Luke 1:26-38; “Birth Announcement” (12-14-14)
By the Rev. Bob Gochenour
The first commercially produced Christmas card, as we know it, was designed in 1843 by the artist J.C. Horsley.
It measured about the size of a postcard.
This first Christmas card shows a Victorian family celebrating the gentle spirit of the Christmas season around a dinner table.
They are making a toast to the health and happiness of their family, friends, and nation.
Flanking the scene of this Christmas cheer are the images: “Clothing the naked” and “feeding the hungry.”
A lettered greeting was also printed underneath the picture:
“A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you.”
Sir Henry Cole, first director of the South Kensington Museum in London ordered 1,000 copies.
These cards were lithographed and hand colored.
With his order a new tradition was born!
Over 170 years later, Christmas cards are a booming business.
1.5 Billion Christmas cards were exchanged in the US in 2010.
Even the onset of computers, e-mail, texting, Instagrams, have increased the volume of Christmas cards sent each year.
Have you ever considered that each Christmas card is actually a “Birth Announcement?”
The Christmas card is announcing the joyful news of the birth of a savior—Jesus Christ.
Artists have caught the events of the Christmas story with great skill and beauty.
Most Christmas cards feature some aspect of the Biblical story: the annunciation, the star, the stable, the mother and child, the shepherds, the magi, the angels, etc.
One of the most common features is the portrait of Mary—she is always portrayed as the ideal woman.
She is always the vision of beauty and feminine virtue.
She is usually dressed in yards and yards of silk or brocade.
Her golden hair is plaited like a crown around her head.
Her nails are carefully manicured.
Mary is always composed, mature, confidant of her new role as the mother of God.
She is not upset by her boyfriend, the angels, the stable, the shepherds, the magi from the east.
She is not upset with the pain of childbirth, the loneliness of the event, the fact that she doesn’t even have a midwife to help her.
She takes all this in stride, secure in her identity as a beautiful woman.
We have been raised with this romantic view of the birth announcement.
Birth announcements are not always good news.
Imagine, if you can, how you might feel if your 15 year old daughter came home one day from school and told you that she was pregnant.
You might be shocked, disappointed, torn between anger and compassion.
Imagine, how you might feel if you were Mary.
Mary is not the ideal woman we have made her out to be.
She is not the beautiful maiden we have depicted on Christmas cards.
She is just a simple teen-aged girl.
She has little experience with men, or angels, or with the world.
She is a humble maiden.
She has hopes and dreams of marriage and a family with Joseph, but those dreams are a long way away.
Suddenly, out of the blue, the Angel Gabriel disrupts her simple life.
Gabriel is an impressive creature: artists have depicted him with snow-white wings, royal robes of purple and blue, and a golden crown on his head.
Whether this is an accurate portrayal or not, I don’t know.
All the appearance of angels to humans found in the Bible reveal them to be big and powerful creatures.
The usual human response is fear and dread—people shrink back from the angel because they realize that the divine is awesome.
Gabriel said to Mary: “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.”
That statement invites a lot of questions for Mary.
Why would the angel be “Greeting” me?
Why does he call me: “Favored One?”
What does he mean: “The Lord is with me?”
Why is the Angel Gabriel coming to me in the first place?
She is not the picture of confidence, composure and beauty.
Mary is the picture of confusion and fear.
She is an awkward young girl—confused by this strange vision.
“But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:29)
The angel tried to help Mary prepare herself for the shocking news that was to come:
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30)
The Angel Gabriel gives Mary the birth announcement:
“And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:31)
The Angel did not ask Mary if she would like to be the mother of God.
He told her that God has selected her to be the mother of the Messiah—that her son Jesus would become the new King of Israel forever.
The angel did not ask Mary if that was OK with her.
The angel did not ask if she would like to try out for this role.
The angel did not ask if that sounded like good news.
She is told: “The Lord is with you…you shall conceive a son.”
Mary asks for some clarification: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
It seems like the obvious question: She was engaged to Joseph but the wedding had not been consummated and would not be for at least another year.
She wanted to know exactly whose idea this was—and exactly how this was going to happen.
She wanted to make sense out of what made no sense.
God had decided to become flesh and blood, but needed her help.
God needed her to surrender to this unplanned pregnancy to fulfill God’s plan.
She was going to conceive a son even though she is a virgin.
Hers is a good question: “How can this be?”
I can think of some other good questions:
Will Joseph stick around?
Will my parents still love me?
Will my friends stand by me?
Will I get dragged into the town to be stoned for sleeping around?
Will the labor pains be hard?
Will I have a midwife to help me with the delivery?
Will I survive the birth?
Will I survive his life?
If such questions came to Mary, she did not ask them.
She did listen to the angel’s explanations:
“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 the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
How much of that she understood, there is no way to know.
This much is clear: this was going to be a miracle!
Mary did have a choice: she could have said NO!
Mary demonstrated a great deal of faith: Mary said yes!
Understand, there were many expectations about the coming of the Messiah in those days.
The prophets had proclaimed that Messiah was coming.
There were also expectations about who was going to be the mother to the Messiah—many young women hoped they would be the “favored one.”
Mary humbly accepted this role as the mother of the Messiah.
Did she know what lay before her? No!
But she responded with these words: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
This is probably why we view Mary as the ideal woman.
It was not based on her looks, her romanticized image, her composure, her self-confidence, or her physical beauty.
It WAS based on her inner beauty: her faith, her humble acceptance of this shocking news, her servant attitude, her acceptance of God’s plan.
We idealize Mary because of her bold faith in God.
She was willing to accept God’s plan even though it meant discomfort, disgrace, loss of friends and personal danger.
She accepted this birth announcement even though it might cost her parents’ love and support, her future husband Joseph, her future plans of having a family with him, her peaceful future.
She sacrificed all of this in order to be the bearer of Jesus—God’s Anointed One.
She consented to carry this Son for 9 months, to give birth to him, to nurse him, care for him and raise his as her own son.
Only one person was ever drafted to fulfill this high calling.
Mary became the faithful Mother of God.
Her story invites us to respond to God’s calling to us as well.
God is calling each of us to unique and specific jobs.
Like Mary, we have a choice: Yes or No!
YOU CAN SAY NO TO GOD!
No, I will keep my life for myself!
No, I will shrink back in fear of an uncertain future.
No, I will maintain control of my own destiny.
Too many people make this choice this Christmas season!
YOU CAN SAY YES TO GOD!
Yes, I will give my life to the service of God!
Yes, I will explore the unexpected turns of life.
Yes, I will overcome my fears, confusion and discomforts.
Yes, I will risk my future plans in order to venture out with God.
Saying Yes makes you one of Mary’s people—a faithful servant.
Saying yes to God is like saying Mary’s words:
“Here I am; let it be with me according to your word.”
You become a God bearer—one who is willing to bear God’s Word into this world; one who is willing to go for God!
Meister Eckhardt clarifies this invitation for us all:
“We are all meant to be mothers of God.
What good is it to me if the eternal birth of the Divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself?
And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace; if I am not also full of grace?
What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to His Son if I do not also give birth to Him in my time and my culture?
This, then is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us.”
Hear the words of the Angel Gabriel as a word for you:
Greetings, favored ones!
The Lord is with you!
Do not be afraid!
For Nothing will be impossible with God!