shall be first. This is a prophetic song. Better yet, this is a war cry against the darkness of oppression. When I did ministry with Samoan kids, the football team always did the haka. The haka is the Maori war dance that proclaims strength as they enter battle. Mary’s Magnificat was her haka. She was getting pumped up as she proclaimed what it meant for the Word to become flesh among us. The marginalized will be centered. Righteousness will be restored because God chose to break into humanity and move into our neighborhood. Mary reminds us that Emmanuel, God with us, is in fact, good news. Amen.