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December 20, 2020

Luke 1:26-38

Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman

When a baby is born, most parents, whether they admit it or not, have hopes and dreams for that child. Might they grow up to be a professional baseball player? A Nobel prize winner? Might they become a nurse? a doctor? A teacher? A famous actor or maybe even President of the United States?

Two thousand years ago, I wonder if every parent harbored the secret hope that their son might grow up to be the Messiah, to follow in the line of King David and free their people from foreign occupation- all while bringing prosperity and peace to their land. I imagine many a parent had that hope when they looked at their son.

But what about when they looked at their daughters? What did Mary’s parents hope and dream when they looked at their daughter? Was it for her to become engaged to a righteous, faithful man like Joseph? Was it that she become a wife and mother and faithfully serve God through her care of her family and community?

Those are still wonderful hopes and dreams for any child – to be a faithful partner and loving parent; however nobody dreamed or expected anything else of a woman in Mary’s time. Nobody looked at Mary and thought – here is a woman who could be called by God to do extraordinary things, and yet, Mary’s story shows us we should never underestimate God because God has shown us over and over again that God chooses to work through little towns and small things, in surprising ways and ordinary, and thus unexpected, people.

I share again this quote from Daniel Simundson:

When God is about to do something great, human estimates of status, size, power, and influence are completely irrelevant. In fact, God often chooses someone whom we would probably dismiss as the most unlikely candidate for carrying out God’s mission.” (NIB, vol. VII, Simundson, pg 570)

Daniel Simundson was commenting on the little town of Bethlehem however it also applies to David, who we heard about last week. When it came to choosing the next king of Israel, David, as Jesse’s youngest son, was the least likely candidate. He was just a boy, out taking care of the sheep, and yet, God does not see as humans see. God looks upon the heart. And this humble boy became the greatest king Israel ever knew. This surprising choice was the one people came to honor and remember throughout the generations, hoping year after year and generation after generation that God’s anointed one, the Messiah, the Savior, the Christ, would come from the house of David, the town of Bethlehem, and sit on David’s throne, bringing peace and justice to all.

If David being chosen by God was unexpected, how much more so was God’s choice of Mary, a young unmarried woman, from another little nothing place?

Even knowing Mary’s story. Even knowing Mary’s faithfulness – from first hearing she would bear the Christ child to watching him die upon the cross – even knowing all of this about Mary, we, too, can sometimes underestimate her. We portray her as meek and sing of her as mild. In many a nativity scene, Mary’s face is downcast and half hidden. No Wonder Woman power poses for Mary.

We don’t think of Mary in the same light as other leaders God has called, people like Abraham and Jacob, Moses and David. We underestimate her though. When the angel says, “The Lord is with you”, I wonder if like David, Mary was not surprised. I wonder if Mary had always known that God was with her. I wonder if Mary had long felt God’s spirit moving in her life and heart, guiding her to this moment.

Gabriel also calls Mary God’s favored one, “charis”, “one who is obedient to God even at great risk to self.” (NIB, vol IX, pg 52) “Charis” goes beyond obedience though. It speaks of divine influence on the heart, which is reflected in a person’s life. God looked upon Mary’s heart and knew how truly faithful she would be. Like Abraham and Jacob, Moses and David, God knew Mary would have the strength and devotion to fulfill this calling, this most important calling of nurturing the Messiah, the Christ child. And she did.

Granted at first Mary might have been confused about what the angel was saying, at first Mary might have thought she was the most unlikely candidate for carrying out God’s mission; however that confusion did not last long. She thoughtfully listened to the angel Gabriel’s message and knew the truth of his words, “ ‘For nothing will be impossible with God.’ ” (Luke 1:37)

And with strength and faithfulness, Mary responded, “ ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord’” (Like 1:38)

No quibbling. No denying of her abilities or gifts. No saying that people will never believe this and would mock and potentially cast her out. In faithfulness and obedience, trust and strength, Mary simply says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”

Mary’s story reminds us to not underestimate God, to remember again and again that nothing will be impossible for God. That God works through small, ordinary things, in little towns, in surprising ways, and most of all through ordinary, unexpected people – like David, like Mary, and like you. Yes, you.

You might feel like people don’t expect much of you. You might even underestimate your own gifts and abilities; however if God can work through a little light shining in the darkness, if God can work through a little town on the road to Jerusalem, if God can work through a youngest son and an unmarried young woman, then God can work through us, too. God does work through us.

This Christmas, 34 children will get joy when they open the Christmas presents our community has provided through the Family Resource Center Giving Tree program. Last Summer and Fall, housing and food insecure residents of Bristol received love as they received pasta and sandwiches, soup and cookies. This winter, sixteen people who lived outside through that nor’easter last Wednesday and Thursday will sleep in warmth in FCC’s former office house. And today, numerous people who are sick, struggling, lonely, and downright exhausted will be prayed for. They seem like such small acts of service, such simple acts of prayer, and yet they make a big difference, changing lives in ways we may never fully know.

In the eyes of others, our ministries of nurture and service might look pretty ordinary, and that is exactly the way God works. God creates miracles through the small, the little, and the ordinary. God blesses in surprising and unexpected ways. God calls the most unlikely candidates to fulfill God’s extraordinary mission of peace and justice for all.

And while the how and why of God’s plan might leave us quite perplexed, we know that when God calls, we will faithfully answer, “Here I am, your servant, Lord” trusting that nothing will be impossible with God.