The Promise of Potential

The Promise of Potential

We return after a brief hiatus from these Sermon Notes, and now we are in the second week of Advent. This week’s text is one we often consider the beginning of the story, with Mary first learning that she’ll be having a baby. Surprise! Of course, we were reminded last week that Mary’s pregnancy is not the first to be announced.

As we enter into this part of the story, we are surely struck by Mary’s courage. But her courage is not only in her steadiness when faced with an angel or even the news that she would become pregnant. Note that she not only takes these things in stride, but that she commits herself completely. She responds to this news with courage, with authenticity, and with faith: “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”

Luke 1:26-38 (CEB)
26When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, 27to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” 29She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. 31Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

34Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”

35The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. 36Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. 37Nothing is impossible for God.”

38Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Consider these questions:

  1. This first question is not about this text or the coming sermon, but about these sermon notes. Are these notes and questions helpful? Do you read these by yourself or in a group? How do they help you learn about your faith and/or to grow in your discipleship?
  2. Consider Mary’s surprise when the angel appears. What would you do if a supernatural-looking figure appeared to you and started talking? How would you respond if that figure starting predicting events that you thought were unlikely or even impossible?
  3. How have you felt surprised or shocked by God’s presence and/or action? How did you respond? In hindsight, do you wish you had responded differently?

Post-Worship Update on 12/10

Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found at this link (will open in a new tab).

Sunday’s message on Mary connected this ancient figure with our current context and time. Mary isn’t given any background in these verses (or in the other Gospels); and while rich tradition from the Protevangelium (later writings from other authors that served in part as a kind of prequel for these Gospel narratives) fills in some background on Mary’s parentage and childhood, these are extra-Biblical writings and their authority remains up for debate.

Even Mary’s name is common, and to me there is significance in seeing Mary as a representation of every woman. Yet even in this common-ness, she is addressed with honor by the visiting messenger. It is in this way that she is truly seen in all of her woman-hood and her humanity and her imperfections and her vulnerabilities, and that—whether because of or in spite of all of this—she is honored as a child of God.

Mary’s initial reaction can be understood in the Greek to include a bit of fear, and this seems reasonable. I understand this fear at my core, because I think connecting authentically with God is risky. I think it can be scary to respond to God. Because God has a tendency to ask a lot.

But God not only asks a lot from us, but also empowers us through the Holy Spirit. So with this in mind, we can see how the angel leads up to this theological claim: nothing is impossible for God. And it is not just the miraculous birth that is being claimed here. Author Amy-Jill Levine (from whom we are sourcing this sermon series) goes beyond the proclamation of conception with this claim:

What is not impossible? It is not impossible that God could call us, indeed has called us, no matter our place or family of birth, economic status, or gender. It is not impossible that we can imagine a heavenly kingdom on earth, ruled by justice and compassion rather than by sword. It is not impossible that we can not only remember but also be inspired by our past stories and tell them, even live them, anew.

God calls us and equips us. We have the choice whether or not to respond. But it is telling that in this story, it is only when Mary responds (see it above in verse 38) that the angel finally leaves her alone!

Consider these questions:

  1. Read verses 26-27 again. It is rich in content and frames the beginning of the birth narrative. What stands out to you? Where does its importance lie? How does this help you to hear the rest of the story?
  2. When you think about Mary, what do you think about? What does she look like? What kind of personality do you imagine? Is she quiet or outgoing? What age do you imagine her to be? What is her demeanor? What are her mannerisms like? Ultimately, who is it that the angels sees and honors?
  3. Have you ever felt as though you were face-to-face with God or God’s messenger? How did you feel? How did you respond? Did you feel seen? Did you feel empowered? Did you feel like you had a choice in how to respond?

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