Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 24, 2017
“A Revolutionary Kind of Humble”
Luke 1: 26-38 – New Revised Standard Version
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. Her name was Mary. 28 Gabriel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 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.”
“The angel Gabriel did not like delivering surprises. People’s reactions vary too wildly. They’re too unpredictable. Some people jump and scream – like they’ve won the lottery. Others burst into tears. Some people hear the news and hold their breath until they faint. Gabriel didn’t like these assignments – yet, for some reason, he kept being sent out to deliver news from God, surprising unsuspecting human beings.
His latest assignment was to a girl named Mary. Gabriel had to announce that God had chosen her to be the mother of God’s own child. “That’ll go well,” he thought. What would it be this time? Screams, tears, fainting… or all three. Or some new form of terrified, panicked expression? What if she runs away?
Since this was such a big one, Gabriel tried to think extra hard of ways not to scare her before speaking even one word. Maybe just knock on the door? But what if the neighbors saw him standing there in his wings? Maybe write the words, “God is with you” in flour on the table where she was making bread. Too weird! Whisper the news in her ear? Sing a special song that only she could hear. But she might think she was losing her mind.
Gabriel was standing in the middle of her house as he tried to put a plan together. He assumed she couldn’t see him; nobody else had before. But when he looked up, she was looking right at him. With a mixture of curiosity and wonder. She could see him! Who is this?
In fact, he was so startled that when he stepped out completely from the curtain between heaven and earth, he just blurted out the words, “Hello, favored one of God. Do not be afraid, God is with you.”
She calmly nodded her head with a quizzical expression.
He was still so thrown by Mary’s tranquil reception that he rushed on breathlessly, “And God has sent me to tell you that you will have a baby, a boy, his name will be Jesus and he will be the Son of God most high and savior of the world.”
She was quiet, taking in his words. “How can this be?” she calmly asked.
“God’s Holy Spirit will wrap you in God’s love and the child will begin to grow inside you. He will be holy and blessed.”
Gabriel gasped for air. He didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath the whole time.
Mary just quietly sat down in a chair. No screams, no tears, no fainting. She studied her hands for a moment and then raised her brown eyes to the angel’s face and said, “I love serving God in any way I can. I’ll do it. I’ll be whoever God invites me to be.”
As he turned to pull back the curtain, Gabriel saw that his hand was trembling. This girl had certainly surprised him. So confident; so calm. He looked at her again and she smiled and told him, “Don’t be afraid, Gabriel. God is with you.” They both laughed as he stepped behind the curtain.
“Now THAT was a surprise,” he thought. Maybe surprises aren’t so bad after all.”
Some of the oldest words in the Bible are lyrics known as Deborah’s Song. You might be surprised by how violent they are, but her words declare victory over their enemies – including graphic descriptions of motions involving stakes and heads. It makes the stories of David and Goliath sound tame. Back before they had kings, judges were the rulers in ancient Israel. Deborah was a mighty judge, so respected that she had to take the hand of her military commander to lead him into battle because without her, he was too scared. That’s how they secured victory against tremendous odds. She was quite the contrast to typical rulers in her day, but I dare say she agreed: “I’ll be whoever God invites me to be.”
Equally ancient are the words of Miriam’s Song after she and her brother Moses led the Hebrew people across the Red Sea, declaring victory for the former slaves. Dancing and singing, she celebrated that the Pharaoh’s horses and drivers were hurled into the sea. Also, rather violent. But dare I say she would agree: “I’ll be whoever God invites me to be.” Along with Hannah too.
Upon Samuel’s birth, hear the words of Hannah’s Song:
“My heart exults in the Lord;
My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies…
For the bows of the mighty are scattered.
God raises the poor from the dust,
God lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor.”
They are all reversals of fortune, songs from willing and triumphant women.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising that after Gabriel left, Mary sang what we call the Magnificat. Echoes of previous songs: “God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has toppled the rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” Another in a line of triumphant songs by powerful women in the ancient world.
So, why does the world insist on portraying Mary as poor, meek, and mild? Doe-faced, downward gazing. Why is the focus on Mary as a virgin when, if she were the fulfillment of prophecy, Isaiah speaks only of a young woman? A “young woman” shall give birth to the Messiah. Jews are curious by this Christian interpretation, adding “If you’re going to appropriate our scripture, then why this insistence on her virginity?”
Therefore, we should continue to set the record straight. Here are three things about Mary I think are more important:
1)She may have been surprised that she had been chosen to give birth to the savior, but Gabriel does not have to explain what it means. She is well versed in the prophets and understood the implications of the Messiah’s birth.
2)Second, she declared those implications in the Magnificat, in words that are brave and defiant, speaking out against an oppressive Empire, railing against the rich and powerful, predicting an uprising of the humble and poor. This was not the exercise of her freedom of speech but a dare, for which she faced possible imprisonment and death. She spoke of treason. Nevertheless, she persisted!
3)Third, she was faithful (full-of-faith). Mary may have been a young woman, virgin or not (seriously, who cares?). But this is not the end of her story. She raised Jesus to be the kind of prophet who called hypocrites “hypocrites.” And who, like her, willingly faced the consequences. Mary is the one person who never left his side, even standing below him as he was executed on a cross. She was there on the day of Pentecost and remained a leader in the early church until her death.
Mary – poor, meek, and mild…? Only a self-effacing servant? Merely a vessel, the means by which something else more important can happen?
I think not. For Mary was a God-infused, Spirit-filled insurrectionist. She stands in a long line of Deborahs and Miriams and Hannahs, in a line that includes Tamars and Rachels and Ruths. And Elizabeth Cady Stantons and Sojourner Truths and Fannie Lou Hamers. Not merely vessels for someone else but, on their own, the defiant prophets of God’s truth. “Hark the Heralds” of justice and liberation for those at the bottom, proclaiming the reversal of the world’s fortunes. And ours too, by the way.
Because, lest we only celebrate the actions of people we can point to – “They are heroes.” “I could never be like them.” Because, whether she was a prophet, disciple, or rebel, or poor, meek, and mild, all of it was grounded in humility. A revolutionary kind of humble. Humility is not humiliation. But, emptied of self, love can fill us. And a heart-space filled with love can drive away everything from self-pity to arrogance. All of the things that get in the way of being completely open to invite God’s will for us. Whether pride or possessiveness.
It was her revolutionary kind of humble that allowed Mary to declare to the angel Gabriel: “I’ll be whoever God invites me to be.” How powerful is that? And it is the thing I most want for us to experience.
You do know it is the decline of those surprising, unsuspecting invitations that causes us angst. Gabriel will have to keep coming back until he’s finished his assignment, so don’t be surprised if you hear him knocking at the door of your house, or writing with his finger in the flour as you make bread, or whispering in your ear, or singing a song only you can hear. You’re not crazy, but he can’t quit until you say yes. Until we join the revolutionarily humble Mary to say with expectation and anticipation, to say without fear or regret, “I’ll be whoever God invites me to be.”
Repeat after me:
“Invites me to be”
With that revolutionary kind of humble, whether it changes a little or a lot, your life will never be same.
Litany: A Modern Magnificat From John Shelby Spong’s “A New Christianity for A New World”
One: My soul sings in gratitude.
I’m dancing in the mystery of God.
The light of the Holy One is within me
and I am blessed, so truly blessed.
All: This goes deeper than human thinking.
I am filled with awe
at Love whose only condition
is to be received.
One: The gift is not for the proud,
for they have no room for it.
The strong and self-sufficient ones
don’t have this awareness.
All: But those who know their emptiness
can rejoice in Love’s fullness.
It’s the Love that we are made for,
the reason for our being.
It fills our inmost heart space
and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.
 “The Surprise” (adapted from the story by Bob Hartman, from an adaptation by Jane Anne Ferguson)
 Book of Judges 5
 1st Samuel 2
 Luke 1: 45-55
 Isaiah 7:14
 Adapted from leanne-hadley.com
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Travelling around the world