TITLE: A Nobody from Nowhere
SCRIPTURE: Luke 1:26-38
Have you ever tried to imagine what it must have been like for Mary when the angel Gabriel appeared to her? Let's take a moment now to do just that -- to put ourselves in Mary's shoes -- to try to imagine what she thought and how she felt.
The first thing to understand is how young Mary must have been. She was engaged to be married to Joseph, so it sounds as if she was a mature woman -- eighteen or nineteen -- perhaps even in her twenties. We are also inclined to think that Joseph must have swept her off her feet and that she was about to marry the man of her dreams.
The reality was almost certainly otherwise. In that time and place, young men didn't sweep young women off their feet. Instead, the parents arranged marriages. This often took place when the girl was quite young -- early teens. Then after a year of engagement, the marriage would take place. We don't know how old Mary was when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, but she was surely quite young by our standards. In a few months, she would marry Joseph, but in the meantime Joseph and Mary would have little contact -- certainly no unsupervised contact.
It is also significant that, in that time and place, people revered age and wisdom. We find that difficult to understand, because our world prizes youth -- but those people honored the elderly. They certainly didn't honor children or almost-children.
So what we have with Mary is not a mature, self-assured, saintly woman, but a young, still wet-behind-the-ears girl. We imagine that God chose Mary because she was a wonderful young woman, and I am sure that she was -- but our Gospel lesson doesn't say that. Earlier when Luke told of God's choosing Zechariah and Elizabeth, he said, "Both of them were righteous before God " (1:6). However, Luke does not tell us anything about Mary's righteousness -- only that she has found favor with God. I am sure that she was a very fine young woman -- or young girl -- but our Gospel lesson does not tell us anything about her qualifications.
Luke does tell us that Mary was a virgin. That is certainly what we would expect in a situation like this -- a young girl growing up in a small town -- preparing for an arranged marriage -- always chaperoned. Nevertheless, he does tell us that she was a virgin, because strange things happen -- and Luke doesn't want any misunderstanding on this point.
So Mary is young in a culture that prizes age and wisdom. She is a female in a culture that prizes men. She is from "the sticks" in a nation that believes that God lives in Jerusalem. She has no reason to believe that she is any better than a hundred other girls. But it is to this young girl that the angel Gabriel comes.
The angel begins by greeting Mary -- "Hail, favored one!" Luke says that Mary was perplexed by the angel's words. I'll bet that was the truth! Perplexed for sure! Just imagine any ordinary young girl from any ordinary place being confronted with an angel saying "Rejoice, honored one!" Mary must have looked around to see who the angel was talking to. "Honored one! Are you talking to me?"
The angel responded by saying:
"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you will name him Jesus.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end."
When you stop and think about it, that is quite a responsibility for a young teenager, isn't it!" "You will conceive in your womb and bear a son." That is good news for a woman who is ready to be a mother. It is great news when you are married -- and have a home -- and have your feet on the ground -- and have the resources to take care of a baby. For an unmarried teenager, it would spell trouble with a capital T.
And then there is the part about the baby being called "the Son of the Most High" and being promised "the throne of his ancestor David." That is clearly good news -- wonderful news -- but it is nevertheless quite a responsibility for such a young girl.
But Mary didn't hesitate, not even for a minute. She did ask how this could happen, given her virginity. Good question! How is this possible? Mary knew that she could not be pregnant, but she was willing to hear the angel's answer. When the angel told her that this was God's doing, Mary responded simply:
"Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word."
That is about as short and sweet as it gets:
No "ifs," "ands," or "buts" about it! Just "Here am I.... Let it be!" Just imagine what a different world this would be if we would all respond to God's call as directly and positively as that! Just imagine how different your life and mine would be if we would as uncomplainingly go in the direction that God points us! So many times we are like Moses, who said, "Pick someone else, God! I can't talk so good!" Or like the Israelites, who complained about the hardships of their wilderness wanderings! Or like Jonah, who boarded a ship to run away from God! But there was none of that with Mary, who said simply:
"Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word."
God is in the habit of picking ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and that is what he did with Mary. He picked an ordinary, faithful, young girl and made her mother of the Son of God.
That is Good News! Most of us are ordinary people, living ordinary lives in ordinary places. We are born -- we grow up -- we get married and have children -- we grow old -- and when we die we barely leave a ripple on the surface of the water. We might be inclined to ask if there is any purpose to our lives. Is there any reason to do anything more than to go through the motions -- to eat, drink, and be merry?
The story of Mary assures us that the answer is Yes -- if we will do what God calls us to do. God might call us to do something great, or God might call us to do something small. It matters not as long as we respond to the call that we are given. It matters not whether we are big or little -- bright or dim -- athletic or clumsy -- beautiful or plain -- charming or awkward! It matters only whether we are faithful! If we do what God calls us to do, God will bless our small efforts and bring about great results. That is Good News!
"Nothing will be impossible with God." That is what the angel promised Mary. Elizabeth wasn't too old to have a baby, or Mary too virginal. God turns impossibilities into possibilities.
As a young girl in the 1920s, Lois Secrist felt a call to the mission field, but instead she got married and stayed home. When her husband died in 1988, Lois felt the call again, but said, "Lord, I'm too old to go now. I can't do this."
But God continued to call, and finally Lois answered. She went to the Philippines while in her eighties, and she established an orphanage for 35 children. Each of the children had been in desperate need before coming to the orphanage. Some were victims of parental abuse. Others were begging on the streets. For those 35 children, the orphanage was a gift of life.
When Lois decided to answer her call, she found no denomination that was willing to offer financial support. They told her exactly what she had told God -- "Lois, you're too old to go now. You can't do this." But she went anyway. She found people who were willing to help, and she answered her call. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she has saved 35 lives. 35 children are safe and healthy because an old woman believed that nothing was impossible with God.
Lois says, "I serve a mighty God. He's in control. I feel I'm not talented enough to do any of this. But God enables me. My responsibility is to do what I can." (Gail Wood, "Mission Delayed," Virtue, June/July 1999)
So do not despair if you are too old -- or too young. In God's hands, you are just right!
And do not despair if you are inadequate. In God's hands, you are all that God needs you to be.
And do not despair if you are not successful as the world counts success -- if you are not Rich and Famous. As Mary's story proves, God lifts up the lowly (1:52). God takes special pleasure in using humble people. Proud people want too much of the credit.
In fact, do not despair about anything, but simply place yourself in God's hands -- and go in the direction that God leads -- and you will find that, as the angel promised Mary, "Nothing will be impossible with God."