Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
I think for a lot of people of the most iconic elements of the Christmas season is the music. A lot of radio stations switch to only playing Christmas music. If you have been in a store in the past month then there is a good chance you heard Christmas music. Given the importance of music to this season, it is kind of ironic which songs top the most popular Christmas song lists. Christmas, after all, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus but the vast majority of Christmas song favorites have very little to do with the coming of the messiah. Each year Billboard tracks the most popular Christmas songs by radio play. This year, like the past several Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is you” is the #1 song. The top ten also includes songs we are all familiar with like “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Holly Jolly Christmas”, and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Those might all be favorite songs and they certainly are festive, but we have to admit they have little to do with the reason for the season. If we want to find a Christmas song with strong religious theme, we have to drop to spot #51 where we find a rendition of Mary Did you Know? By acapella group Pentatonix. The song asks several questions throughout it, but the last series of questions are the most striking. The lyrics state: “Mary, did you know that your baby boy Is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would one day rule the nations? Did you know that your baby boy Is heaven’s perfect Lamb?”
The answer is yes, Mary knew. The angel told her. She may not have known that Jesus was going to someday walk on water or calm a storm, but she knew that her son was special. In fact she knew that her son was the most special child to ever be born, and she knew that the child she delivered would one day deliver her. This morning’s scripture helps shows us that Mary knew. She did not know the details of what would happen but she knew what God had promised her. This morning as we consider what Mary knew, I think we should also be open to learn from the example that Mary set about how we can best follow God.
In general we tend to picture Mary as a scared teenager. A lot of this imagery comes from us reading into the story. What we know of 1st century Jewish culture means that yes Mary was almost certainly a teenager. We think about an un-wed teenager being pregnant and away from home because of the census. It is easy for us to project fear on her. What we are missing though, is that Mary did not have reason to be afraid of what was happening, because she had the assurances of an angel. When Mary found out that she had been chosen by God, the angel Gabriel told her “Do not be afraid”, and she was not. Gabriel then told her what to expect. Luke 1:31-33 records: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever: his kingdom will never end.” Mary knew what this meant. Being a faithful Jew during this time, Mary would have been familiar with the Messianic expectations. She like all Jewish people were looking and hoping for the savior, and the angel’s description is exactly what she and others had been looking for. A king sent from God to redeem and restore. This morning’s scripture makes it clear that Mary knew what was promised which is why in Luke 1:48 she sings, “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” From anyone other than the mother of the promised messiah, that would sound extremely arrogant! Yet, Mary could proclaim that with confidence, because she was a faithful follower of God and she knew what the angel had promised her was coming.
Yes, Mary knew-but she did not know everything. How could she? She knew her son would be the messiah, but how would she know what that meant? Very early on she got glimpses though. Luke records that after Jesus was born that Mary and Joseph took him to the temple as Jewish custom dictated. While there they were they met Simeon an old, devout man who had been promised through the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the messiah. Simeon once again reiterated that Jesus is the Messiah, but he also told Mary about Jesus, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Likewise, when the Magi came to visit in the gospel of Matthew, one of the gifts they brought was Myrrh, which was most commonly used as a burial fragrance. It did have value, but surely it had to strike Mary as an odd gift to give to a young child. Mary knew Jesus was the messiah, but how could she know what that would lead to? How could she know that events would lead from her placing her baby in a manger to having her soul pierced when she watched him hang in agony on the cross? She could not. She did not though the details. She did not that she would one day urge Jesus to turn water into wine, that he would walk on water, or that he would one day be executed. She knew what God had promised, but she did not know how that promise would be carried out.
There are many things that we can learn from Mary as her story is presented in the gospels, but today as we consider what Mary did and did not know, what we should take away is that even though she did not know everything she was still faithful to what God was calling her to do. After the angel told her what was to happen, Mary replied “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” Mary knew who Jesus was to be, she knew the gravity of what God was asking her to do. However, she did not know the full story. She knew her child was special but she did not know what that meant, or what pain that would cause her. In the same way, we can follow God’s leading with confidence but we have to be willing to follow even though we do not know the full story.
And we do not like that do we? We like to know where we are going and what is going to happen. We do not like the idea of committing until we know exactly what we are saying yes to in great detail. We tend to only like sure bets and we try to avoid risks. We want to know the full story before we sign on, but that is not how God works. Abraham did not know where he was going when God told him to go. Moses did not know what was in store for him when he met God at the burning bush, David did not know what he would go through when Samuel anointed him king. The disciples did not know what they were in store for when they left their nets behind when Jesus said “follow me.” And Mary did not know what being the mother of the son of God would entail. In all of those instances though, there was an assurances from God. They knew they could count on God, even if they did not where that would lead them. They had to trust God in the process. They did not know what the ups and downs would be, but they knew that God was the one that was asking them. Mary was not the first person who God asked to do something, and who faithfully said yes without knowing where it would lead. Mary was also not the last. God is also still calling and wanting us to trust him.
It is probably a fair statement that none of us have had an angel visit us the way Mary did, and none of us have had as much asked of us as Mary did. However, we do have the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised us, and I sincerely believe that through the Spirit, God still leads us and guides us today. Sometimes the Spirit is a still small voice that speaks to our inner most being, other times it is a nagging feeling about what we need to do and it does not go away until we do it, and other times the Spirit leads with a sense of urging that it feels like we are going to jump out of our skin if we do not do it. If we are not careful we can be guilty of ignoring the Spirit. We try to silent that small voice, we run from God’s leading, we hide out of fear. We run and we hide because we do not know the whole story. We tell ourselves we would gladly do whatever God is telling us to do, if we knew what it all entailed, if it was safe. That is not how it works though. God call us, and we choose to respond or not. We choose to trust in only what we can see or we trust in the loving creator of the universe.
They do not come along every day, but if we are faithful at seeking to follow God then we will find ourselves in a moment, a point of decision. Sometimes these come upon us in a flash, and other times they build up over months and months of discerning and deep reflection. I know for myself and many of my clergy colleagues their calling in ministry was one of these pivotal moments. From time to time in our lives and in our faith journey we reach a point where it becomes clear that God is calling us to do something, to take a risk, and make a real difference. When these times come we will not have an assurance that it will be safe, that it will be comfortable, or that we will succeed by our definition of success. What we can be assured of though is that God is with us. We may not know what the end plan is going to be, but we can be faithful step by step because we know that God is faithful to us. When we follow God’s leading we may not know what tomorrow is going to bring, but God does and that should fill us with hope. Like Mary, our response should be “I am the Lord’s servant.”
I do not know what it is in your life, but if God is calling you to take the risks that you have not yet taken, may you follow the example of Mary and say “I am the Lord’s servant.” Whatever step in faith you need to take, may you stop waiting for it to feel safe and may you instead trust in God to be there for you. Chances are being faithful to what God is leading you to do, will lead you physically, emotionally, or spiritually to places you were not expecting, to things you could not anticipate. There is a reason that we talk about living our faith we often talk about a faith walk or faith journey. If we are being faithful in following God, then that should take us places. We may not know all of the winds and the bends in the path, but we know who sent us and we know that God is faithful to us. So, may we follow Mary’s holy example. May we be faithful to God, may we be the Lord’s Servant, and may we go where ever God is leading us.