First Mennonite Church
December 18, 2016
Being Truly Blessed as Mary
Text: Luke 1:26-38
Two Sundays ago, we had this passage for our Sunday school Bible study. We marveled at how God came into the world in human form through Jesus. We wondered, who was Mary? Who her parents were? Was she different in some way from other young girls so that God chose her to be the vessel for the birth of Jesus?
Someone in our group, honestly asked: why are we not given more information about how the virginal conception took place? The only thing we read is that when Mary inquires how that could happen when she was not in a physical relationship with a man, the only explanation Gabriel gives Mary is that she will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. This explanation is simply beyond human understanding. Therefore, Mary’s becoming pregnant by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit is indeed incomprehensible to our mind. Through this act of the Holy Spirit upon Mary, the Bible affirms Mary as the biological mother of Jesus, but God was the true Father. In light of that, it made sense when Jesus later claimed God to be his Father.
We should remember that Luke is the only gospel writer who tells us of virginal birth. Yet, all the New Testament writers wrote from that premise. They did not question the legitimacy of Jesus’ claim that God was his Father. They wrote about it as a fact. In Romans 15, verses five and six, Paul writes:
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1Peter one, verse three, he writes:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Again in 1John 4, verse 15, he writes:
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.
One passage that gives the most compelling testimony about the nature of Jesus Christ is the one we find in Hebrews, chapter one, verses one to four:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Very soon we will be celebrating Christmas. For the world-wide faith community, Christmas is the time when we remember the birth of Jesus our blessed Savior. We usually go to the birth stories in the Gospels to find messages of comfort, promise, and renewed calling. In the Gospel according to Luke, chapter one, verses 26 to 38, we find the story of Gabriel visiting Mary to give her the announcement of her becoming the mother of God’s Messiah.
Please read with me, again, the words Gabriel used to greet Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Or as the Contemporary English Bible puts it: “[Mary,] you are truly blessed! The Lord is with you.” The Christmas story actually starts with the greeting of Gabriel to Mary.
According to Gabriel, Mary was “truly blessed” and “God was with her.” The gist of this two-part greeting to Mary is the basic message in most Christmas greeting cards. When I choose cards or write them, I usually wish the receivers a blessed Christmas, and for God to be with them, according to the promise of the Immanuel. Yet, I had not given much thought the meaning of this greeting actually had for Mary. To begin with, the immediate implications of her becoming pregnant out of wedlock and even more while being engaged to be married, were more than enough to make her culpable of death due to immorality and infidelity. How could a risk-taking commitment be the definition of being truly blessed? How could being found immoral and faithless in the eyes of men be signs of God being with Mary? Furthermore, after the baby was born, Mary was told that the baby would be like a “sword piercing her own soul” (Luke 2:35). Could it be because Mary was so shocked that she said “yes” without much reflection on the possible consequences? We do not know. Mary believed the reassuring words the angel spoke to not be afraid. And so despite all the serious implications of having a baby, Mary simply submitted to the message of God. Mary humbly replies: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary obediently accepts and submits to God’s calling. She willingly embraces the call despite becoming an immediate scandal.
Let us think about today’s widespread Christian definition of being truly blessed and of signs of God’s being with us. Often times the Christian definition of being truly blessed and of God’s presence with us equate to a trouble-free life. So often we measure God’s blessings with having a good life; that is, having good social standing, wealth and good health. When we and our family members are all healthy, we say we are blessed by God. When we have a good paying job, when we can afford more than the basic needs for life we say, God is with us. And to a certain degree, we are right in believing this way. James tells us, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens (James 1:17).
Our familiarity with the Christmas story along with the distortion our consumerist society has made us forget or selectively overlook that the Christmas story was made possible because Mary was willing to accept a different kind of definition of being truly blessed. The glory of Christmas was made possible because ordinary people were willing to accept God’s claim upon their lives despite the scandal their obedience brought upon them. The greatest blessing Mary enjoyed and the sign God was with her were not because she was free from troubles. Mary’s greatest blessing and sign of God’s presence with her were not measured in terms of material possessions but in the close fellowship God shared with her. Her greatest reward was in her knowledge that she was obedient to God’s calling regardless that the child she bore was to be executed as a criminal. Mary’s sacrificial obedience to God’s calling did become a blessing to the world.
During Christmastime we are all encouraged to indulge ourselves. This is the world’s definition of being blessed. This worldly definition of being truly blessed is self-centered and contrary to the true spirit of the Christmas greeting of Gabriel. Sometimes being truly blessed by God hurts and can even pierce our soul. When you do not respond in kind to those who despise you, when you persist in doing what is right even when others choose short cuts, you know down in your heart that God has blessed you with peace of mind and true joy for doing what is righteous before God’s eyes. When you open your heart to those in need you reap the joy of being among those whom Scripture talks about when it says, “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor (Proverbs 22:9).
May the Lord help us embrace our calling despite the personal cost obeying God can bring upon us. May this Christmas season be filled with signs of obedience to God’s claim upon our lives, thus bringing true blessing to our families, friends and neighbors. May the words of greeting to Mary come true for all of us who celebrate the birth of Jesus: You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you. Amen.
Pastor A. Romero