A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on December 12, 2010.
What part of Mary’s story attracts your attention this year? When we read a familiar story, it is always interesting to see which part will speak to us the most. Rarely is it the same each time we read it and this is understandable. We hear and interpret stories based upon our experiences and fresh events in our lives draw us to different parts of familiar stories.
This year, as I read and pondered this tender account of the Annunciation, I was immediately drawn to the dialogue between Mary and Gabriel. You recall that Luke begins his gospel with a prologue and two separate but parallel birth announcements. At the end of the second announcement, Mary was told that her relative, Elizabeth, was expecting a child, too. The two separate story lines merge when Mary visits Elizabeth and stays with her for three months.
Gabriel is the messenger in both birth announcements. He appears first to Zechariah while he was performing his priestly duties in the temple to tell him that his wife of many years, Elizabeth, was going to have a son, whom they were to name, John. This child became John the Baptist, whom many consider the last Old Testament prophet because he was the one who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry.
Gabriel’s second birth announcement was not delivered to a priest in Jerusalem, but an obscure young maiden by the name of Mary who lived in the small town of Nazareth, seventy miles northeast of Jerusalem. In this unlikeliest of settings, Gabriel issued the announcement of the ages when he told Mary that she would give birth to God’s own son. Who would not be captivated by this conversation?
“ ’Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end.’
‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’
‘I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her” Luke 1:30-38.
I cannot read this passage without recalling Dr. John Claypool’s description of it. He said that it was as if Gabriel made a motion and Mary seconded it. I wonder how many motions have died for lack of a second because someone was unwilling to say yes.
How can we have more “yeses” in our lives? What would it take for us to declare, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said?” I pondered this question a lot last week. Let me share some thoughts with you.
Life is filled with challenges and opportunities. Some, like the ones Mary faced, are overwhelming and incomprehensible. They are so intimidating they take our breath away and leave us with more questions than answers. Deep down we know that saying yes may put us in the center of God’s will, but it will place us on the edge of the world.
Far too often, our immediate reaction is to begin listing all the reasons why we cannot accept a challenge or take advantage of an opportunity. We usually don’t have any trouble identifying them.
Read our text carefully, however. You won’t find one excuse voiced by Mary to keep her from seconding Gabriel’s motion.
It wasn’t because she did not have any. She could have easily told Gabriel that she was too young, unimportant, busy planning a wedding or poor. She had plenty of good reasons, not just excuses, for turning Gabriel down, yet she did not.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
What is the biggest challenge or opportunity facing you today? Who has approached you and asked you to consider something they are convinced will be good for you and others? Do they have confidence in you and believe you possess the ability to do it?
Is it someone in your family or a dear friend? Is it a teacher or a coach? Is it a business partner or your employer? Is it someone at church or in a civic club?
Where are you in that deliberative process? Have you moved beyond the excuses or are you still listing them? Are you seriously considering it?
What can you learn from Mary’s experience? What can Mary teach you about saying yes? I’ll tell you what I’ve gleaned from her.
Don’t rule out any proposal, even if it is overwhelming or incomprehensible. I am not implying that we should say yes to every invitation, but neither are we to turn down opportunities just because we don’t see how they could work.
Mary didn’t have a clue how she could be the mother of a child at that point in her life, much less this particular one, yet she continued to listen. Keep listening and give every idea a fair hearing.
Don’t sell yourself short. At least believe in yourself as much as others believe in you.
How did Gabriel begin his conversation with Mary? “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
From the outset, Gabriel let Mary know that she was not selected at random for this task. God had been observing her and believed she possessed the character, skills and abilities needed to be the mother of Jesus.
Listen to others’ assessment of you. Ask those who know you well why they think you can do what you are being asked to do. Believe them and then believe in yourself.
Don’t wait to have all your questions answered before moving forward. Life is too mysterious to wring out all the uncertainty and unknown. Maintain a holy inquisitiveness and learn as you go.
Perhaps this is one reason Luke told Mary’s story. It was his way of inviting his readers to join Mary in attentive reflection about the events taking place around them, eager and open to see what the next step of revelation will be.
Look at what God has done and is doing in the life of others and let their stories inspire you.Why did Gabriel tell Mary about Elizabeth’s unusual pregnancy? He wanted her to know that she was not the only one in this divine drama. Others were facing similar challenges and carrying heavy loads of responsibility.
When fear and faith collide, let faith win. What was the last thing Gabriel said to Mary before she said yes? “For nothing is impossible with God.” That was a powerful closing statement, perhaps the tipping point.
I have to believe that Luke’s story was not merely meant to tell us what God did for Mary, as important as this was. It was meant to tell us what God does all the time.
He comes to people who are debating whether to second a motion to give them wisdom and courage. He comes to those who are struggling with life’s problems, challenges and opportunities and offers to walk alongside them, helping them to confront their fears and lean on their faith.
Is this what you need today? Are you as frightened and confused as Mary appeared to be? Will you let God help you say yes?