Jeremiah 29:10-14 & Luke 1:26-38; 46-55
During the next four weeks we will be looking at four of the main players in the Christmas story of two thousand years ago.
Each of them was thrown into a quandary or dilemma that would turn their world upside down.
We will walk beside them, and hopefully understand them a little better and see their relevance and example for our own lives and our journeys of faith.
Mary, is to become the earthly mother of our Lord and Saviour. But before that could occur she had a dilemma – whether to say yes or no to the task that was being offered by God.
The word dilemma can be defined as a difficult situation or problem that arises. Someone in a dilemma might ask of themselves or others – ‘What do I do?’; ‘How can I move forward?’; ‘How can I solve this?’ or ‘What will my life look like now?’
Mary was probably a teenage girl, from a backwater of Israel – the small village of Nazareth – out in the sticks – in the even smaller backwater of the Roman Empire.
Nazareth did not have a good reputation – like many towns and villages around Galilee – and as someone asked in John 1:46 – ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’
But we know God chooses to do great things in big cities like Jerusalem and in small villages like Bethlehem and Nazareth, as he does in Sydney and in Jamberoo. The chief thing to know is that God is at work, sometimes creating new tasks, dilemmas and challenges but always working with and standing beside Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, the Shepherds and the folks of Kiama-Jamberoo Uniting Church – as the words of Jeremiah echo – ‘For I know the plans I have for you – plans not to harm, and a place where I will be found by you’.
Let’s come back to Mary and the process and discernment in her saying ‘Yes!’
It’s important to note that from the early part of the Lukan reading, Mary is not only a virgin but ‘betrothed’. Betrothal in biblical times means that this woman was legally married to Joseph, even though they had yet to consummate the marriage with a wedding, a feat and sexual relations. Once a betrothal was in place, in the eyes of the law, a couple were married. If she said ‘Yes’ to God, she would face criticism, ridicule, character assassination and perhaps worse.
The law of her day stated that Joseph could divorce her and even submit her to death by stoning, for becoming pregnant to someone else.
But Gabriel (the Angel) opens with the words, ‘Greetings o favoured one, the Lord is with you.’
Mary is told in those words that whatever the dilemma she faced, she would not face it alone. Also, she is given an assurance that she is a favoured one because she is the recipient of God’s grace.
The term ‘favoured’ in Greek is ‘Kecharitomene’ and is only used in one other passage – Ephesians 1:6 to describe the glorious grace that flows to those who follow God’s ways.
(This gift of grace would – no doubt – hold her up and help her cope during the hard years to follow – especially during the exile to Egypt and the crucifixion of her first born son.)
Nevertheless Mary was afraid and then wondering and ‘greatly troubled by the news’ and almost incredulous with it, ‘Since I am a virgin’ she says.
Mary is at her most human at this point – she is young, this is an unexpected turn for someone who probably had mapped out her life as a cooperative wife and the enormity of the task before her – to bring up the son of God – she must have been giddy with it all.
But – in her fear, her wondering, her questioning, she is discerning which way to go – and thankfully for us – she says ‘Yes’. And she sings a beautiful song which we know as the Magnificat – praising and glorifying the good of her – and our – God.
There will always be consequences for her saying ‘Yes’ and she sings in verses 51-53, that others will also be impacted by the resolution of the dilemma.
The proud, the mighty, the rulers, the rich will have their own dilemmas when God shifts his favour to the poor and humble and the weak and oppressed. Perhaps these are also qualities of Mary herself.
May is, as we read, well and truly in God’s spotlight, but she was not paralysed by her emotions or troubles. She moved past them in her discernment in humble confidence, even though her decision was always a risky and costly proposition.
As we try to discern how God is at work around us or in us and how best to join him, may we not be paralysed by fear or a troubled heart.
The beautiful truth of Christmas is that the Lord was not only with Mary all the way, but with us too, when we call upon his name and walk through life empowered and accompanied by his Holy Spirit.