Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
It’s not hard for me to imagine Luke sitting down with Mary, the matriarch of the community and Mother of Jesus, to hear for the first time the story from Luke 1:26-28, 46-55. Mary: wrinkled, worn, wise, and beautiful, what some people call an “old soul,” like Maya Angelou, or Mother Teresa. Luke: young, brash, studious, nervous. He invited her to sit for the interview, but I imagine she was the one to make him feel comfortable, and at home. I try to resist thinking about an interview happening at the local coffee shop complete with steaming cups of Latte, notepads, and tape recorders. Perhaps it happened over a walk in the hills of Galilee; or over a meal at her house; or in a candlelit corner of the Synagogue after an evening worship service. It must have happened some 50 or 60 years after the events in our text today though, because Mark, Matthew, and John don’t mention it at all. But somehow Luke found out. And for some reason, he thought we should know to.
Somewhere in his stumbling, bumbling attempt to honor her role in the whole story, he must have asked her about the song she wrote, the one named after her, “Mary’s song.” Immediately she might have smiled and whispered under her breath, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke would have realized that’s not a line from the song at all, and so pressed her to explain. And its then she spills about the angel, and that he told her the impossible line before Jesus was born.
The angel! What angel? Luke had never heard that story before! No one had. I mean, no one else was there, right? How else could Luke have found out unless she told him?
And so began the unfolding of this great story of Christmas possibilities. With Mary the mother of God telling Luke about how confused she was by how the angel greeted her. I for one, would have been confused and much perplexed by the angel itself, who cares what he was saying to me. It’s an angel! But not for Mary. No, Mary told Luke about how perplexed she was to be called the “favored one,” and told “the Lord is with you.” You see, in Mary’s day, a person’s rank and status determined the type of greeting you received when you met someone, or saw them on the street. Powerful people received respectful greetings. Lowly, poor, unmarried, young (likely 12-13) virgin women deserved and expected almost no greeting at all, especially from men, and people of power – like angels. Can you see Mary, excited all over again like a little schoolgirl, to recount the feeling she had in being recognized, acknowledged, respected, “Greetings, favored one!” Before my grandma passed, I loved almost nothing more than to hear her giggle. I imagine Mary giggling when she thought about being called “favored one,” giggling with the irony of how loaded that term really was! She had no idea at that time what all was in store for her!
And then Luke, curious and filled with wonder, must have said, “And then what did he say.”
“Well, he actually said a couple of really nice things. But I only heard one of them.” In characteristic human fashion when you’ve heard or seen something so shocking that you fixate on that one thing, loosing track of time, and space. “He told me that I was going to have a baby boy, and I was supposed to name him Jesus.” Now parents, I don’t know about you, but I know I’ll never forget that singular moment in time when it finally sinks in, “We’re having a baby!” Hannah and I struggled to have kids for several years before we got the news. And when it was finally confirmed, we didn’t believe it, and then we could hardly bear to be happy, it was like time slowed down.
The angel had gone on to tell her about all these really great qualities about her son, things he would do and how he would completely transform the nation. But it was all lost on her. All she heard was “baby.” Now that, I’ll just confess, is not me. For me, the babies cute, but what does it all mean? When I typically read this text, I hear the angel telling her how Jesus will turn things upside down, how he is the political king, the long-awaited Messiah. It’s loaded with theology, and intrigue. Fascinating stuff. Each of the key points he mentions could be a book in and of itself: is a book, if not a shelf full of books. Stuff that if it was me I’d be going, “now wait a minute, how in the world are you going to pull that off?” But no! Mary, this young disadvantaged single mom doesn’t care about any of the extras, she only hears she’s going to be a mommy. And so, after the angel tells her this long list of Jesus’ attributes, she responds to news of the baby, not to the theology. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Isn’t that just how life is? Sometimes we’re guilty of missing the trees for the forest. Sometimes we forget the people side of things because we focus too much on the Vision side of things. The angel, and Luke use 3 times as many words describing the Vision as they do the baby, when Mary alone is clearly most focused on the baby.
“How can this be?” Infertile and virgin couples alike having children? A king to sit on David’s long empty throne again? A savior to free us from Roman rule? Christians daring to dream again? How can this be? In Genesis (18) when the Lord told Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child, God asked them, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” When God tells Isaiah that Israel will come marching out of exile, he says, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no human mind could comprehend, that is what God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul says, “God can do abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” And here, where Mary is told she will have a child, the angel says to her, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” No wonder her song starts off with, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
Imagine living even one day with such an enormous thought! “For nothing is impossible with God.” I haven’t done that in years. Reminds me of a long list of woman like Mary who somehow knew in the depths of their bones that nothing is impossible with God. Mary Magdelene, Euodia and Synteche, Priscilla and Aquila, St Thecla, St. Claire and the Little Claires, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, Margaretha Sattler, Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks.
And with that, Mary, Great Mary the first disciple, had enough. She’d heard all she needed to hear! No more questions, no being wracked with guilt, no running to Tarshish. She simply says yes: “Here I am Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” Amazing! This makes her unlike most of the men recounted in the Old Testament. She wasn’t like Moses and Jeremiah, who begged for God to pick someone else. She wasn’t like Jonah, who ran away. She wasn’t like Abraham, who tried to pull off God’s call on his own. No, she lived as if God’s promises for her were true. And she said yes. Charles de Foucauld summarized her pray this way:
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my God.
It’s interesting to me that as soon as the angel told her that “Nothing is impossible with God,” things seemed to make sense for her. This is, I think, the creed of all creeds. Our every yes is built on the firm foundation of the identity of God.
I agree with Fred Craddock (Preaching through the church year, pg 26) who says that “the church should recite it often, not only at the manger, not only at the empty tomb, but on any occasion of reflecting on its own life, joy, and hope.”
And reflect on it she did! The impossible is now possible. The more she thought, the more the angel’s other words came back into her mind. Words about Jesus her son, as king, Messiah, Lord. How do you think that affected her, remembering those words? As she processed over and over the words of the angel, an image began to form slowly in her mind. An image of a world filled with: Peace. Justice. Wholeness. Beauty. Hope. Shalom. Joy. A utopian image of society she could never before dare to dream. Where down is up, up is down, and everyone has enough. A stunning picture of the future. “Oh God, make it so!” she must have cried, on her way to Elizabeth’s house. “Make it so! On earth, just like it is in heaven, Lord.” And the joy, and the longing, and the wonder of it all must have been almost too much to carry! “How can this be Lord?? Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord, Yes!” What if nothing really is impossible with God?
Once she arrives at Elizabeth’s house, 2 more extraordinary things happen. First, John leaps with Joy inside of Beth’s tummy. And second, Beth acknowledges Mary, honors her, accepts her, affirms her. Mary, the 13 year old engaged to be married pregnant virgin… is accepted, and celebrated!
And with that the song must have burst out of her. “My soul magnifies the Lord!” But not in the way it had always been before. It was no longer in the future tense. Waiting, watching, longing for… No, it’s not that God would do those amazing things. NO! God had done them, God had made the world a better place. Certainly God would make the world a better place. This baby is the answer. This Jesus, our Jesus, has changed things. She sings in present tense. And Elizabeth, apparently, is awed into silence.
God has shown strength with his arm.
God has scattered the proud.
God has brought down the powerful.
God has lifted up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry.
God has sent the rich away empty.
God has helped his servant.
For nothing will be impossible with God!
The way of this young mom is the way of the people of God: we claim for today what will only come tomorrow. We live today as if the kingdom has come. We sing today like our salvation is complete.
This is the way of the people of God! “One of the ways the faithful express trust in God is to speak of the future with such confidence that it is described as already here. Such faith is prerequisite to being a participant in efforts to achieve that future. To celebrate the future as a memory, to praise God for having already done what lies before us to do – this is the way of the people of God (Preaching Through the Christian Year, pg 17).”
And nothing is impossible with God!
In our prayers, and in our praise, I invite you to cling to the possibilities of Christmas.