An Impossible “Yes”

+ A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on December 20, 2020 +

Text: Luke 1:26-38, Luke 1:46-55


Did you ever pass notes in school?
Maybe in middle school or high school you wrote something on a piece of paper and folded it up to pass it up to your friend on the other side of the classroom?
It was obviously an important message that couldn’t wait until class was over, but also had to be discrete or the teacher would notice and read the note to the class—probably to your severe embarrassment.
Or at least that’s what always happened in the books and the movies.
I honestly can’t remember passing notes happening like that and I bet students today would simply text the person they wanted to get that message to, but if media depictions of school were to be believed, note passing was rampant.
And the quintessential note always seemed to be “so and so likes you, do you like them?” with a checkbox for “yes” or “no”.

One of my pastor colleagues commented this week that this is how she thinks of our gospel text today.
That the scene we call the Annunciation is essentially God using Gabriel to pass a note to Mary that says, “Greetings, favored one! I love you; do you love me?” with a checkbox for “yes” or “no”.
And honestly, I love that image.
Gabriel coming to Mary and passing her a note under that table that says God is with her and she has found favor with God.
Now, Luke’s gospel tells us that Mary was perplexed and confused at this greeting.
Because who wouldn’t be?
What a strange note to receive.
I mean, think about it, Mary was a young woman, probably impoverished, living under the oppression of a Roman occupation, in a small backwater town.
There are any number of reasons that would seem to indicate that God is not with her and she has not found favor with God.
Was this Gabriel being serious?
Could this strange being be trusted?

Then Gabriel goes on to say something even more outrageous.
That Mary would have a child.
And not just any child, but a great savior, a mighty liberator, even the Son of God.
“How can this be?” she rightly asks. ‘How can you be saying these things to someone like me? How can I be considered so important, so beloved, so integral to this plan? Surely it’s impossible.’
“Mary,” Gabriel replies, “nothing will be impossible with God.”
And perhaps the most remarkable thing in this story is Mary says yes.
She takes the note, hears that strange greeting and the astounding statement that God loves her, ponders what all this could mean, listens to that impossible promise, and chooses to check the box for “yes”.

Now, we Lutherans have a complicated relationship with Mary, I know.
We sometimes look at her with a little suspicion and think too much devotion to her is a little too…Catholic.
And while I could talk about all the ways our namesake Martin Luther was deeply devoted to Mary, I am struck this year by how Mary presents a remarkable example for us to follow.
Because think about it, no matter how bizarre, how outlandish a proposal, no matter how irrational, how impossible the choice may seem, Mary chose to trust in the impossible.
To trust that God is faithful and if she partnered with God, that they could do extraordinary things together.

And make no mistake, Mary shows remarkable courage in saying yes.
There’s no doubt that she knew the risks of agreeing.
She is a young, unmarried woman.
Not only is it risky for her to get pregnant in the first place, but this pregnancy could also easily destroy her relationship with her betrothed, Joseph.
And in small-town Nazareth, she would likely be ostracized or even killed for getting pregnant before marriage.
And the risks wouldn’t end with the birth of Jesus.
Later, the prophet Simeon would tell Mary that her heart would be pierced with grief, a prophecy surely fulfilled as she watched her son be tortured and executed by the state.

But despite all the risks, despite all the struggles that would come, despite the pain of doing what God has called her to do, Mary stays steadfast in her trust in God.
And while we may justifiably wonder why a person in her situation would put so much trust in God, I think she makes her reasoning clear in the song she sings—the song we heard as our first reading today.
The song we have called the Magnificat testifies to the God Mary has always known.
Mary sings of a God of grace and mercy.
A great and powerful God who is casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.
A God who fills the hungry with God things and sends the rich away empty handed.
A God who comes to aid God’s people and remains faithful to the covenants.
Mary sings a song of hope, a song of courage, a song of defiance, a song of a God who does what we may disregard as impossible.
Mary sings a song of trust in a God who is trustworthy.

It goes to show us that Mary is not meek and mild as our carols like to tell us, rather she is full of courage, full of hope, full of trust, full of grace from the God who makes the impossible happen.
A willing and eager co-conspirator with God, enacting a plan that will transform the world.
And through her response, God would do the impossible yet again.
God, the creator of the cosmos, would take on flesh within her and be born as truly human.
God, the source of all love, would experience firsthand the tender love of a mother.
God, the savior of the world, would come among us to bring healing and wholeness and life to the whole creation.
Through Mary’s impossible “yes”, all the promises of the past, all the needs of the present, all the hope for the future would reside and grow within her and she would become the Theotokos, the God-bearer.
She would become the Mother of God.

So, we extol Mary for her brave willingness to serve God—and rightly so.
But more than a mere object of our adoration and wonder, I think Mary exemplifies for us what it means to be a disciple.
What would it mean for us to hear and truly trust that God is with us?
To receive a note from God that says “Greetings, favored one! God is with you and loves you so, so much. And God wants to work through you and do amazing, impossible things.”
Would we believe it, like Mary?
In our ordinary lives?
In the chaos that is 2020?
In all our own self-doubts and uncertainties?
Would we hear God’s message of love, God’s desire to partner with us, and check “yes”?

Now, since we aren’t likely to have an angel come to us and greet us by name to pass along this message, I’m here to tell you, favored ones, that God loves you so, so much.
And God wants to work with you to do amazing, impossible things.
So, angels aside, I wonder if we can open ourselves to the little, everyday annunciations in our lives.
To God breaking in and telling us how much God loves us and offering to partner with God to transform the world.
Because that’s exactly what God is doing today and every day of our lives.
Telling us how much God loves us and inviting us to see how we can use that love to transform the world.
Or, to paraphrase the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart, “We are all meant to be Mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

Where is God needing to be born around us?
Where is God yearning to partner with us to do incredible, impossible things?
To bring hope and healing and new life?
In feeding and housing our neighbors.
In working to restore and protect creation.
In dedicating our congregation to be a place of reconciliation and healing.
In these and so many more ways that we can testify with our words and deeds to the power and love of our God.
And it’s true there are risks in partnering with God.
Risks to our own comfort and security.
Risks of failure.
Risks inherent in standing up for the marginalized and opposing those who are oppressing them.
We can’t ignore the riskiness of following God.
We shouldn’t simply ignore the risks or allow them to defeat our willingness to serve.
But instead, like Mary, we are invited to see what is possible through the challenge, through the discomfort, through the impossibility.
To conspire with God to enact healing and wholeness and fullness of life.
To glimpse with God the world that is waiting to be born.

During this Advent season, we are invited to follow Mary’s example.
To listen for God’s calling in our lives and trust that we are God’s beloved, invited to partner with God.
To ponder with her what the mysteries of the incarnation can mean for us and for our world.
To allow her courage and openness to God’s will to become a pattern for our whole lives of discipleship.
To take what we have dismissed as impossible, boldly reshape it, and dare to see what is possible with God.
To take our lead from the Blessed Mother and courageously reply to God’s invitation by saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

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