Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, December 24, 2017, Advent 4, Year B, Mark 1:1-8
“Let it be with me…”
Good morning. Welcome to the 4th Sunday of Advent. It’s a pretty special one because you don’t have to “labor” long from the Annunciation until the birth. This year, we have like a seven-hour gestation period. Modern medicine sure has improved our lives. Conception to birth… 7 hours.
And maybe this short period between Advent 4 and Christmas is a blessing. Maybe the darkness is just too thick. Just too void of light this year… Maybe this will be your first blue Christmas in a long while or maybe your first blue Christmas ever. Because, as we know… the Christmas and Holiday Season often brings with it pain and suffering and memories of loss… nostalgia and regret and disappointment… Maybe this will be a blue Christmas for you…
For now… it is still Advent… still dark, though the sanctuary is getting more and more illumined. We are now prepared for the birth of God which is good because the Incarnation is coming whether we are ready or not. But before the birth narrative… before God is birthed in the form of a human baby… we get to hear and contemplate this story…
We get to wrestle with the story that has been controversial for everybody from Mary to the very children sitting in the pews today. Mary says, “How can this be?” I know of plenty of people that can’t or won’t say the Creed because of the Virgin birth. Maybe they remain silent during that line in the Creed or maybe they aren’t at Church at all to say the Creed. And they just smile and shake their heads if the topic of a virgin birth is brought up. Maybe this is the case for you. Maybe the virgin birth narrative is just too “out there” for you. The beauty of the Episcopal Church is that we have room for your theology surrounding Mary and how Jesus came to be. Good news for all of us.
Because the fact is that this text and the theology around Mary are pretty important for how we understand Jesus. Earnest theologians will be quick to wag their fingers about those who are skeptics of the virgin birth. “If Mary and Joseph conceived that child, what would it mean?”
For many, it would mean that Jesus could not be sinless and tainted. And if Jesus is tainted… then he can’t be the perfect sacrificial atonement for the sin of the world. And if that is the case, then the sacrament that you and I will partake in today (twice today), doesn’t count. So, for these theologians, the house of cards comes crashing down. All hinging on Mary’s purity.
That’s a lot of pressure on her… A lot of pressure on her 2000 years ago and a lot of pressure on her today. That’s how easy it is to ruin a good story. I don’t mean to make light of the importance of this matter. I think that the virgin birth answers a lot of questions. It allows us to make theological connections that would be difficult if things were different. And I certainly don’t want to denigrate any of you that find this piece of theology to be the centerpiece of how you view your own place in this world.
And… honestly, this text is pretty explicit that it was very important to the author of Luke, that Mary was indeed pregnant from the Holy Spirit and not from Joseph. And I don’t understand the biology… well, I mean I understand this aspect of biology and how procreation among humans works, but the biology wasn’t important to Luke. At least not important enough to go into detail. Because it does leave all of us asking the same question that Mary asked… “Um… How can this be?”
But what is important to me for today is the fact that Mary was favored by God. This is a big deal for the original hearer of this gospel. It is a big deal because she is the hero… and, she is a poor young woman who is engaged to be married and who is currently or about to be… pregnant. This is the quintessential character who has zero agency in her own life. In a culture that was certainly male-centric and patriarchal… Mary was vulnerable… she had everything to lose. She was in transition between the household of her parents and the household of her soon-to-be husband. And now, both of those relationships are tenuous at best.
I don’t want to make this story about Joseph because it’s not… but can you imagine the conversation after Mary finishes her musical soliloquy…. After she sings the Magnificat. I’m guessing, Joseph wasn’t a supportive and understanding fiancé. I doubt he felt favored.
And the point of this story… at least for the purposes of this sermon… is that she did feel favored. She heard the words of Gabriel… and she marveled. She was amazed… she was filled with anticipation and expectation and maybe, even though Gabriel said not… I’m guessing she was a bit afraid. She was favored and she felt favored.
And to further accentuate the fact that Mary was an unlikely candidate for this favor, the author of Luke tells us, just before this story, the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the conception of John… John the Baptist. Zechariah was a priest. He had connections. He had political power. He was visible. He was… important and privileged… He too was… favored. But in a completely different way.
And this professional man of God… could not turn his own “How can this be” into “Let it be with me” like Mary was able to. Mary is quick to accept and even embrace this new reality. To embrace the reality that she is the God-bearer… the Eastern Church calls her the Theotokos.
And for me… this is the punch of this text. Not that Mary was sexually pure… but that the very beginning for Jesus was scandalous…. That even the way in which he was brought into being was scandalous. That the things that God favored were not the things that humanity favored. God’s favor… the way that he picked and possessed the mother of God was upside down and backward. That he would choose to break into this world a poor child with a questionable paternal origin, in which there were disgrace and turpitude… scandal and assumption. In which there would be gossip and rumors and whispers…
Because how else right? Now that we know the full story, we see why this is so fitting. We understand, (as much as we can), the brilliance in this. The divine brilliance.
Our assumptions as humans are ripped open. Heaven and Earth are brought close together, because Mary, the Theotokos was willing to carry in her body the creator of the Universe. Talk about being favored…
And I wonder what things would look like if God decided to be incarnated a second time. Or if God decided to choose 2017 to pick and possess a God-bearer. What would she look like? What color would her skin be? What would be her nationality? Would she be young? Would she be older? Would she be married or single? Divorced? Would she be affluent? Working class? Would she be gay or straight? Homeless? A refugee? I wonder… I wonder what the mother of God would look like in 2017.
Maybe she would look just like you…
Laugh if you must…
But God has done stranger things before. Because in fact, each of you… even the men… are in fact pregnant. God has planted the divine seed in each one of you. In each one of us. And it will be a joy to watch you as you raise and nurture the new divine life that will be birthed in 2018.
And slowly the darkness is being driven out. It is hard to tell because it is so gradual. Because it is arriving so slowly. It will light the way for you and for me.
Because our God has favored you… just like Mary…
our God has favored YOU. And, new… scandalous light and life…. Will arrive in Benzie County this year. I can’t wait to see it.