This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Dec. 20, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16
Luke 1: 46-55
Luke 1: 26-38
“How can this be?” is a question I’ve asked nearly everyday in 2020. Sometimes I’ve whispered it in fear or sorrow, sometimes I’ve expressed it in relief or acknowledgment of my relative safety and security, sometimes I’ve said it between clenched teeth of anger and incredulity. My emotions have run the gamut, as I’m sure yours have, as well. “How can this be?” pretty much sums up most of the world right now. How can it be we be losing over 3,000 people a day to COVID19 in this country? How can it be that racism and white supremacy are rampant, how can it be that we still be fighting over the basic human rights of people of color, women and LBGTQIA, how can we be this divided as a people trying to live together? How can it be that working people can’t afford housing and food, the basics of life, in the richest country in the world? How can it be that I haven’t seen any family for over a year? How can it be that while so many are struggling, I’m actually doing ok? How can it be that I’ve avoided this virus so far? How can it be that I’m so tired and perplexed?
This question on the lips of Mary in our Luke 1 text is a beloved passage known as the Annunciation. The announcement from the angel Gabriel is that God finds favor with this young, unwed, lowly woman from nowhere Nazareth. An announcement that she is so favored with God that the most dangerous thing that can happen to a first century Palestinian woman is about to take place: pregnancy. And not just any pregnancy, but out of wedlock pregnancy of God’s son. “How can this be?” is the kindest way for Mary to question the wisdom of this. Mary knows that she could be stoned to death for pregnancy out of wedlock. She knows that the maternal and infant mortality rate is at least 50% as more than likely she has witnessed women and babies dying. She knows how physically and socially vulnerable she is about to be.
The fact that we have this story at all should lead us to ask, “How can this be?” Luke is the only gospel writer to let Mary tell her own story in God’s story of redemption and salvation. John barely mentions Mary the mother of Jesus, and Matthew and Mark, talk about Mary, but never let her speak for herself. It is very typical in a highly patriarchal society for the stories of women to be ignored and forgotten. Mary’s only status is attached to her father, her husband, or her son. So, the fact that the writer of Luke gives such extensive space to not only Mary, but Elizabeth, is remarkable. Luke’s very gospel gives insight as to what God is up to in and through Jesus Christ. God is upending the structures and societal norms of the world and uncovers the truth behind our questions of “How can this be?” The truth of how it should be and how it will be in God’s kin-dom, if we let it.
Gabriel responds to Mary, “nothing will be impossible with God,” and Mary’s perspective shifted. In that moment, Mary could see beyond her own questions, her own legitimate worries and fears, and enter into the mystery of life with God. She realized that whatever God was up to needed to start with her. I like to think that it wasn’t that she was no longer afraid but was afraid and said yes anyway. Mary isn’t braver than we are, or more intuitive. I really don’t think she’s that different from us. What makes Mary the exemplar of discipleship, is that she shows us what simply taking the next faithful step looks like, even when you don’t have all the information or you are afraid. Mary takes her “How can this be?” and turns it into “Let it be with me.” In her response of “let it be with me,” Mary is opening herself up to the possibilities of God’s past actions of liberation and redemption breaking into the world again. Mary’s “Let it be with me” is an acknowledgment of all that she doesn’t know and understand about God’s vision for the world but her willingness to be moved forward. Her “let it be with me” is followed by her song of praise, the Magnificat, where she names what God has done before and will do again to right the world for justice, peace, equity and wholeness. Mary’s “let it be with me,” is rooted in her faith in God’s promises from the past and for the future.
“Let it be with me,” is not often a phrase that falls from my mouth. I get stuck in the “how can this be?” and find it hard to move forward. I want to simply rail against the structures and systems that cause me to ask the “how can it be?” and forget that I’m part of those structures and systems. I don’t stop and look for what God is up to, to trust that “nothing will be impossible with God.” What would happen if I shifted and prayed, “Let it be with me”? How does that change my perspective to see that I am enough to make a difference in the world? How does that move me forward to participate in God’s kin-dom?
So God, let it be with me that I speak out for those being harmed by economic disparities. Let it be with me to stand against greed and consumerism. Let it me with me to give generously what I have. Let it be with me to offer grace when I’m feeling uncharitable. Let it be with me to trust you even when I don’t. Let it be with me to take the next faithful step when I’m feeling vulnerable. Let it be with me to step aside for other voices to be heard. Let it be with me to not be sucked into pettiness and fear. Let it be with me for your mercy and grace flood the world. Let it be with me for hate, bigotry and anger to be no more. Let it be with me to love people how you do, completely and fully, just as they are. Let it be with me to be moved by your love. So God, let it be with me. Amen.