A sermon preached on December 20, 2020, by the Rev. Teri Daily on Luke 1:26-38 & 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16…
A few years ago a popular novel – The Shack by William Young – captured the attention of Christians across the US. In the book, the main protagonist Mack, whose daughter had been killed four years before, goes to a shack where he is met by the Trinity. God the Father is an African-American woman called Papa, Jesus is a Middle Eastern carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is depicted by an Asian woman. Every time Papa meets or speaks about a human being, she remarks how especially fond she is of him or her. She explains: “When I think of each of my children individually, I find that I am especially fond of each one.” We can understand that sentiment when it comes to two, three, or even nineteen children, but not almost seven billion. Maybe this is where we need to stretch and grow our spiritual imaginations…
The fourth Sunday in Advent is typically referred to as “Mary’s Sunday.” This is the Sunday when we hear about the Annunciation – the coming of the angel Gabriel to Mary to tell of God’s plan for her to be the mother of Jesus. And, instead of a psalm this morning, we read what is called the Magnificat or the Song of Mary. Mary begins by exclaiming: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” In the King James Version, it’s the familiar “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden…” “Looked with favor on his lowly servant…” “Regarded the low estate of his handmaiden…”
That God has regarded Mary in what she considers her “smallness” is mirrored by the way Luke narrows the frame of this story. In our gospel reading. Luke begins with the immensity of God, then narrows the scope to Galilee, and then to the village of Nazareth, and then to Mary who was engaged to Joseph. It’s as if the sun that illumines all of creation increasingly becomes more focused until we see a beam that shines on Mary alone.
I suspect Mary was surprised that God chose her for this task of giving birth to the Son of God, that her life seemed to have an irreplaceable value in God’s dream for the world. She may have wondered how it was that out of all the people in the world, God knew her by name and regarded her. Jesus’ life would show us that this regard for the individual is the way God operates; it’s who God is. Jesus may have come to save Israel (and ultimately the whole world), but he never failed to see the one person.
Michael Ramsey was the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1960s and early 1970s. He spoke these words to a group of parish priests, but he could just as easily have been speaking to all of us:
Amidst a vast world with its vast empires and vast events and tragedies our Lord devoted himself to a small country, to small things and to individual men and women, often giving hours of time to the very few or to the one man or woman. In a country in which there were movements and causes which excited the allegiance of many – the Pharisees, the Zealots, the Essenes, and others – our Lord gives many hours to one woman of Samaria, one Nicodemus, one Martha, one Mary, one Lazarus, one Simon Peter, for the infinite worth of the one is the key to the Christian understanding of the many.
The one man, one woman, one child is of infinite value to God. Like Papa in The Shack, God is especially fond of each one of us. And just as God regarded Mary, God regards each of us. God calls each of us to a unique role in the world – it’s our part of God’s dream for the world.
Our world is in crisis in so many ways. Sometimes it may seem that our work – our calling or ministry – doesn’t make much of a difference. Most of us will not develop an additional coronavirus vaccine, or solve global warning, or even have a regular podcast. But if we look at the life of Jesus, we know that living a gospel life doesn’t mean solving the world’s biggest problems. It’s enough to love in the way that God calls us to love. We all have a part in God’s dream for the world, but it is only a part.
This call to bring life and love to the world doesn’t pause or stop when our life is upended – instead, God meets us where we are. There’s nothing in scripture that makes us think that Gabriel came to Mary in the temple, as if God could ever be confined to a certain space or time or situation.
In today’s reading from 2 Samuel, King David tells the prophet Nathan that he wants to build a temple for the God of Israel. After all, David lives in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant (thought to be the place of God’s presence) still dwells in a tent. Initially Nathan is in favor of building a temple, but that night when he’s sleeping, the word of the Lord comes to him and says: ‘Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’”
In this time when our routines are disrupted and so many of us cannot be in our usual places of worship, the places we associate with the presence of God, we don’t need to feel abandoned or unseen by God. God has always moved among God’s people. Going where they go, meeting them where they are – be that a Zoom meeting, a You-Tubed service, in our loneliness or tears or joy.
So today, know that, just like Mary, God is especially fond of you. As God did with Mary, so God also regards you – wherever you are. Out of seven billion people in the world, God invites you, just like God invited Mary, to a particular way of participating in God’s dream for the world. How will you respond to that kind of love?
 I owe much in this sermon to the thoughts expressed in Sermon Brainwave Podcast #759: The Fourth Sunday of Advent, Working Preacher, Podcasts Archive – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary.