“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
(Preached on Sunday, December 24, 2017)
Angels are rather pushy creatures! They burst into human lives and make their pronouncements, present their messages, and then are gone. Gabriel does not consult with Mary. He does not ask her if she wants to be involved – would she like to try out for the role – how does this sound to you? No, he tells her! This event is not called “The Request,” or “The Invitation,” but “The Annunciation.” Gabriel just shows up and announces to Mary what God is doing through her. That’s the way angels work because that’s the way God works. God initiates and expects us to join in. When God called Abraham to leave his homeland it was not so much an invitation as a command. When God called Moses from that burning bush there were not many “pretty pleases” offered. When God calls, the plan is already formulated, and God is only looking for partners to carry it out.
Of course, we human beings still have a decision to make. We still have a choice. We can say yes or no. we can take hold of the unknown life the angel holds out to us or we can defend ourselves against it however we can. You can say “no” to your life, but as Barbara Brown Taylor suggests, if you do “rest assured that no angels will trouble you ever again.”
How often do we doubt the big thing God might do because of some little fact about ourselves, about our condition, about our limitations? That was surely Moses’ objection at the burning bush that he was a wanted man in Egypt for having murdered a man and he had a speech impediment. And so we scratch around for an objection, or we raise a meaningless question, or we just try to ignore the beckoning, dropping our eyes and refusing to look up until we know the angel has left the room. Then we smooth our hair and go back to our spinning, or reading, or whatever it was we were doing, and we pretend that nothing has happened. But we forget, this choice is never a real choice, for the action is always God’s choice, God’s activity in the world, and when we do get that rare glimpse behind the curtain to see and understand what is happening in our lives and in the world, it is always a revelation, whether we like it or not.
It is this persistence of God which is a big part of why nothing is impossible for God. We human beings are pretty stuck on our importance to God’s mission. Had Mary said no, it probably would not have thwarted God’s mission. God would have just moved on to another, and then another, and then another until God found a young woman willing to become a partner in this amazing adventure God had planned. (That is why I love the poem printed in the front of the worship folder: The Other Annunciation. It points out the reality that there are always other people who are just as possible candidates for God’s activity; people who are faithful and hopeful and yet to whom the call never comes. At least not that call. In truth we all have a call, but more on that in a moment.)
God’s actions issue from God’s loving desire for the entire cosmos. As is always the case, this story is primarily about God and what God is doing more than it is about Mary. It is God’s persistence and creativity which is bringing the whole cosmos to fulfillment – regardless of my will or lack of will to be part of it.
Still, this humble but earth-shaking conversation tells us that God wants humanity to be part of the work, even if it makes things much more complicated and even difficult. The angel’s announcement to Mary demonstrates that God intends to draw Mary and all of us into what God is doing and God apparently is not willing to do this behind our backs or without our own participation. This is what makes Mary’s story our own. God wants us to join with God in achieving the impossible!
That was God’s invitation to Mary. (Let’s be clear, the impossible here is not the miraculous birth. The fact that Mary is a virgin is not the impossible idea. Would it be an easier to believe that Mary was to give birth to the Son of God, who would resurrect David’s throne and reign over Judah forever, if only she had had intimate relations with a man? Of course not!) The truly astonishing idea is that God would choose to become present in the world through a human being. Not an agent or servant of the divine will, but a human being who in himself would be God’s offspring. And that God would do so in a completely natural, human manner: conceived in a woman’s womb; where the fetus grows and matures until, nine months later, the Holy One comes forth as any human infant does. The fact that wonder of wonder, this child, fully human is fully manifesting the presence of god at the same time in human flesh – NOW THAT is what seems totally impossible!
But this is the God of the impossible! This is the God for whom nothing is impossible. Is it any more possible to actually imagine God tapping one little old Semitic man, Abraham, already nearly withered up and beyond the season of parenthood, for a special relationship with God, to begin a journey of faith which would lead to him becoming the father of a people, the Jews, through whom God would bless all the earth? Is it any more possible to imagine God truly caring enough about a Jewish peasant who walked the land teaching about God’s love and care for all people, especially those the world usually ignored, the poor, the widows and orphans, the outcasts, the sick, the prisoners, the blind and lame, so that God does not abandon him even when all his friends and followers do; even when his religion fails him; even when the state hammers him to death; but God affirms his life and his teaching and does not leave him to death?
And yet, as amazing as all that is, what is most amazing to me is that God would choose a young man who never quite felt at home with his family; who always felt like an outsider at home and at school; who never quite felt that he measured up or was really part of the group; who never desired the spotlight; who also knew too well his own weaknesses and his own rebelliousness. Yet God wanted that young man in seminary, and in the ministry, and God would work through him to build communities of acceptance and welcome where anyone and everyone can feel at home and be part of the group. I would never have chosen this life for myself and most of my friends from high school will tell you they were as shocked as I was that God tapped me for this life. But the truth is, as my life unfolded, and as I have been able to say “yes,” “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let is be with me according to your word” that is exactly what God has done. And I know that I have been in exactly the right place and that yes, God is the God of the impossible and God has invited me to join in achieving the impossible.
Deciding to say “yes” to God’s call in one’s life is never easy. It was not easy for Mary, and it carried great risk for her. It always carries great rick for us, too. It always seems impossible. Whether that call is to become more politically engaged in order to stand up for justice on behalf of the poor, or children, or the elderly, or children of immigrants in this country without papers, or for Muslims, or Mexicans, or Haitians, or other marginalized persons in our society. Whether that call is to not give in to despair but to hold onto hope that God’s Spirit is still at work and that evil will not triumph or overwhelm. Whether that call is to take that less demanding job, or let that promotion go, in order to have more time to devote to raising and caring for your children. Whether that call is to continue living in faith, even as the years lengthen and your purpose for living grows more difficult to understand. Whether that call is to say yes when the Nominating Committee suggests that they, after prayer, feel God is inviting you to serve the Church in a particular way. In so many ways through the years God’s call comes to us, over and over again. So often, the calls seems impossible to us. When confronted in this way let us remember though, the young woman, once visited by an angel, who was called to embrace the most mysterious and impossible of truths about God’s plan for her life. With Mary, let us respond: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” After all, our God is the God of the impossible and God wants us to join God in the impossible.