I don’t know about the rest of you, but the past couple of weeks I have been given ample opportunity to practice my snow shoveling. And just in case you are wondering, no I did not bring this weather with me from Minnesota. Last winter we barely had snow til Christmas, so whatever might have caused the snowfall, a certain Muncie minister is not to blame. But back to my story about shoveling, when we accomplish such things there is a certain ritual that takes place. It usually begins while your dressing when you garb yourself similarly to the Hobley men on Christmas morn and put on your thermal underwear, then comes the layers of clothing, and finally the thermally protected jacket, cap, gloves, and boots. Then, rushing outside before you collapse from heat exhaustion from your thermal clothing, you grab your snow shovel and attack the snow.
Now snow shoveling in Minnesota is almost an artform. And if the snow is your canvas, then the snow shovel is your paintbrush. So imagine my surprise when I arrived here at the church two weeks ago ready to attack the sidewalks with a passion, when I found to my surprise that what awaited my artistic work was nothing more then a brush fit for watercolors. That is, this shovel. You see, in Minnesota a shovel like this is good for one thing, maybe. You place it in the trunk of your car, so that maybe when your car gets stuck, you can use it to dig yourself out enough to place the chains on your tires so you can drive home. For snow artists like me, you need better brushes for your canvas, better shovels for your snow. So I have brought a few of these babies from home, and I would like to narrate their use for you. First off, we have a shovel that I would say is comparable to the one here at the church. It has spent its life in the trunk of Sara’s car. …..
As I have said, I am an artist, and these are my paintbrushes. When I go to sleep each night, I rest knowing that regardless of how much snowfalls, I have the tools to get the job done in the morning. I’m prepared, don’t you see, at least when it snows. But there are many times in our lives when we just can’t prepare ourselves for what comes next. Snow shovels are fine for snow, but what do we do when life dumps on us. How do we respond?
In our Scripture reading for this morning we have an amazing example of someone who just had the blizzard of a lifetime dumped on them, and then we have one of the most unlikely responses in history. As I mentioned earlier, this congregational reading that we read together is Mary’s response to her pregnancy and the birth of Jesus coming around the corner. What is so amazing is the circumstances that are engulfing Mary at this time. Most scholarly types will tell us that Mary was probably in her early teens, either 14 or 15 when the angel visited her, for most Jewish girls were engaged early in adolescence, sometimes before they were even women, and then married after that long engagement (usually a couple years).
So imagine, there you are a girl of about 15 and an angel visits you one day and tells you an astounding fact. “Greetings to you most favored one,” the angel says, “The Lord is present within you!” Confused as to what this type of greeting might mean, and though you never imagined having to ask an angel to clarify himself, you respond, “Huh?” The angel responds, “Don’t be afraid, for you aren’t in trouble, in fact you are highly favored by God. So highly favored that God has chosen you to bear His Son. You will call His name Jesus. He will be the Son of the Most High and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David. Embarassed with even having to state this reality, you bashfully mention to the angel, “Ummh, are you sure, I mean I can’t be pregnant. I really can’t be pregnant. I’m engaged to Joseph, the carpenter down the street, but we don’t do that sort of thing, it would embarrass both our families so horribly. We wouldn’t dream of it, so we are waiting for our wedding night.” The angel patiently waiting, because angels have much more patience then most of us, don’t you see, nods affirmatively and then smiles knowingly. “Don’t worry about that, dear Mary. Even though you haven’t had ever had sex, God is going to grant you a spectacular gift.” “You are going to be the virgin mother of God’s son. God’s Holy Spirit will overwhelm you. He will create this child. You know that your cousin Elizabeth, though she is beyond her child bearing years is pregnant, so it will be with you. For nothing is impossible for God.”
At this point you are in a shock close to near panic. Racing through your thoughts are conflicting emotions of excitement & dread, joy & horror. For yes, you will be the mother of the Messiah, and furthermore God’s own son. But you will also be an unmarried pregant Jewish girl of 15 with an unbelievable story to tell. You try to imagine in your mind exactly how you will explain this to Joseph. Well Joseph dear, I’m pregnant, but don’t worry about it because God is the Father. No that doesn’t quite work. Joseph honey, I’ve got some news that I think you will need to sit down to hear. You know how you were so looking forward to when we would be married and could be together? Well what if there was a bit more of me to love? Well maybe that’s not the most tactful way to handle it either. Faster and faster the thoughts race until they threaten to overwhelm your very soul. You are an unwed girl of 15, and though Joseph is a good man, why should he believe your story? The truth is, there is a good chance he won’t. There is a good chance you will be left by yourself, not just for now, but for always. For in Jewish society a woman who becomes pregnant during her engagement by someone other then her fiancée is considered disgusting and will never find a husband. “What will be left for me?” you think. “Will I be like that woman I see flirting with all the men at the well, inviting them back to my hovel?” Is that my future? This cost seems awfully high! This does not just effect me, but it impacts my family. The shame from this event, my getting pregnant and my ridiculous story, will follow my family for years. What shall I do?
The angel still stands as your mind races. Gloriously arrayed in indescribable garments, you gaze at this wonder of God’s creation, mirroring His glory in a way so different but no more then your own, and your concerns are countered by one simple truth. God has invited me to participate in His plan and has already surrounded me with His presence. God has made the first step, He is simply inviting me to respond. So you respond to the angel with not a simple step of faith, but a grand leap across a huge chasm and say “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be as you have said.” And so the angel departs.
With that reply Christian tradition maintains that God’s Son was conceived within Mary.
What is it that allowed Mary to speak those words of faith? She couldn’t have known all she would face, could she? She wasn’t in any way prepared for what was going to happen. She did not and could not have the snow shovels to prepare her for that event. Jesus ministry, his horrible crucifixion and death, all witnessed by Mary; none of these events of life were things she could be prepared for. So why was she able to speak those words of faith? Was it because she was a better person then us. I don’t think so, for though the Scriptures record that she was a good woman, what is outstanding about her was that God chose her, not anything she had done. Was she able to make such a choice simply because she was a naieve, young girl who didn’t know better? No, she knew well enough what this would cost, to her, her family, and yet chose yes. The significance of Mary was not anything about her before she said Yes to God. Mary is revered throughout history for, though she was filled with uncertainty and I am sure a healthy amount of doubt. In spite of those doubts she said yes to God when He asked something great of her.