Sermon by Pastor Brian – December 24, 2023

Sermon by Pastor Brian – December 24, 2023


“But I haven’t had my first period,” Mary must have muttered to herself just beyond the earshot of her heavenly visitor. “How can a child- I’m only twelve- care for another child?” “What about a debutant preening down in Jerusalem with a long pink dress and an even longer list of superlatives?” “An unplanned pregnancy ruins everything, beginning with our family name.”

She had been going about her day, like every other day, grinding barley seed at the hand mill for dinner rolls, shuttling wool thread on the loom for another winter blanket, hauling ceramic jugs from the well to water the beasts of burden, and daydreaming about a quiet life to come with Joseph. Until her domestic routine was interrupted by a voice, the archangel Gabriel.

Rechecking page three of his divine assignment, wondering if he had the wrong girl and the wrong town, Gabe finally spoke up, “Mary, fear not. You are highly favored, the one chosen to birth God’s Son. This infant, Jesus, will be salvation come to earth wearing diapers if you’re willing.” Trembling, Mary tried to settle herself by asking a question, forgetting that language can’t unveil mystery.

Lacking an answer, without her parents’ counsel, without time to count the costs, she had to decide: get back to her chores or say yes to the impossible. After she responded with “Let it be,” the angel vanished, and the world began spinning in a new direction. On this Christmas Eve, according to our text, what makes Mary worthy of our veneration?

Luke 1:30-38  The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Congregational Responses: 

Her ordinariness.

An obedience void of understanding.

She trusted more than she feared.

Tom Long, the gifted preacher, tells of a church that performed Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The fellowship hall was transformed into a theater with painted backdrops of tenements and sooty chimneys from nineteenth-century London. The lay leader, an amateur thespian, played the old miser Ebenezer Scrooge. He growled through the opening scenes, shouting, “Bah Humbug!” By the end of the play, after his dramatic conversion, Scrooge- face radiant with generosity, heart full of goodness- throws open his bedroom window to announce, “Merry Christmas, everyone! Merry Christmas!” Then, wishing to bestow gifts upon the needy and looking for help, he calls down to a young passerby, “Hey you, boy, you there,” pointing to an imaginary figure beyond the horizon. “Come up here,” he continued, “I’ve got something wonderful for you to do!” Completely off script, a six-year-old, seated with his family, spontaneously rose from his chair and walked on stage to answer the call. The audience held its breath, uncertain how this troupe of novice actors would respond. Bounding down from his perch, Scrooge strode across the stage and cheerfully embraced the waiting boy. “Yes, indeed,” he improvised, his voice full of blessing. “You are the one, the very one I had in mind.” 1

Christian folklore holds that God searched near and far, knocking on doors, tapping on shoulders, and interrupting schedules, inviting countless girls to participate in heaven’s invasion here on earth. But they all declined, dutifully returning to the day’s errands. Not the peasant from Nazareth. While Mary wasn’t the first, she was the only one to say yes.

By raising her hand, Mary volunteered for the cause, allowing the divine to reside inside her body. For consenting to her womb becoming a tabernacle, an incubator of the sacred, Mary is worthy of our veneration. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Holy Mother isn’t called by her given name but rather Theotokos, a Greek word translated as the God-bearer.

Reflecting on her willingness to co-create, the German mystic Meister Eckhart said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. [W]hat good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not…? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to [God’s] Son if I do not also give birth to him…? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.” 2

Parents young and old, fertile and barren, you are the one, the very one God had in mind. Your prophetic voice, your moral imagination, your healing touch, your strong back, your empathetic presence, your maternal instinct, your flesh and blood. For Christmas to fully manifest- in ancient Palestine and modern Asheville- human partners, surrogates from conception to delivery, are required.

Even though it may not be the gift you hope is waiting under the tree, the angel Gabriel is en route, arriving with the most important invitation you’ve ever received. Tomorrow morning, Mary goes into labor. When will you?

Thomas G. Long, citation unknown.

Meister Eckhart, citation unknown.