Advent 2020 – Mary Says Yes

Pastor Marissa Jadrich Ortiz — December 6, 2020

Today is the second Sunday in Advent. Advent is a part of the liturgical calendar where Christians around the world take the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Eve to anticipate new hope, peace, joy, and love as we anticipate the coming of the Lord.

For Advent this year, we want to remind ourselves that God is with us in the midst of hard times, cancelled plans, and in the midst of our disappointment, grief, and loss.

If God really is with us, when God closes a door, God is still with us in the closed room. Our hope isn’t centered on something ill-defined out there, but in the hope that God is with us in the closed door room.

Today we’re going to look at the story of Mary, Jesus’ mama. We’re reading from Luke chapter 1, starting in verse 26:

When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

This angelic visitation seems like the opposite of a closed door or window. It’s the kind of message from God many of us wish for: miraculous, specific, hopeful. Wow.

But here’s the catch for Mary–and for anyone who gets a clear divine message–when God opens this totally unexpected opportunity, God also closes the door on all our other plans. Saying yes to God means saying no to all the other competing hopes and dreams we carry.

And this isn’t just about divine messages. We experience these kinds of “closed doors” all the time in life. When you make plans to spend time with somebody on a Friday night, that effectively cancels all possible alternative friday night plans. When you choose a restaurant to order your takeout from, you’re saying no to all the menu items on all the other restaurants. And as things get more serious, this can become a cause for more concern or anxiety. When you say yes to a five year degree program, you can’t possibly know all the other things in life you’re saying no to. When you say yes to marriage, you’re closing the door on some of the independence of your single life, as well all the other possible marriage partners out there that might at some time seem more appealing than the spouse you chose.

Are you feeling all the FOMO with me yet? Don’t worry it gets better from here.

This icky situation where a commitment to one thing means a host of missed opportunities, the Bible word for this is FAITHFULNESS. Faithfulness is not a word we use much outside of church, and I’m always skeptical of words that only means something in church. But now you’ve got a little picture of it in some more real-life terms. If you’re feeling FOMO or wondering what future alternatives you’ve cancelled for yourself when you make a choice, you’ve probably made a commitment that involves some faithfulness.

Another way to think about faithfulness is as sort of a dramatic word for commitment. Making a promise and keeping it.  The good news for us today is that FAITHFULNESS IS GOD’S FAVORITE THING.

Faithfulness is God’s favorite thing about God. When God tells us who God is, the #1 quality that’s repeated is that sticking-with-us attribute. When God picks God’s name back by the burning bush with Moses, before God says “I am who I am” God says “I am the God of your fathers: Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, Jacob’s God.” God identfies Godself by the people God has made commitments to. When the Psalmists sing God’s praises, they sing that God’s faithful love lasts forever–they see in every one of God’s acts, from creation onwards (Psalm 136) God’s faithfulness playing out in their lives. When our ancestors in the faith were getting to know God, one of the most important things there was to know is that our God keeps promises.

We could call that loyalty, fidelity, often in the old testament it’s translated as love. Sometimes I don’t like calling it love because it makes God sound like a valentine more than a Mama Bear. But I think we’ve all experienced faithfulness as at the core of the strongest kinds of love. The people we feel most loved by are not the ones who give us warm fuzzy feelings inside but the ones who have made some kind of commitment to us. We feel really safe around people who keep their promises. God is allll about that faithfulness to the people God loves–including us.

More good news–faithfulness is also God’s favorite thing in other people. God celebrates faithfulness. God rewards faithfulness. God responds to faithfulness with an outpouring of power and blessing. So when you’ve made the kind of commitment that requires some faithfulness, the kind that does leave you somethings feeling closed in because you don’t have all the options you used to have–God is right there with you. Not just feeling closed in with you, but cheering you on, celebrating your choice, delighting that you’re making a piece of God’s character visible in the world around you.

In fact, faithfulness makes you GREAT in God’s eyes! It seems like the world around us doesn’t care much about faithfulness. There’s more admiration or incentive for personal ambition, doing what it takes to make it big, rather than making a commitment and sticking with it through thick and thin. So we might be left feeling like we have to make a choice between faithfulness and ambition. Between trusting God and achieving greatness. More good news in this story is that God doesn’t see it that way. God sees faithfulness as a prerequisite for greatness.

I’m going to say that again: God says, faithfulness is what makes God great at being God. And God says, faithfulness is what makes you great at being you. Whatever life path is ahead of you, whatever plans God has for you, I guarantee faithfulness is involved because it’s the stuff greatness is made of and God absolutely has great stuff for you.

Let’s go back to that message from the angel, it’s all in there.

Gabriel comes to Mary and says, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!”

The Lord is with you. God’s got your back! God is right here! Gabriel starts out with this declaration that God’s faithfulness is real and present, a reason to rejoice. Mary starts to think there might be more going on though. She’s confused by this greeting.

So Gabriel goes on: “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He 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. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

Gabriel’s word from God paints a picture of greatness for Mary’s son. Gabriel says, you’re being honored. You’re being invited into greatness as the mother to the next King David. Obviously receiving this honor, this greatness, requires her to respond with her own faithfulness. Saying yes to God’s direction and giving up on some of her own expectations for what her marriage or family would be like, even what she would name her baby. It’s not going to be an easy time for Mary, but the payoff to faithfulness is extraordinary.

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

This seems like a reasonable concern. Mary can’t do this by herself.

The 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. Look, 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. Nothing is impossible for God.”

What I’m hearing from this angel is that Mary’s faithfulness to God is a vehicle for God’s power to be manifest in her life. She gets to be part of this impossibly awesome work God is doing–growing up in a womb just like all us other humans. Through Gabriel, God tells Mary, you know I’m the God of faithfulness, the God of power, the God of making a way where there is no way, and I’m up to it again! are you in?

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

Mary’s saying Yes here. She’s saying yes to being the mommy to the hero of his generation. the best thing to happen in Israel since King David. Imagine how much pressure that could be. I mean imagine if you took your baby to be baptized and somebody spoke up “hey I have a prophetic word for you—your baby—she could be the next Einstein—just DON’T SCREW THIS UP MOM.” Imagine you bring your infant in to the pediatrician and she says “with the proper exercise and nutrition, this kid is going to make Michael Phelps look like a rubber duck.” The thing is, stuff like that happens to Mary repeatedly in Jesus’ infancy. But it’s never about her—it’s just about God’s work, what God is going to do in and through her, in and through Jesus. She’s just responsible for living in the expectation that God will keep God’s promise. I think that’s part of the “Do Not Be Afraid” that we keep hearing. When we choose faithfulness, we get to participate in what God is doing, but we’re not responsible for determining the outcome. That’s God’s work. We get to enjoy freedom from that burden of “it’s all up to me”.

One more word of comfort for you, is that God is constantly choosing to do business with broken, messed up, flaw-full people. There aren’t any other kind of people to choose from. And God is very much prepared to work with your problems. We’re going to fail in living up to our commitments. And what’s even messier is we’re going to at some point make a commitment that we shouldn’t have. A habit or goal or relationship that is not pointing us toward God’s best for our life. These are times when breaking a commitment is part of faithfulness and obedience. If your mental picture of God is shocked and horrified when you break a promise, I have good news for you: God is not dumb. God is not surprised like that when we sin. But really what I want you to hear is that those moments of conviction are not about condemnation, they’re an invitation into the real deal. Those are moments when God says to us “okay you’ve tried it your way…now can we try faithfulness? Can we? Because it’s my favorite thing and I love being faithful to you and I can’t wait to show you how much power and joy and closeness to me you’ll get when you are faithful back.”

Now before we close I want you to hear this really cool end to Mary’s story in Luke. Her spirit and mind and body are carrying this huge exciting scary news, and she rushes off to visit the one person who might understand: her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. Before she can even start to try to explain what is going on, Elizabeth just bursts out with these prophetic words of truth and affirmation over her: that she is blessed, that her baby is blessed, that the joy of this promise has reached even Elizabeth’s child in the womb, that Mary’s confidence in God’s promises is a reason to celebrate!

Mary receives that word of encouragement and confirmation. And she responds with a song. Listen to how she celebrates God’s faithfulness. She remembers who God is, what God has done, and what God has promised to do. And as she does so, she tells her own story. She sees her acts of faithfulness as part of God’s big faithfulness throughout history to show mercy, care for the poor, keep promises. Listen to her song:

With all my heart I glorify the Lord!

    In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.

He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.

    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored

        because the mighty one has done great things for me.

Holy is his name.

    He shows mercy to everyone,

        from one generation to the next,

        who honors him as God.

He has shown strength with his arm.

    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.

    He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones

        and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things

    and sent the rich away empty-handed.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,

        remembering his mercy,

    just as he promised to our ancestors,

        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.

I imagine Mary humming this to herself while she changes diapers. She knows her faithfulness is part of a bigger story. And so is yours. When you keep your commitments to friends, family, or neighbors. When you keep practicing at the skills or talents God has given you to use. When you make a choice that narrows your options, based on something you really believe in, instead of avoiding commitments so you can do what’s best for you later. Even when you break a commitment that you realize is not pointing you toward God’s best for your life. I hope you can hear God’s voice celebrating the faithfulness you practice in your life, inviting you to greatness, responding to your commitments with power and rejoicing.

And I hope you call it out. Call out the faithfulness you see in each other like Elizabeth did to Mary. Tell the stories of God’s faithfulness to you like Mary did to Elizabeth. When we tell these stories, we help each other remember that it’s worth it. We encourage each other when the closed doors seem more true that God’s promises. Do Not Be Afraid. God is with you, and God is ready to honor your faithfulness in great ways.