Archive | December 2018

“Do Not Be Afraid”

Luke 1:39-55

This is the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we just heard a gospel reading foretelling the conception of Jesus – just two days before we celebrate His birth.

The timing of this gospel reading often confuses people – why do we hear about Mary being called to be the mother of Jesus just days before she gives birth?

This Gospel is read because we are in Advent – a time of anticipation of the birth of Jesus. We have heard in the Old Testament of the coming of the birth on the first Sunday of Advent, about preparing the way in the first and second Sundays of Advent. And last Sunday we heard about John the Baptist foretelling the coming of Jesus. This Sunday we hear about how this man, Jesus, was to come into the world, born of a young, unmarried Jewish woman – one who was told by the Angel Gabriel:

You will conceive in your womb and bear a son. . . (Luke 1:31)

Gentlemen, you will have to bear with us for a few minutes:

Ladies, close your eyes and think back to when you were twelve or thirteen. I don’t know about you, but knowing about the intimate details of marriage and pregnancy was not in my realm of reality.

According to the Jewish tradition of the time, Mary was between twelve and thirteen when she was betrothed to Joseph. Probably she was living in the house of Joseph, but their marriage was not to take place for another year. Part of the ritual was for the two to live in the same house, getting to know each other, and possibly for Mary to learn the likes and dislikes of her betrothed. . .  from her mother-in-law.

Unlike her cousin, Elisabeth, who had yearned for years for a child, Mary was only betrothed and young enough to be the daughter of Elisabeth. So the appearance of Gabriel was not an answer to a long-spoken prayer. She was not ready to have a baby yet. But, Mary’s time and plans were not God’s time and plans. God was re-aligning lives and upsetting schedules to do His work.

Think about how astonished and, probably, frightened you would have been if an angel visited you with this news. But Mary accepted the reassurance from Gabriel when he said

‘do not be afraid’ (Luke 1:30)

– talk about faith! But not blind faith, because Mary questioned Gabriel about how this was going to happen. She wanted to understand what the Lord had in store for her, how all of this was going to come to be.

Here is a very young girl, facing what could be a very unpleasant time in her life with the rejection of her family, her betrothed and her townspeople, certainly not a candidate for marriage to one who is not the father. And her story about an angel appearing —- come on now!

But the Angel Gabriel said:

‘do not be afraid’. (Luke 1:30)

What could she say to her future husband and his family in light of Jewish teachings and culture of 2000 years ago? And the news from the angel saying her life would never be the same again?

But the Angel Gabriel said:

‘do not be afraid’ (Luke 1:30)

In spite of all those things, Mary’s faith was so strong that she replied:

‘I am the Lord’s Servant’. (Luke 1:38)

As soon as she saw Elisabeth she knew it was true; all of it. Seeing Elisabeth, she was aware of how different they were. Elizabeth’s child would be seen by all as a blessing from God. Elisabeth would be praised, the stigma of her barrenness finally lifted.

To be sure, Elisabeth’s pregnancy was a miracle but it was not unheard of. Mary had grown up hearing stories of women like Elisabeth, Hannah and Sara. Mary knew hers was different.

An unexpected, miraculous birth wasn’t the same thing as a virgin birth. For Mary, as soon as she started to show, it would be different: a young girl, engaged, suddenly pregnant, with no ring on her finger, no father in sight and her fiancé none the wiser. That invited more than just a stigma. She could be stoned to death.

Miraculously, and beyond all physical laws of human existence, God created life
Inside her.
From nothing.

But who is really nothing?

In the same way, she thought, God created the heavens and the earth: from nothing.
In the same way God created the sun and the sea and the stars.
In the same way God created His beloved children.
From nothing.

As though what she carried within her was creation itself.
The start of a new beginning.

To everything.

For everyone.

People throughout history have chosen to follow their own wisdom and paths, rather than listening to God’s truth and God’s wisdom. When faced with the truth of God, we often are reluctant or just plain terrified. But Mary somehow knew that God was with her; she would not be alone, but had the presence of God within her and surrounding her.

So she said, ‘I am. . . your servant’.

Are we, like Mary, after all is said and done, able to say

‘I am the Lord’s Servant’, (Luke 1:38)?

knowing that we may also face things in life that are unexplainable, confusing, hazardous and unpleasant? Do we have the faith to submit ourselves to God’s will?

Why did God choose Mary? Why does God choose us to do different things in our lives? I think it is because we are willing to say ‘yes’ and trust and be faithful servants, even when we are afraid. If you remember, every time God sent an angel down, that person was said to be afraid. The first thing the angel always said is

‘be not afraid’.

God understands our uncertainty, our reluctance, our feeling of unworthiness and assures us of His love and support. And in each case, despite their fears, the people have trusted and said, em>‘Yes Lord’. Because God called them and they trusted God despite their fears – they responded in faith.

Are we willing to be faithful and open to God and his promises?

Are we willing to let the Christ child into our hearts and trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us?

Imagine what could happen in our lives and the lives of others if we are willing to step out in faith and say ‘Yes Lord’. If we are to be like Mary, we must be willing to sing out with enthusiasm and say ,‘Yes Lord’.

We are waiting in anticipation for the birth of the Christ child, this fourth Sunday of Advent. The next few days are going to be ones of celebration – but also filled with stress. What a great time to say every morning:

‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord’. (Luke 1:38)

  • When you are traveling, and the kids are bickering with each other, what would it mean to say
  • ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord’?

  • Very late on Christmas Eve, when ‘some assembly required’ toys are in 200 pieces and the instructions are beyond comprehension, what would it mean to say
  • ‘Here I am, servant of the Lord’?

  • When we are faced with financial problems, mortgages, college for the kids, your own job, what would it mean to say
  • ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord?’

  • When we find holiday festivities depressing and sad because of family and personal problems or loss, can we still say:
  • ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord?’

Can we trust the message of Angel Gabriel:

‘do not be afraid.’ (Luke 1:30)

Can we keep saying these words.

“Here I am, servant of the Lord”, (Luke 1:38)

out of faith and comfort, and hopefully, out of habit? Can we say these words as a prayer to grow as faithful disciples, unsure at times what we are supposed to do in this world? God cares about what happens in each moment of our lives. God invites us to live in love, peace and grace and know that we are never alone in this world.

God is inviting us to reach out and minister to others. Most of us will never be asked to do something as wonderful and fearful as Mary. But, in reality, it is the small everyday things in our lives that make all the differences. Most of the problems in the world happen because we do not fulfill our part in our partnership with God and say ‘yes’.

“Here I am, servant of the Lord”, (Luke 1:38)

Like Mary, we are called to be partners with God. Accepting that challenge and privilege is what it means to obey God and walk faithfully with God in love and trust.

What is God inviting you to say ‘yes’ to?

Be not afraid – walk in faith and trust.

We are reminded by angels and prophets and even Jesus at least 365 times in the Bible:

‘do not be afraid’

Speak with faith and trust:

‘I am the Lord’s Servant’. (Luke 1:38)

Let us pray:

Creator of all, when we consider your servant Mary, what we see is a humility and obedience that is so often lacking in our own lives. As we hear your Word again, and consider the one through whose body you entered this world, remind us of the meaning of humility and grant us a confidence of faith that knows your promises to us are always fulfilled. Guide us so that we are able to say:

‘I am the Lord’s Servant’. (Luke 1:38)

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 23 December 2018