Text: Luke 1:26-56
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
December 24, 2017
This morning I would like to invite you to do some theology with me! No, you heard me right, we are going to do some theology together. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not the kind of theology that you would hear from Fr. Tad or Fr. Bill or Deacon Mary. I don’t have their PhD’s. Unlike them, you will never find me in a library. In fact, I have never been to school. I don’t even know how to read. But watch out if you mess with me. I don’t like to be put into a box or stereotyped. But I don’t want you to put me on a pedestal either. But I do understand the things of God, and I can speak of them. I also know a bit about the call of God, and how it can change one’s entire life. These are the kinds of stories I can share, and together we can reflect upon them and do theology together. I just ask that you hear me out. Shall we begin?
There I was in the kitchen. I was in an old dress and had tied on my ragged apron, holding my dustpan with that worn out handle in one hand as I tried to sweep up the mess I had made with the broom with the other. The reason I was sweeping was that I had just dropped a bowl of flour for the cake I had been making. I should have been upset. But I wasn’t. Instead, I was starry eyed. My mind was a million miles away. You see, the night before I got engaged!
Yes, that’s right, the most handsome guy in our village asked me to marry him. I couldn’t wait to tell the news to all my girlfriends. They would all be so jealous when they found out. Joe was a bit older than I, but he had a great job – he was a carpenter. He would never want for work. You see the Roman government who had taken over our country was building a brand-new city just a few miles from our village and Joseph was one of their head craftsmen they had employed. He would have work for years before it was finished. And what is more, he came from a good family. His parents traced their line right back to King David!
Well, there I was in the midst of my daydreams when suddenly an angel just showed up in the midst of my kitchen. “Greetings,” he said, “you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you.” “Say what?” I said as I dropped my dust pan and ran to the bathroom. I rinsed off my face and tried to catch my breath as I tried to recover from the shock. What would you do, if an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in your home? What I was about to discover was doing theology, for me at least, wasn’t going to take place in a library. It was going to begin when I had an unexpected encounter with God!
Well, by then I had recovered a bit. I wiped my face, and quickly put on some fresh make-up and went back to the kitchen. Gabriel, that was his name, was still there. I guess I must still have been in a state of shock because he said to me, “Mary, do not be afraid, you have found favor with God. You are going to have a baby, a son, and you will call his name, Jesus. He will be great, and God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will rule over the house of Jacob and his kingdom will be forever.”
Now my head was really spinning. I had to sit down. His words were bouncing off both sides of my brain. What was it that he was saying? Joe and I were going to have a baby? Well that not so unusual is it? Most newlyweds do have a child, eventually. But what else was he saying? That this kid would grow up and become king? Well, Joe was from the line of David, but with the greatest empire in the world ruling our little backwater country, how in the world was that going to happen?
Gabriel must have been reading my thoughts for he continued. “Your fiancée is not going to be the father. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most-High will overshadow you. Your child will be the Son of God!”
That’s when I fell off my chair! Is this guy for real? Does he mean it is going to happen, like right now? I’m not getting married for another six months. What will my neighbors say? What will my parents think? What will Joe do? I began to panic. Then suddenly I was calm. I begin to remember all the stories I had heard. How God spared baby Moses. How he delivered our people from slavery, how he sent fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice, and delivered Daniel from a den of lions. Maybe he was hearing my people cry in bondage and would again deliver his people – and here was his angel telling me that I was going to be part of this great drama. Calm now, but in awe, I said “I am the Lord’s servant, be it unto me as you have said. And then he was gone.
That is where doing theology began for me – that unexpected encounter with God. It was the seed bed. The cradle of my theology was the frightened confusion with I was faced with a visit from Gabriel. The nursery of my theology was that state of shock I was in when I discovered I had been utterly lost, and was now eternally grateful for this divine visitation.
I fled from the kitchen. Going my bedroom, l flung myself on the bed. I was a bundle of contradictions. I laughed and cried at the same time. It was both cry of desperation and the weeping of gratitude. It was laughter of relief and of nervousness. Have you ever felt that way? I felt like a person who does not know what she wants to do but who at the same time does not want to do anything other than stammer, “Lord, I am your servant, do with me as you will.”
Finally, I calmed down and fell into exhausted sleep. When I awoke the next morning, I knew what my next step would be. I would go see my cousin Elizabeth. She lived in Jerusalem. Her husband was a priest at our Holy Temple. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you, when Gabriel was in my home he also told that she too was also going to have a baby. Like Sarah of old, hers was to be a miracle baby. Liz is in her seventies! I could only imagine what she must be feeling. But somehow, I thought, that like me, she must be filled with contradictions. I hadn’t seen her since I was a little girl. But I decided we needed to talk!
I stayed with her for three months. We had a lot to talk about! When she first saw me coming down the road she ran out of her house to greet me. She kind of flinched and then started to giggle. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Am I that funny?” “No,” she replied, “Little Johnny just kicked me.” We both decided that he was saying hi to my baby.
That was the moment I began to do theology. Those months together, we shared our experiences with each other and began to reflect on what they meant. As we talked together, our internal conflicts began to subside. We continued to laugh and cry together. Poor Zack, Liz’s husband, he couldn’t say a thing (he was struck dumb by Gabriel because he couldn’t believe that his wife would have a child in her old age. But he got his voice back when John was born, and he obeyed the Lord by calling him John rather than Zack Jr. as everyone expected him to.) Anyway, all he could do was nod his head and smile or occasionally blink back a tear was we chatted away totally ignoring him. Sometimes it got too much for him and he would have to go outside and get some air.
As Liz and I reflected together, it became increasingly apparent that the wonderful lives that were developing inside our bodies were not about us. God had chosen us to be part of His big plan. Our names would be linked with Abraham and his wife Sarah, with Moses and his sister Miriam, with King David and his great grandmother Ruth, with Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai. Somehow, I knew that all generations who followed would call me blessed.
At last it was time for me to return to Nazareth. As we said our good-byes, I decided it was time for me to express my theology. I did it the only way I knew how. I sang a song!
(Press the arrow to hear Mary’s song)