“Just Mary”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 27, 2016 — The First Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:26-38

 

Before he was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights icon…  Before he was the man whose face is imprinted on our memories… the man whose voice is the gold standard for prophetic preaching… the man whose words still have the power to point us beyond our own narrowness of vision and help us see the broad and beautiful future God has in store…  Before his believe that all people are made in God’s image gave him the courage to stand up peacefully to those who would deny his rights and his very humanity with fire hoses and attack dogs and billy clubs and paddy wagons…  Before he was all that, he was just Martin.  A middle child; a preacher’s kid; a junior choir singer; a high school debate team member.  Just another boy growing up in Atlanta.  He didn’t know what the future might hold, or which of his dreams might be realized, or what startling, terrifying things God would call him to do.  He didn’t know what strength would be required of him, or whether he would have what it took when the time came.  Maybe he hoped he would never need to find out.  He did not know that he would become a legend, that his name would be known around the world, that his life would become synonymous with the struggle for civil rights for Black folks in this country.  Before he was all that, he was just Martin.

Before she was Malala Yousafzai, international hero…  Before she was the girl who survived a Taliban assassination attempt…  Before she was the youngest-ever Nobel laureate…  Before she spoke to the United Nations about her belief that all children deserve safety and education, or wrote her autobiography, or appeared on Oprah…  Before she was all that, she was just Malala.  A daughter; a big sister to two little brothers; a bookworm with a mind of her own.  She didn’t know what the future might hold, or which of her dreams might be realized, or what startling, terrifying things God would call her to do.  She didn’t know what strength would be required of her, or whether she would have what it took when the time came.  Maybe she hoped she would never need to find out.  She did not know that she would become a legend, that her name would be known around the world, that her life would become synonymous with the struggle for access to education for girls and women worldwide.  Before she was all that, she was just Malala.

Before he was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christian martyr…  Before he was the man who helped to found a resistance movement in Nazi Germany…  Before he was a theologian whose writings continue to inspire faithful people seeking to advance the cause of justice…  Before he was a pastor who stood up against the persecution of his Jewish sisters and brothers because his faith compelled him to stand with those who were suffering injustice…  Before he was imprisoned and executed for his continued resistance to Hitler and his agenda…  Before he was all that, he was just Dietrich.  A twin brother; a smitten fiancé; a nerdy intellectual.  He didn’t know what the future would hold, or which of his dreams might be realized, or what startling, terrifying things God would call him to do.  He didn’t know what strength would be required of him, or whether he would have what it took when the time came.  Maybe he hoped he would never need to find out.  He did not know that he would become a legend, that his name would be known around the world, that his life would become synonymous with the struggle against fascism.  Before all that, he was just Dietrich.

Before she was Mary, the Mother of Jesus…  Before she was the Queen of Heaven…  Before she was Full of Grace, Blessed Among Women…  Before she was Holy Mary, Mother of God…  Before she was all that, she was just Mary (or, in her language, Maryam).  A Jewish girl like so many others, living in a small town in a forgotten rural backwater of the Roman Empire.  She didn’t know what the future would hold, or which of her dreams might be realized, or what startling, terrifying things God would call her to do.  She didn’t know what strength would be required of her, or whether she would have what it took when the time came.  Maybe she hoped she would never need to find out.  She did not know that she would become a legend, that her name would be known around the world, that her life would be synonymous with God’s very heart coming into the world.  Before all that, she was just Mary.

Like Martin, like Malala, like Dietrich, when her story began, Mary was not famous—she was anything but.  She did not wake up that morning knowing that everything was about to change.  She was not pre-programmed to be unfazed by God coming bursting into her life in a way that was totally unexpected and, frankly, frightening.  She was an ordinary person living an ordinary life that somehow, suddenly and surprisingly, became anything but ordinary.

And yet, somehow, she had been preparing for this moment for her whole life.  The teachings of her family… the values of her faith… the strength of her inner character…  Everything she had experienced to that point had shaped and formed her into the person she was on that fateful morning.  When God’s call rang out in the voice of the angel Gabriel, Mary knew what to do and how to respond.

First:  she asked a question.  Contrary to the way she is often portrayed in Western art and theology, Mary was anything but demure and submissive.  “How will this happen?” she asked.  “How can this be?”  She was no dummy; she knew how these things work, and she knew that what Gabriel was suggesting was far outside the ordinary course of events.  She knew that there would be consequences.  She knew that this would be life-changing.  And she wanted to understand.

Then, having received the response from the angel, and perhaps having exchanged further conversation, or perhaps having taken time to ponder and reflect and pray, she gave her willing consent.  “Let it be with me just as you have said,” (or, in the version that might be more familiar to you, “Let it be with me according to your word.”).  She understood the consequences—perhaps not in their most intimate detail, for how can one anticipate all of that?—but surely she grasped the magnitude of the decision.  She willingly accepted God’s imposition in her life—this call she had not asked for, this summons that would change everything.  She took up her place in the long line of people who, in one way or another, have said “Yes” when God comes calling.

 

Like Martin, like Malala, like Dietrich, like Mary, we don’t know when and how God’s call will show up in our lives.  We don’t know what shape it will take, what rules it will break, how its consequences will upset the neat order we have created for ourselves.  We don’t wake up one morning knowing that today will be the day that everything changes.  We are not pre-programmed to be unfazed by God coming bursting into our lives in ways that are totally unexpected and, frankly, frightening.  You’re just you, and I’m just me, and she was just Mary—just ordinary people living our ordinary lives.  But there may come a moment when we, too, hear that rustle of wings and that clarion voice, when more is asked of us than we have previously known how to give.

And somehow, like Martin, like Malala, like Dietrich, like Mary, we are being prepared our whole lives long for that moment.  Everything we have experienced shapes and forms us into the people we are when God comes calling.  And the Advent season into which we embark today offers us more opportunities to prepare so that when that moment comes, we will be ready.  We are invited into practices of prayer that keep our spirits mindful of God’s presence and open to God’s stirrings.  We are invited into practices of service that keep our muscles strong and our hearts full of care for our neighbors in need.  We are invited into practices of song that keep our voices in tune and ready to speak, to shout, to sing of what is right.

Like Martin, like Malala, like Dietrich, like Mary, we don’t know when Gabriel will come knocking, when God will come calling in some major, disruptive way.  We don’t know when events will turn in ways that make it clear that our faith compels us to do something or be someone we haven’t previously done or been.  If you’re like me, maybe you wonder if you will have what it takes when the moment comes.  Maybe you hope you’ll never need to find out.  But no one ever promised that the Christian life would be easy, or simple, or comfortable, or free of inconvenient disruptions.  So let us join in the preparation and anticipation of this Advent season so that we—just you and just me, just like just Mary—will know how to answer the call when it comes.

 


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