“Please Annunciate Clearly”
Sermon on Luke 1:26-38
December 18, 2005
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
For those of you who are parents, do you remember what it was like when you first found out that you were going to have a child? What were your emotions, your hopes, your fears, your worries? Had you decided on a name for the child? My parents really wanted me to be a girl. Had one, measly chromosome been different, I would be standing before you today as Stephanie! Some of you may have been filled with high hopes that your offspring would turn out to be “successful,” whatever that means. Some of you may have just wanted your children to have it better than you did. I know whenever I have a child, he or she will one day lead Duke’s basketball team to four national championships.
Others of you may have been caught a little off guard when you found out that you were going to be a parent. A child may have been the last thing you were thinking about having. It may have not been the most welcome occurrence in your life. But one thing is for sure regardless of your own circumstances…it changed your life forever! Listen again to these words from a little different translation by Clarence Jordan.
The messenger went in to see Mary and said to her,
“Hello, you blessed one. The Lord is with you!”
She was nearly bowled over by this,
and she wondered what to make of such a greeting.”
And so begins the most wonderful story ever told. A poor, uneducated peasant girl of about 13 is told by the angel Gabriel that she is going to become pregnant by a seemingly impossible method, and that she won’t even be able to name him Mephibosheth like she had always imagined her child would be known. She is told he will be named Yeshua, the Hebrew name meaning savior. No, this is one very unexpected pregnancy. You see, the Jewish custom of the time regarding marriage was very different from the way our marriages work. In our culture, a man and woman meet, fall in love, and the man saves every bit of money he can, eating nothing but spaghetti for months, working extra shifts at his job, worrying over just how to pop the question, hoping that the ring he chose will be good enough for his girlfriend. But in Mary’s time, and really for the vast majority of history, marriages were arranged by the families and it was as much an economic transaction as it was a mutual agreement.
Here’s how it worked: If a family had a girl, when she got to be about 12 or 13, her father would arrange for her to be married to an eligible male in the same clan (usually a cousin of some sort) who was about 16-18 years old. The families would agree upon the marriage, the amount of the dowry, etc. and the girl would be “betrothed” (what we sometimes translate into modern English as “engaged”) to the man. At this point, the couple was officially married, but the wife remained in her father’s house for about a year before she took up residence and thus marital relations with her new husband. However, if the marriage was to be dissolved, a formal divorce was necessary. So, Mary would have not been living with Joseph yet when the angel Gabriel showed her the stick that said “pregnant” on it.
No wonder the angel Gabriel told Mary that she shouldn’t be afraid. This poor 13 year-old girl was soon going to be the talk of the town. I wonder what emotions Mary was feeling when the angel gave her this news. She is told not only that she is going to be impregnated by God, but that the child will be a king who will rule forever. Why would God choose this unlikely poor teenage peasant for such an event as this! This event where the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be the mother of God clothed in human flesh is commonly called “the annunciation.” Like all big theological words, it has a really simple meaning. One way of defining annunciation would be “calling.”
Mary was not the first person to receive a strange calling from a heavenly creature or voice. The Bible is full of unlikely people who were called to be God’s servants. One of the first stories in the Bible, is the story where three angels come to visit a ninety-year old lady name Sarah to tell her that she is going to be pregnant even though she is old and her husband, Abraham, is 100 years old. Sarah laughs when these messengers relay this news to her husband and her son is named Isaac, or “laughter.”
I would think Mary would have found her strange calling to be at least slightly unbelievable. If God were to do something as dramatic as come to earth in the flesh, would he not rather do it in little more spectacular way than by being born in a stable to a teenage Jewish peasant? It’s a wonder that Mary didn’t follow Sarah’s lead and laugh. Why would God choose Mary for this? Why would God have chosen a 90 year-old Sarah to be the mother of a nation? Why would God have chosen a murdering, stuttering Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt? Why would God have chosen Saul, the one guy who was best known for persecuting the early church, to bring the gospel to the Gentiles? Why?
The fact is that God consistently chooses broken, inadequate, poor, weak, disagreeable people to be vessels of his love and to be instruments of his purpose. An ordinary 13 year-old virgin becomes someone extraordinary when called by God. A barren 90 year-old woman becomes a symbol of fertility and life when called by God.
Do you remember what it was like when you first found out that you were called by God for a higher purpose? What were your emotions, your hopes, your fears, your worries? This is a question that we ministers get asked frequently. In seminary, you come across a number of very interesting people. I mean, you are bound to come across some eccentric folk when you go to school for 8 years to work for some invisible dude in the sky. I have come across those who were called into the ministry in the strangest of ways. Some were called right after they looked death in the eye staring down the barrel of a shotgun at their desk. Some were called right after they stared down at an empty bottle of liquor at a bar. Some, like me, were called right after they stared down at an empty golden chalice at a church. How about you? Do you remember what it was like when you first found out that you were called for a higher purpose? You say you’ve never been visited by Gabriel? Sometimes Gabriel shows up where you least expect him to. And you know what, regardless of the circumstance—your life will never be the same.
A pregnancy changes everything. An annunciation, a calling, changes everything. A birth of a helpless child in a stable changed everything. Then why do we not allow ourselves to be changed? “Then Mary said, ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. Amen.