Saying “Yes” to God, by Pastor Noel

December 24, 2017       4th Advent, B


      “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my savior.”

      How many of us would sing joyfully like that if Gabriel came and gave us the news he gave Mary?

      In New Zealand there was a billboard about this. Mary is shown holding a pregnancy tester—it says “yes!” and Mary looks VERY worried.

      And why wouldn’t she be worried—her baby would make her life very strange, even dangerous.

      First, even though she and Joseph were engaged, and pregnancy in that event was not unusual or illegal—but Joseph was not the father, and if he wanted to, he could have had Mary stoned for adultery.

      Some scholars find evidence that Jesus was considered a mamzer, a child born with the wrong father. He would have lived as one of those on the outside of society, like all the ones he blessed and brought into God’s kingdom.

      Second, Mary is told to call the baby “Jesus.” Like many Biblical names, Jesus has a meaning far deeper than the names we give our children.

      Jesus means “he will save his people.”

      Since Mary is also told that he is the Son of God, saving his people will be a daunting, fearful, thankless and dangerous mission.

      She knew what had happened to others who had worked to save God’s people from whatever they wanted to get into—save them from themselves—save us from ourselves. She knew that the prophets were scorned, ignored, killed.

      One of my favorite Christmas songs is a fairly new one. Here’s part of it:

      Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?            Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little baby you’ve kissed the face of God.
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM!

      That billboard in NZ, and Luke, show us that Mary did know—and still she said yes.

      In some circles Mary is little more than a plaster saint. She’s up on a pedestal, humble and graceful in her blue robes, smiling, but without any depth or power.

      Luke gives us a different picture of Mary—she was not “meek and mild” (and neither was Jesus!) She was a revolutionary.

      The song Mary sings in Luke, the Canticle that we said today — speaks of God’s kingdom here and now, a fait accompli. Done.

      God’s kingdom is not the kingdom of the world. It is not the kingdom where wealth and status are important and welcomed.

      In Mary’s song the kingdom of God, the reign of God, is unexpected, shocking! Everything is upside down from what the world holds as truth.

      The “outsiders” are in, the hungry are fed and the ones who thought they were “in” are out.

      No more is wealth a sign of God’s favor. No more is power to be used against others.

      In God’s kingdom God’s justice rules— and in God’s justice there is enough for all.

      And there IS enough if we who have share with those who don’t.

      In this song Mary is reprising the message of the prophets over many centuries. She is almost repeating the song of Hannah, mother of Samuel the great prophet from whom we heard today.

      Hannah sings, “My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in my God…He raises up the poor from the dust, he lifts the needy from the ash heap.”

      You can find Hannah’s song in First Samuel.

      We didn’t hear it today, because the message the lectionary gives us has a different emphasis.

      God’s in-breaking new creation is not coming like Superman to “save the day.” God is coming to be with us and help us be the agents of the kingdom of peace and justice that is God’s will for us. God wants us to raise the poor from the dust, the needy from the ash heap. With God’s help.

      The Jews had been nomads and carried God with them in the tablets of the law that were in an ark—the ark of the covenant.

      Now they are settled and David wants to build a house for God to live in.

      Later Solomon does build the temple, but for now God says no to a house. God says that he is with us, always walking beside us. God doesn’t need or want a house.

      God doesn’t want to be stuck in one place, he wants to be with us and help us do the work that Hannah and Mary sing about, the work that the prophets call us to, the work that Jesus lived.

      The angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”

      Mary found favor with God by saying yes to God—yes to this difficult, painful, wonderful thing that God was doing through her.

      Mary had a choice—she could have said no.

      Mary opened herself to the fullness of God. God calls us to open ourselves to his fullness so that, like Mary, we bring Jesus to the world.

      We also have a choice.

      When we make our choice “yes” and let God walk with us to help proclaim the kingdom he wills for us here, right now, today—then God’s message to us is “Do not be afraid.”

      When we open ourselves to see the world through God’s eyes — what a difference! The God helps us do what we can, with God’s help, to overturn the system that so out of control.

      There are so many ways we can be involved in helping restore God’s kingdom—so many issues to choose from. What tugs at your heart? Social justice, education, environment—right here or around the world, there are plenty of opportunities for us to step and say yes, as Mary did.

      Then we have God’s favor and God’s presence—what could be better? We will sing to God as Mary did, and not be afraid.

      I know it’s not Christmas quite yet, but when we say yes to God we get the best present we’ll ever have.


The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details