December 20, 2020

Advent 4B

Nothing is Impossible for God

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. Luke 1:26-38
Of all the possibilities, why did God choose this young maiden named Mary? She was clearly without distinction. She was not someone who descended from royalty. A princess might have been a more appropriate choice. She was not wealthy. How could she provide a home worthy of the One whom she would bear? Except for the pious projections of Christian art, we have no evidence to suggest that she was particularly beautiful. She certainly did not catch the eye of any of the innkeepers, such that she was not turned away. Had Mary been the subject of a reality show, there probably would not have been a second episode.
Mary was a most unexceptional person. She was a most unlikely representative of humankind to give birth to the Savior of the world. As far as we know, Mary was simple, plain, and ordinary. In other words, she was so much like the rest of us. And that’s the answer, isn’t it? Simple, plain, ordinary and so much like the rest of us.
God apparently comes at it from an entirely different place than our friend David would have suspected. David tells the prophet Nathan that he is moved to build a house worthy of God from the most precious of timbers in the land – those famous Cedars of Lebanon. He wants to build God a house as gilded and as opulent as his own palace. After all, should God not live at least as well as David? But God will have no part of it. God will decide where and how He will dwell. And in the fullness of time, God indeed has decided His dwelling place.

The flesh that became Jesus came from the body of one who was just like us. The body that gave birth to Him, the body that nourished Him from the milk of her breasts, was just as plain and ordinary and vulnerable as our own flesh.

Mary’s ordinariness allows God to make it absolutely clear that Jesus is truly and fully human. No one could say that Jesus only appeared to be truly human—or that he was not like every one of us in every aspect of our humanity. No one could say he was different because his mother was compellingly extraordinary.

What we know of Mary is very little. Yet what we do know is very telling. The scriptures make it clear that she was humble, that she was faithful and that she was obedient. She was a person who was completely herself. She was neither pretentious, nor boastful. She was wholly content to be who and what she was, and to do what God gave her to do.

Mary was open to what the angel had to say to her, but at the same time honest enough to question how she, not having known a man, could possibly conceive and bear a son. Yet she was obedient and did what she was asked to do. And so, responding to Gabriel, she said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She surrendered herself to the will and action of God.

So, we can begin to understand why God chose one so young and so inexperienced to be the Mother of His Son. She had not grown old enough to become skeptical or cynical about such things. She was fresh enough in her humanity to embrace an accepting attitude such that she could hear and heed the word of an angel, in other words, she could hear and heed a message from God.

In addition, Mary’s faith was uncomplicated and pure enough for her to believe that with God all things are indeed possible.

She was able to accept a truth that came from outside human knowledge and beyond human capacity. She was not a slave to linear, rational thought, though she clearly had the capacity to think in a linear, rational manner. “How can this be?” She was very open to both thinking rationally and also to responding outside the box.

Mary had courage. She was willing to stand up to whatever gossip or rejection might come her way because she was pregnant and not married. She was willing to suffer a mother’s worst fate, bearing a Son who would necessarily be taken from her all too soon and so mercilessly. She was willing to give Him away so the whole world could have Him.

We are presented with the same message as the one declared to Mary by God’s angel. Mary, the mother of the Lord, as an icon, nurtures our faith in the possibilities of God and in the truth that only the power of God can bring forth and effect salvation, and do this from the body of an insignificant and ordinary young girl who lived in an obscure village.

Mary helps us understand that as God chose her, He chooses us in our commonness and ordinariness to be His flesh in the world. We are to be bearers of the Christ. We too are to be God-bearers, as Mary was the God-bearer, for our bodies are the only place where He, by God’s choice, dwells on this earth and in this world.

We are the body of Christ when we realize that we are all pregnant with God. When we understand that Christ dwells within us, and that He is ours to bring forth and share with others.

But the enduring question for us is undoubtedly no different than Mary’s. “How can this be?” And then we remember that in the beginning, God said, “Let there be” and there was light, sky, sun and moon, dry land, earth that brings forth vegetation, fish that fill the waters and animals of very kind, and finally humankind made in God’s image and likeness. God said, “Let there be” all these came to be.

Creation is the larger context for today’s gospel story of the Annunciation to Mary. We remember that, In the fulness of time, God again speaks the creative word, “Let there be.” And today, we also remember Mary’s words, “Let it be.” “Let it be with me according to your word.” Mary’s words, “Let it be,” echo God’s words, “Let there be.”

It is like an ongoing call and response between God and humanity. God prays the fullness of creation into existence and Mary says, “Amen. Let it be.” This is not an ending to the creation story but the culmination of creation and the beginning of our salvation.

Think about this. God says, “Let there be” and his words bring forth creatures into the world. Mary says, “Let it be” and her words bring forth the Creator into the world. How amazing is that?

Jesus is able to take flesh because Mary’s humanity gives him that possibility. This could only happen with Mary’s “Let it be.” Her gift to God is her humanity and, through her, our humanity.

The incarnation of God in Jesus is not, however, limited to Mary. It is an affirmation of God’s creation and the goodness of humanity. God chooses human flesh, not a cedar house, as the place of God’s dwelling. Each one of us can stand as the “favored one,” the one with whom God is. Each of us is called to grow up to be God-bearers and to carry the life of God within our own humanity.

Mary is one of us. She is that part of us that is womb-like, the part that gives birth to Christ in our world. To affirm Mary is to say yes to God. To affirm Mary is to affirm the holy of holies within us. To affirm Mary is to enable the ongoing story of creation and salvation. To appreciate and venerate Mary is to discover the life God is creating in us and who we are to be when we grow up. Mary teaches us how to say, “Yes.”

Each one of us is to echo Mary’s words, “Let it be.” Don’t hear this as passivity. This is not a “que sera, sera” attitude. It means we are our best selves when we are vulnerable, open, and receptive. It means that living fully means letting down the veils that we think separate us. Mary sees her virginity as a barrier of separation. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

We all live with barriers that we think separate us from God. There are barriers of fear, shame, and guilt. Independence and individualism become walls of isolation. Sometimes we are encased in logic, rationalism, and unable or unwilling to abandon ourselves to the mystery. Often our impenetrable containers are the life we have created for ourselves.

God looks through our barriers to see the “favored one” even when we cannot see ourselves that way. God’s words of possibility surmount our walls announcing that God is with us and that we will conceive within us God’s own life. God is always stepping through our shields to choose us as His dwelling place.

“How can this be?” With those words Mary acknowledges that the life Gabriel announces is not the life she was creating for herself. “Let it be.” With those words Mary receives the life God is creating in her. Between “How can this be?” and “Let it be” the impossible becomes a reality, the never before heard of, will forever be spoken of, and the veil between divinity and humanity has fallen.

Offer whatever excuses, reasons, and defenses you have why this cannot be true for you. Gabriel will tell you differently. “Nothing is impossible with God.”

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
December 20, 2020