Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Annunciation to St. Mary

Sermon / Homily on Luke 1:26-38

Dance of Faith

by Pastor David Van Kley

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 47-55

This Sunday, we are invited to join a dance of faith with young Mary, who conceived a child under the most unlikely, disturbing circumstances--yet greeted the news with profound trust in God.

When I read of Mary, I think of two young women I knew in the first parish I served: Missy and Tammy. Both came from messy homes. At 16, Missy was our baby-sitter. A sweet, dutiful girl, with tightly curled, platinum blonde hair and one eye that wandered to and fro. She was the victim of abuse by both her mom and her dad. She liked hanging around our home because it was safe and because we loved and encouraged her. Though her parents had no connection to the church, she'd become an adopted daughter of Trinity Lutheran Church. Missy's gifts were her sincerity and willingness to help. My goodness, if you wanted something done, she was eager to do it! Everyone saw her as a person with great potential. But the power of darkness had a strong affect on Missy—by the time we left that community, though still a teenager, Missy was using alcohol and drugs and had given birth to her first child. I wonder what has happened to her. I wonder if she's dancing with Mary these days.

The other girl was even younger. When we left, Tammy had just finished confirmation, which in that congregation came in the 8th grade. Tammy was very bright—at the top of her class. She was creative—this painting which hangs in our den was a farewell gift from her! But Tammy came from a dirt-poor family that lived in a trailer way out in the woods, near the tiny town of Beechwood. Alcohol abuse was endemic in her home. Her parents would go out, leaving her, the oldest of their many children, to care for the family. When we left, Tammy was still holding up under the strain of it. But whenever I look at her painting, I wonder what happened to her. I wonder if she was able to break free of the cycle of abuse and underachievement. I wonder if she, too, gave birth to a child at 16. I wonder if she found anyone to support and encourage her. I wonder if she's fulfilled her great potential and uses the gifts God gave to her. I wonder if she's dancing with Mary.

Maybe you know girls like Tammy and Missy. If you've ever visited the Quest and Excel corrections camps, you've met them. Girls with all the potential in the world, girls you'd like to take home with you—but girls who, for one reason or another, took a wrong turn and ended up in deep trouble. You can't really blame them: they've come from homes where they've had few advantages, emotional or spiritual, social or financial.

It may be helpful to think of Mary as such a girl. No doubt, some of her contemporaries did! Mary was young, too—14 or 15. She came from the no-account, backcountry town of Nazareth. Just when she had a hopeful future ahead of her—betrothed to a blue-collar carpenter named Joseph—she blew it with a premature pregnancy. Even today, it creates a stir when a 14 or 15 year old girl gets pregnant, but in the first century, such a pregnancy was a moral disaster, the ruin of a person. Certainly, the angel's "good news" did not at first seem good to Mary.

Or believable. This messenger, Gabriel, was a shadowy figure, not a certified obstetrician! Mary was a peasant—how could she give birth to a new king—and more than a king? And then, there was the fact that she wasn't sexually active. Oh, that!

I bet Mary's knees were knocking and her heart was racing when Gabriel proclaimed this news! No wonder Mary doubted the angel's words and questioned their promise!

Which makes what happened next even more amazing. When the angel said "nothing will be impossible with God," something clicked inside of Mary. That statement produced faith in her. With unbelievable calm and courage, she said: "let it be with me according to your word." Her words remind me of some her son would later use: "not my will, but Thine be done."

Martin Luther identified three miracles in this text. The first was the appearance of an angel: not much of a miracle for a God who can summon thousands of angels. The second was the conception of a child by a virgin. Amazing, but then: God created the world out of nothing! The third miracle, Luther said, was the faith of Mary. To breathe such faith into the breast of a troubled young girl—that was the greatest miracle of all!

Our Catholic friends do well to admire Mary! Through her, we receive God's greatest gift, Jesus. Today, when we receive Christ's forgiveness at the altar, it is because Mary once heard God's promise and believed it. Because Mary believed, the Christ child was born and went to his cross. Because of Mary, we live in the grace and freedom of the gospel!

But Mary's story also forces us to examine our own. Is there a sense in which we are like her? Is there any sense in which we are pregnant, perhaps not literally, but pregnant nonetheless, with future possibilities that are uncertain, that are terrifying? How do we respond in such situations? Do we hear God's voice? Do we trust God's promise? Do we dance with Mary?

Are an older person with health problems, facing a decline in your abilities, physical or otherwise? How will you live this future? In fear and frustration? Or will you dance with Mary?

Are you standing at a vocational crossroads, between one job and another, one career and another, a life of work and a life of retirement? These are not easy transitions. How will you respond? Will you dance with Mary?

Maybe you are younger—still trying to figure out what God has in store for your life? What college will you enter? What course of study will you pursue?

Are you going through a divorce and are not yet sure what life will be like on the other side? Struggling with your sexual orientation? Trying to make it in life for the first time without alcohol? Fighting doubts about religion: your ark of faith, the one your parents built for you, has foundered on the rocks and now you are trying to build a new ship, one that will float on troubled seas?

Maybe it is nothing so drastic. Maybe you are only facing the issues people face every day: should you serve on that board or not? Should you say yes to that request? Will you sell the house, study for the test, buy the car, visit your parents or stay home this Christmas?

Life itself is a little like being pregnant. Life means being heavy with uncertainty and yet also with promise. It's normal to feel a rumbling in our stomachs, whether the ache of mild morning sickness or the deep discomfort women feel at the end of term. Life is often uncomfortable. We doubt ourselves. We worry. We fear. Yet, we also sense the promise of new life beyond your pain.

And what if God is the one who is doing this to us? What if the angels of God are present to us, even now, calling us to be bearers of Christ's love in some unlikely, even disturbing way? What if the angels of God are saying to us, right now: "Don't be afraid! You have found favor with God! You are chosen, for this particular thing. Remember: nothing will be impossible with God!"

Because this is what I think. This is what I think is happening to me and to you. This is what I think is happening to Michelle and Chad Lehmann, as they await the birth of their first child this week. This is what I think is happening to Amy Lockhart, who faces surgery next month. This is what I think is happening to Trevis Loosbrock and Lilly Schaupp, who travel to Nicaragua in February. God is acting in this world. God has chosen Mary and God has chosen me and God has chosen you. And nothing will be impossible with God.

The question remains, of course, whether we will believe that. God calls us, but God will not force us to be partners in the dance of faith. Through the Holy Spirit, God invites us to dance. How will we respond? I'm not sure how Missy and Tammy responded in the end. I am sure about Mary, the mother of God. I pray that you and I will respond in faith, will respond with words like hers: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word."

I close with a quote from one of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, who says of this text: "You can decide to take part in a plan you did not choose, doing things you do not know how to do for reasons you don't entirely understand. You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees. You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body."

May it be this way for you and for me, which is to say, Amen

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries, Bible Analyses on Annunciation to St. Mary

Malankara World Special on St. Mary

Malankara World Special on Shunoyo of St. Mary

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