Advent IV B 2008
Theme: Doing the right thing at the right time
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, help us see Mary’s example of faith and humility as an example for us to do the right thing at the right time, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Malcolm and Billie Watts are in their seventies. They have 12 grandchildren. They went to dinner at the local Cracker Barrel one evening. Billie had to go to the bathroom.
In the bathroom, Billie discovered a tapestry bag hanging on a hook on a stall door. There was no one else in the restroom. “’It had a Manila envelope that was sticking out of the bag,’ she said. ‘(I) couldn't zip up; it was too full.’ She searched the bag for the identity of its owner. Inside (an) envelope was a picture of two women and a child, but no names. Then she spotted the money.
“I said, ‘Oh my goodness,’ Watts recalled. ‘I have never seen that much money in my whole life. I counted the money. There was $97,000 in one-thousand-dollar bills. They were neatly stacked inside the bag.’” (The (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) Daily News Journal) She thought, “I have been having real bad teeth problems. I’ll get my teeth fixed.” The Watts’ live only on social security.
“Watts decided to leave the restaurant with the money. ‘I was afraid to go to the counter,’ she said. ‘Maybe the wrong person could get ahold of it.’ After the couple returned home, Watts called the Cracker Barrel restaurant. ‘I told them I found something in the bathroom. I just left my number and asked them to call me.’
“In 10 to 15 minutes, a woman called. ‘I knew it was the right person when she called. She identified the picture, the envelope and the money,’ said Watts. ‘I met her in front of the Cracker Barrel about 15 to 20 minutes after she called me.’ In the restaurant's parking lot, the woman who left the money got out of her car and approached Watts.
“‘She run up and hugged me. She got excited and didn’t even look at the bag except to pull out the picture to show it to me,’ said Watts. ‘She said it was the only picture she had of her daughter and her daughter’s child, who are both deceased.’ The money, the woman told Watts, was the proceeds from the sale of her home and all the belongings in it. ‘She was going to start her new life in Florida with her son,’ said Watts.
“The woman offered to pay Watts $1,000, but Watts refused it. ‘(The woman) told me she needed every penny she could to start over,’ said Watts. (The money) wasn’t mine. I had no right to it. My mom and dad told me never to take anything that didn’t belong to me.’” (The (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) Daily News Journal)
Sometimes, the right person is in the right place at the right time. What if someone besides Billie found all that money? A silly mistake would have cost a woman all she has in the world. Mary of Nazareth seems to be in the right place at the right time. We have no idea if the story we are engaging in would be different or the same if Mary wasn’t in Nazareth or if she told God, “No.”
Our story picks up with an old, childless, woman finding herself pregnant with John the Baptist. When she was six months along with that pregnancy, God sends the angel, Gabriel, to a virgin in the Galilean town of Nazareth. This is the same angel who told Elizabeth’s husband of her miraculous pregnancy. This virgin, whose name was Mary, was engaged at the time to a man named Joseph. Joseph was a descendant of the great King David.
It should be pointed out that having an angel sent to anyone is not necessarily a good thing. Angels are scary. On Wednesday night we will hear again of angels and the fear that they invoke. Angels are God’s soldiers. They appear armed for battle. They didn’t wear swords for decoration. Angels are frightening. This is what Gabriel looked like.
Mary was troubled, disturbed, and confused by the angel’s visit. So we shouldn’t be surprised that Gabriel speaks first to reassure Mary, “Greetings to you who are blessed by God! God is with you. Do not be afraid, because God is pleased with you.” It turns out the angel was not there to bump her off.
We may think that being blessed by God is reserved for especially holy or devout people. But this is not the case here. Mary has nothing. In her song that follows our reading, she says that she is lowly and poor. And that God will provide justice and favor to all people. Being economically left out of society, may evoke special blessings by God. In many ways, wealthy people are slaves to their money. Are we really prepared to have the social strata turned upside down by God?
Gabriel next tells the young woman that she will become pregnant with a son and he will be named Jesus (or in Mary’s language, Yeshua). Gabriel turns out to be the messenger of immanent conceptions. After all, the word angel literally means messenger. But being not only a messenger of conception, he also names the babies. As a messenger of God, it is God who names John and Jesus. In ancient times naming something or someone implied power over the thing or person named.
This kid will be something special. He will be called the Son of God. He will become a king in the line of David. He will rule forever and his kingdom will never end.
Well Mary knew a few things about the birds and the bees. So she questioned the angel how such a thing is even possible.
Notice that she didn’t question that her son will be the Son of God and will rule as king forever. After all, she was a Jewish mother. She just questioned how she could get pregnant. Gabriel explains that the rules are going to change in her case. The Holy Spirit will pay her a visit and that is why her child will be called the Son of God.
If this seems far fetched to her, Gabriel points out that her relative Elizabeth, who is really old, is in the sixth month of her pregnancy. So in other words, nothing is impossible for God. Mary consented to the angel and to God as a servant of God.
Mary agrees to participate in this holy event to the peril of her life. She must have confidence that God will protect her from the death penalty, according the Law of Moses in the Bible, which awaits her when her pregnancy becomes known.
Church baptisteries were made round to remind us of the womb. The womb is the source of new life as the waters of baptism provide new life. The womb and baptism are both sources of life. We are reborn from the womb to the font, made one with God in Christ and with one another, and through which we receive grace.
Gabriel breaks into time and a particular place. We can never anticipate when God will break into human history. We do not create our own salvation. We lack the capacity to understand how and why God acts. Something amazing is happening here. The salvation of the world is in its first step. Jesus not only came into the world, thanks to Mary, but Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension continue over and over again. We are hearing the story again anew. It begins today and ends at Pentecost. We recall these events, liturgically, and so we enter into the past and bring it into the present every year.
Every one of us can be the right person at the right time. God may not send us $97,000 or a fearsome angel, but in many small less dramatic ways we can do the right thing for others and for the glory of God.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of the knowledge of good and evil, strengthen us to do the right and forsake the wrong; and in so doing we may honor the birth and coming of your son, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we pray. Amen.
Text: Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”b 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”c 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be bornd will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
b Other ancient authorities add Blessed are you among women
c Gk I do not know a man
d Other ancient authorities add of you
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.