You may remember that this past winter we had a tournament to choose the favorite person in the Bible of our parish. The winner was Mary, the mother of Jesus. So today we’re going to start a sermon series based on the life of Mary. We start with the first time we meet Mary in the Bible, when she is visited by an angel.
Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with this story. It’s interesting, though, that as familiar as we are with it, the story only appears in the gospel of Luke. Mark and John don’t deal with the birth of Jesus at all. Matthew looks at it more from Joseph’s point of view, and goes on to tell us about how the family had to be on the run for a while because the government was out to kill Jesus. It’s only in Luke that we read about Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel and how she learned that she was going to give birth to the savior of the world.
We don’t really know how old Mary was when this happened. Most people assume that she was pretty young, probably still a teenager, maybe still in her early teens. The Bible does not actually say that—we assume it because the common practice at the time was that girls were married off at a pretty young age. We assume, again because of common practices at the time, that Joseph was probably somewhat older, but we really don’t know that, either. Again, the Bible does not tell us.
We’re not told anything about Mary’s early life. We don’t know if Mary had any brothers or sisters—it would be unusual if she did not, but the Bible does not tell us. A lot of people seem to assume that Mary’s family was poor, but the Bible does not tell us that, either. They most likely were not rich—that’s something that probably would’ve been mentioned, if it was so—but they may have been middle class. We don’t know anything about what Mary’s family may have done for a living. We know that Joseph was a carpenter. Assuming he was a good one, he may have been able to provide fairly well for his family—we don’t know.
Most likely, though, Mary was still living with her parents at the time the angel Gabriel came to see her. And every time I read this story, I’m struck by how matter-of-factly Luke tells it. Try to put yourself in Mary’s place. You’re minding your own business, doing your daily work, and all of a sudden, there’s an angel right in front of you. We don’t know how Gabriel made himself known to Mary, if there was some sort of heavenly fanfare, if Gabriel just suddenly appeared out of nowhere, if Gabriel was waiting for Mary as she was walking down a path, or what. Apparently, though Mary recognized that this was, in fact, an angel she was seeing.
And yet, Mary just seems to accept that. I mean, it seems like you’d be pretty freaked out about this, does it not? To just suddenly, with no warning, have this angel there talking to you? But Mary does not seem to be. We’re told that Mary was greatly troubled by Gabriel’s words, and we’ll come to that in a minute, but she does not seem to have been at all bothered by actually seeing Gabriel there.
What does that tell us about Mary? For one thing, it tells us that she must have been pretty brave, right? To suddenly see an angel and not even flinch? Mary is clearly someone who is not easily thrown off stride. She’s pretty capable and pretty confident in her ability to handle stuff.
The first words Gabriel says to her, the ones at which we’re told that Mary was greatly troubled, are “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
We’re not told what about that greeting troubled Mary, but we can guess. She may have wondered why she would be “highly favored”, what she had ever done to deserve that kind of greeting. I suspect, though, that Mary also knew that something more was coming here. She’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. The angel Gabriel would not have just shown up to pass the time of day. Gabriel must be giving her a message that God wants her to do something. And of course, he was.
Let’s just think about that for a minute. For Mary, at least, the troubling thing about seeing an angel was not the presence of the angel itself. The troubling thing was that the angel was going to want her to do something.
And you know, that would probably be the most troubling thing for you and me, too. I mean, yes, I probably would be kind of freaked out if I was sitting at home or in my office or something and an angel suddenly showed up. But that would not be the scariest thing about it. The scariest thing about it would be knowing that God wanted me to do something. And I suspect that might be the scariest thing for you, too.
But why should that be so scary? If we trust God, why should we be so scared of doing something that God told us to do?
Well, why was Mary scared of it? We’re not told, but think about it. Mary was young. She was about to start a new life with Joseph. She thought she knew how her life was going to go. And now, Gabriel comes and he’s going to want her to do something. What’s it going to be? What’s it going to mean for me? How hard will it be? Is this going to mess everything up? This whole life that I’m planning with Joseph—is it going to just be gone? Is my whole world going to be turned upside down?
I think that would be the scariest thing of all about having an angel show up. And really, it’s the scariest thing about really living our faith as Christians. It’s the scariest thing about turning our lives over to God. If I do what God wants me to do, well, what’s it going to mean for me? How hard will it be? Will it mess up my whole life? This life I have, which may not be perfect but is fairly good and is something I’m used to and am comfortable with—is it going to just be gone if I follow God? Is my whole world going to be turned upside down?
And all these were thoughts Mary may have had before she even knew what it was the angel wanted her to do. They’re the thoughts we have before we even know what it is that God wants us to do. They are troubling. They are scary. And if we let them, they can stop us from ever following God and doing what God wants us to do.
They did not stop Mary. The angel told her what was going to happen. She was going to have a son, Jesus. Jesus would be great and would be called the son of the Most High. He would get the throne of David. He would reign over the house of Jacob forever.
And again, Mary accepts it. Mary does not protest. She does not say, “Who, me? You must have the wrong Mary. There’s another Mary a couple of houses down—that must be the one you want.” She does not say, “What? This is crazy. I cannot do this. I’m just a kid. Find somebody else.” The only thing she says is, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
“How will this be.” No protest, no complaint, not even the slightest hesitation. Not a hint that she might not be willing to do what the angel said. Just “How will this be.”
That’s a pretty awesome faith. That’s a faith that says, “If God wants me to do this, then I’m going to do it. I’m not going to worry about what’s going to happen to me. I’m not going to worry about how hard it’s going to be. I’m not going to worry about what anybody else says or what anybody else thinks. If God wants me to do it, then I’m going to do it. Period.”
That’s the kind of faith Mary had. That’s the kind of faith you and I are supposed to have. Do you have it? Do I?
Maybe you do. Maybe I do. I’m sure a lot of us have done things we were scared to do. A lot of us have probably done things just because they were the right thing to do.
The question is, how far are we willing to go in that direction? Because it’s not enough to just do stuff like this once in a while. God does not say “Follow me when it’s convenient for you.” God does not say, “Follow me every once in a while, when you can get your courage up.” God says, “Follow me all the time. Follow me even when it’s hard. Follow me even when it turns your whole world upside down.” God says, “Follow me even when you don’t know where I’m leading you.” God says, “I don’t want just part of your life. I want all of your life.”
Mary was willing to give God all of her life. She was willing to follow God even though it was going to be hard. She was willing to follow God even when it was going to turn her whole world upside down. She was willing to follow God even when she did not know where God was going to lead her. She was willing to give God all of her life.
The result of that was not always smooth. We’ll hear more about that in the future weeks of this sermon series, and you know some of it already. God did not reward Mary with an easy, carefree life while she was on earth. But Mary still did it, and she obviously decided that it was worth it.It’ll be worth it for us, too. It won’t be easy. We’ll want to resist. We’ll be scared. We won’t want to have our lives upset. And again, I don’t want my life upset any more than you do. But if we can have the faith Mary had, if we can follow God even when it’s hard and even when we don’t know where God’s leading—if we can give God all of our lives—it will be worth it. God will be with us. And we can be the people God wants us to be, just like Mary was.