On this, our final Sunday in Advent, it’s appropriate that we talk about Joy. And what better way to talk about Joy, than to visit with Mary and hear her beautiful song of joyous praise to God, found only in the Gospel of Luke.
Why do we visit with Mary every year in the 3rd or 4th week of Advent?
“Luke tells us a lot about how Mary responded to the angel Gabriel’s visit and message,” Timothy Keller says in his book “Hidden Christmas.” He believes “it is to hold her up as a model of what responsive Christian faith looks like” (p81).
So, how does Mary respond?
When she is told that she is going to have a baby – God’s baby – does she just say: GREAT! I’m thrilled to be of service….. or does she have a different response?
It’s a little bit of both. Yet, her “I’m thrilled to be of service” comes a little bit down the road. (Keller, p81).
Luke tells us that Mary was first “perplexed and pondered” the angel’s greeting to her: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (v29) (Keller, p81).
When we think about how Mary’s questioned and asked the angel for clarification, we can see that “responding in faith is a whole-person experience that includes the intellect,” not just the heart. No one can ever accuse Mary of responding in any way like “blind faith” (Keller, p81).
Last week I mentioned that Jews do not believe that God could (or would) ever become a human being (Keller, p82). So, it’s easy to see why Mary would be perplexed and question what she is hearing from the angel.
Doubting and questioning, are important parts of being faithful and can be seen and heard in many forms in the Bible.
What kind of doubter are you?
Keller tells us that “Mary’s faith happens in stages.” He says, “Christian faith requires the commitment of our whole lives. While it is possible, few go from being uncommitted to being fully committed in a single stroke” (p83).
Mary’s 1st response was that of “measured incredulity.” She questioned what she was hearing. And the question she asked, was one that invited further information; it sought to engage in a conversation to learn more – “How can this be?” (Keller, p84-85).
Mary’s 2nd response is “simple acceptance.” She says, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (v38). I would bet that Mary isn’t truly convinced that God is going to make her pregnant through the Holy Spirit, and that the child she will give birth to will be God in human form. Still, she is willing to take the chance, to say “Yes” to God, and to allow herself to be used for God’s purpose (Keller, p85).
I think this is where we, humans, fail. We want to only make a decision “for God” if, and only if, we can clearly see, hear, feel, and/or experience the truth and reality of God – rationally, emotionally, and personally. But that isn’t “faith” is it? Faith is believing and acting even without tangible proof that something is real. “Sometimes, we can only do what Mary does – just submit and trust, despite our fears and reservations” (Keller, p85). Sometimes we have to take the “leap of faith,” trusting that God will not let us fall.
Mary’s final response to her visit with the angel comes only after she arrives at her cousin Elizabeth’s house. When Elizabeth greets Mary and proclaims, without pre-knowledge, that Mary indeed carries the messianic child in her womb, Mary is finally convinced that she has truly experienced an encounter with God, and that she is indeed favored. Mary is finally able to “exercise faith from the heart” as her joy bubbles forth in her beautiful song, the Magnificat, where she gives voice to her joyous praise for God, making connections to what God has done, and is doing, through her – a simple, poor, peasant girl from Galilee – and the promises God made centuries ago to Abraham, that God would save all people through him and his descendants. Mary’s response has gone from simple submission, to giving her heart completely and joyfully (Keller, p86) to God.
Mary’s final response is one of deep wonder. She is not thinking about the costs to herself. Instead, she has been caught up wholly – her thinking is convinced, her feelings captivated, and her will gladly surrendered. In her song, we can hear a sense of amazement in her words: that God has chosen her – “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” (v48-49) (Keller, p88).
Keller points out that “true faith is not something that you simply decide in yourself to exercise. We are incapable, on our own, of simply believing in Jesus. God has to open our hearts and help us break through our prejudices, doubts, and denials (p87) before we can truly believe.
Keller also reminds us of the gift that we too receive from God: “Every Christian is like Mary” he says. “Everyone who puts their faith in Christ receives the Holy Spirit” (p89).
If we are to be like Mary, we must have faith that:
NOTE TO SELF: You must remember – even though we willingly put our faith and trust in God, this does not mean everything will go easy for us. Look at Mary…..her life wasn’t easy; it wasn’t all sunshine and happiness. Her “Yes” to God brought her plenty of ridicule, public humiliation, fear, and suffering (Keller, p98-99).
Yet, in spite of all that happens, Mary remains faithful to her God. Would we/Do we remain faithful in the face of similar situations?
However, faith should be somewhat easier for us, than it was for Mary. One reason we can give ourselves to Jesus more freely, is because: We know the ending of Jesus’ life-story. We know that all he did, all he suffered and endured was for our benefit, and was out of LOVE for us. We know that Christ walks with us through the darkest times and eventually brings good out of all it (Keller, p95-98). And because of this, we can more easily trust that God is with us always.
Today, we raise our voices in Joyous Praise for all that Christ has done for us, is doing in us, and will continue to do through us. With the courage of Mary, may we willingly offer ourselves as faithful servants of our Lord, so that God’s will may be accomplished for all people.
May it be so….. AMEN
Keller, Timothy, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ, Chapter 5: Mary’s Faith. Viking-Penguin Random House LLC/New York, NY, 2016, p79-99