December 20, 2015, Local Girl Wins Big – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: 120428_001
Every year as part of our Christmas Bazaar we have a small raffle. It serves several purposes. Most obviously, the Women’s Guild earns money through the raffle that is used for the ministry of the church. We also support the community by raffling off gift cards from local businesses. And partly, it’s just fun. This year our Grand Prize was a beautiful quilt made with love and craftsmanship by Carol Cavallaro, who was a member here for many years and is still very much a part of us.
The most fun part is letting people know that they have won something. They are delighted; it makes people really happy to win something. They are surprised by grace. And not because they desperately needed $25 worth of gas or groceries – though that is handy – but mostly, I think, because it’s a little moment of grace in a world where gracious things hardly ever seem to happen – or at least they hardly ever happen to us. So many people, when they win the raffle, say, “I NEVER win anything!” What they mean is, “Things like that don’t happen to people like me.”
Today we read a story where that sort of thing happened in a much, much, much bigger way – we read about people who were surprised by grace on a cosmic scale. It began when Mary was visited by an angel, who presented her with wildly unbelievable news. If you’ve ever seen on TV where Ed McMahon shows up at somebody’s house with the check from Publisher’s Clearing House, this is a billion times more amazing. Looking at representations of the Annunciation like our beautiful window, or classic paintings on Christmas cards, the coming of Gabriel to the virgin Mary looks joyful in a very calm and peaceful and controlled way, but the reality would have been so very different. We are so familiar with the story that we have to stop and take a fresh look if we really want to understand what happened.
The Bible doesn’t give us details, but it is most likely that when Gabriel came to make his announcement, Mary was a very young teenager – maybe 12 – 14 years old, which would have been an average age for a girl who was engaged to be married. And one of the most remarkable things about this young girl is that she chose to receive the angel’s new as GOOD news. It was far from an unmixed blessing, this being chosen to bear the Child who had been promised to Israel, and to the whole world. Being pregnant out of wedlock was sure to expose her to gossip and suspicion, and possibly to being rejected by her betrothed husband, Joseph. In fact, we know that’s exactly what Joseph was planning, in as kindly a way as he knew how, when the angel came to him and explained things. It had to have been the most terrifying good news anyone ever received. But Mary chose to rejoice. (Remember I talked last week about joy being a choice?)
Mary chose to rejoice. She heard the angel’s announcement and she cried out, “Wow! Things like that don’t happen to people like me!” Somehow this young girl – a nobody, really, in the eyes of the world – somehow she understood the immensity of what the angel was telling her – she understood that the coming of this Child changed absolutely everything. That after that moment the world would never be the same. We know how things have always worked in this world – the rich and powerful take what they want and the poor and meek are left to fend for themselves and no one really cares. The ghost of that world is still with us – don’t we grieve every day for this world around us that is dying for lack of justice and kindness and mercy? But this Child – who was no more than a single cell on that day in Nazareth – meant that there was a whole new reality: Where the last would finally be first. Where the greatest would be the servant of all. Where God’s favor would finally rest on the very least of these.
Mary knew that in her heart – and how she knew is one of the greatest wonders of this whole story – but she knew, and she celebrated, she rejoiced, with the song we still read and sing today. “The Mighty One has done great things for me – for ME!” she sang. “Things like this don’t happen to people like me!” But now – “He has cast the powerful down from their places of power, and he has raised up the lowly out of their shame and hopelessness. All those people whose bellies were empty, he filled them with good things – but those who always hoarded the good things for themselves, those he sent away empty-handed. He remembered his children. He kept his promises.”
It is a song of hope, and we can only sing it, as Mary did, in faith. Because we don’t see it yet – any more than Mary herself did. In Mary’s day the lame and blind sat in the dust on the roadsides begging for coins from the rich and powerful people who walked and rode past them, well-fed and well-clothed. In Mary’s day the poor put their children to bed hungry, while the rich ate and drank their fill at feasts. In Mary’s day the king had the power to order the slaughter of little children, and no one stopped him or refused to obey his orders.
And to the unbelieving eye things have not changed very much at all, unless it is that they have grown worse. The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. People live in fear and hatred of anyone who has a different race or religion or sexual orientation or political view. People are so afraid for their lives that they carry guns to work, and to the grocery store, and even to church. Countries refuse to welcome families with no place to go, while back in their homeland their villages are being destroyed. Herod the Great is long gone, but little children are still being slaughtered.
But Mary’s song reminds us that God chose to be born into this hopeless mess of a world, and that that birth changes everything. Mary’s song calls us to choose joy and not despair in the dark of the world’s night. She calls us to hear the announcement of the angel with humility and wonder, as her cousin Elizabeth did – “Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Who are we, what are we, that the Son of God should come to make his home in our poor world? Who are we that the Son of God should come to make his home in us? We choose to rejoice, and we sing with Mary: Our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord, our spirits rejoice in God our Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servants; he has looked with favor on us, on you, on me. The world would have us believe that things like that don’t happen to people like us, that God would never move into our neighborhood, that he would never choose us. But that is exactly what he did. God came to us, became one of us, made his home with us. And so, along with Mary and Elizabeth and the unborn baby who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the coming of our Lord, our souls magnify the Lord. Our spirits rejoice in God our Savior. Because he has done great things for us; and holy is his Name.