Luke 1:26-38, 46b-55

This week’s gospel reading is The Annunciation or the announcement that Mary will have a child.  The angel or messenger from God said:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary’s response is surprise, confusion and questioning.   She says “How can this be?”

The God’s messenger tells her “nothing will be impossible with God.”  Even her old and barren cousin, Elizabeth is pregnant things thought impossible are now becoming realities.

Mary concludes with words of surrender “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”

  • What do you think of when you hear the word ‘surrender’?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • Do you hear it as a positive or a negative, or does it depend on the context?

Mary accepts what God’s messenger has told her. This is often emphasised, and Mary is honoured because of her humility, obedience and submission.  We may be tempted to see Mary as passive, non-resistant or resigned.

  • I wonder if we hear it this way because it is coming from the mouth of a young girl?

Her response “here I am” was also the response of others who had been called by God.  Take for example the great faithful prophets, Moses (Exodus 3:4), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8, 65:1), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:14).  Then of course there is the patriarchs, Abraham, Esau and Jacob (Genesis 22:1, 27:1, 31:11 and 46:2).  

  • When heard from them do you hear the same passivity or do you hear bravery and action in response to God’s word?  If you hear Mary’s response differently why do you think that is?

Mary, like the others that have been named, is accepting a challenging divine commission.  She is pledging her commitment to the task.  It is an activist’s response!  She does surrender, but that is not a passive giving up but an active taking on.  Mary has a voice, and she uses it.  She questions; “how can this be?”  She accepts; “here I am… let it be”.  She sings her song, Mary’s song, the Magnificat which comes from the Latin for “magnify”.  In this song we see someone who has a feisty nature and has a prophetic focus.  Her song begins:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
       and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
       Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
       and holy is his name.”

  • Mary calls herself blessed.  What does blessed mean to you?

In our culture to be “blessed” or to “feel blessed” means things are going well, life is happy and going the way we want it to, all is right with the world.  “Blessed” has come to mean living a life of privilege and comfort.  Is this what Mary meant?

By our standards Mary does not look at all blessed. She may have been chosen by God to be the mother of the messiah but what does this practically mean?  God’s gift is not for her personal gain, or popularity, or privilege.  Rather this nobody, a peasant girl from a small village is likely to have her friends and neighbours see her as a disgrace because she is unmarried and pregnant. It is something that could threaten her life.  Not only will she bear God’s Son, but she will bear the unspeakable grief of watching as her son is rejected, shamed, and crucified.  Despite all this, Mary praises God for honouring her.  She does not expect life to be easy but her prophetic focus means she can see the way God is turning the world upside down:

“He [God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

God fills the hungry not just with hope, but with food.  Rather than being satisfied with comforting the lowly, Mary’s God lifts them up, granting them dignity and honour, a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation. At the same time, God shows strength by disrupting the world’s power structures, dethroning rulers, and humbling the mighty.

While we can see how this is good news for the poor, what does it mean for the wealthy and powerful?  Is there any good news for them?  What about us?  Sure, we might not be billionaires or even millionaires, but we are not the poor.  What does it mean for us?

The answer depends on how willing we are to surrender.  How well we are able to surrender.  Are we able to empty ourselves?  Are we able to be humble and let go of control and power?  Are we able to stop focusing on ourselves and our own accomplishments and instead direct our gaze to God – to redirect our awe to God?

The choice is ours for our God is a God who seeks our consent and our cooperation in the task of bringing new life and love and hope to birth in a dangerous world.  This is not a God who supports those rulers who grant themselves the right to decide what is best for others, whether it be democracy or industrialisation or free market economics, and impose it on them by force.  Our God does not coerce or force His will upon us.  Our God is a God of invitation, freedom and gives us free will.

We are called to follow Mary as the model disciple, not because she was blindly obedient and subservient but because she surrendered, she let go of any sense of power and control and gave herself to God’s purposes.  We too are called to give our consent to cooperating with God’s purposes.  We are called to re-direct our focus from ourselves from our needs, our value, our success, our power and control and focus instead on God.  It can be harder for us, harder for those who are more well of for we have a greater sense that we are in control.  We have more to let go of than poor young, nobody Mary did.  If, with the Spirit’s help, we find the strength to surrender ourselves to God we begin to see as God sees.  Our compassion for the poor and oppressed grows.  We can dream of a world where every person is treated with dignity and respect, and no one uses power to harm.  We move “from being fear-driven to being love-drawn” (Richard Rohr).  We become Christ bearers for the world wherever we are sent.

May you know you are favoured by God, not at the expense of anyone else or in comparison with anyone else but because you are one of God’s children.  God is particularly fond of you!  With you He is well pleased!  May your response be: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Rev Tammy Hollands