Second Sunday of Advent
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking
Scripture: Luke 1: 26-56
Message: Share Peace: Mary’s Story
When my grandmother, whom we called Granny, died at the age of 90 and all of the family had assembled in Oklahoma City for her memorial service, we discovered something shocking. My cousins, siblings and I could not believe it. In our grief, as we were sharing our stories and remembrances, we realized that each of us believed ourselves to be her favorite grandchild. My cousin Lora thought she was the favorite because she was my grandmother’s namesake, my sister thought she was the favorite because she was the oldest grandchild, my cousin Mike thought he was the favorite because he is he only grandson, and I was convinced I was her favorite because I carry on her legacy as a minister, and I resemble her in appearance very much. In fact, sometimes when I look in the mirror these days--and I am now about the age she was when she became my grandmother--I think she is looking back at me. How could it be that each of us thought we were her favorite? They can think what they want, I thought to myself, but I KNOW I was Granny’s favorite.
It seems like we have a question of favorites in today’s scripture as well. The greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary in our scripture from Luke begins, “Greetings, favored one.” I admit that has always bothered me. Anyone else ever wondered at that greeting? While I was certainly willing to believe that my grandmother played favorites, I don’t like thinking that God does. And so as I came to the text this year, I decided to focus on this word--favor. When something in the text bothers us, it is actually an invitation to deepen our study, and to listen to what the scripture is saying to us through prayer. When something in scripture just sticks in our craw, as my Granny used to say, there is a message there calling to us to be heard.
And as I came to this scripture, this word—favor—, in prayer, something new did open up. What unveiled itself is that “favor” isn’t “favorite.” The word favor means, at its basic level, approval or support. It does not, in itself, suggest a superlative or a comparative, that the one who has favor has more approval or support than someone else, just that they do have approval or support. They have favor. Mary has favor. God’s approval. God’s support. God’s love. When we hear the proclamation of the angel Gabriel for Mary as favored, we need to hear in it the echo of the proclamation throughout holy scripture of God’s favor for all of humanity and for all of creation. For us. Hear these words again, “And behold it is good” God said of God’s creation, “And lo, I will be with you always, until the end of the ages,” God said through Jesus. “You are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” God said through the holy spirit as the holy spirit descended and spoke.
The words of the angel Gabriel to Mary, “Greetings favored one, the Lord is with you!” are a blessing, a reflection of God’s presence and support for each of us. But look at what Mary does. The scripture says that upon hearing these words, Mary is “confused” and “perplexed.” Troubled. Her response is kind of like hearing the blessing of “favor” and instead of feeling beloved and secure, immediately going to a place of insecurity, wondering about who might be more favored. Mary’s response is so often our response when blessing, support, and approval just shows up—we doubt it. We are skeptical about it, we don’t trust it. Why do we go to the place of concern, or of worst-case scenarios when we receive a the blessing of support and approval, sometimes even most strongly when we feel we’ve done nothing to earn a particular goodness or support?
Part of our condition as human beings is that we are prone to insecurity. Even when God is constantly trying to demonstrate God’s love to us! Remember the words of the great hymn, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love!” Why do we do this? I submit to you this morning that at the root of this insecurity is fear. Fear that we aren’t worthy, fear that we do not have God’s approval, fear that we are alone, fear that it is just too much of a risk to rely on this love.
But God calls us out of the place of fear. As the angel Gabriel, God’s messenger, goes on in his address to Mary, the angel says, “Do not be afraid” and then reiterates God’s support of her through the word “favor.” “You have found favor with God.” Significantly, it doesn’t say, “You have found the favor of God.” It says, “You have found favor WITH God.” In other words, through your relationship WITH God, you have found the truth that you have God’s approval, God’s support. God’s words for Mary are God’s word for us, too. Do you believe this? Can you hear these words for you, too? I am with you. You have my approval. My support. Oh it would be so wonderful for us to trust that, to move out of fear and let the goodness of these words wash over us. What would it take for us to do that? To trust these words?
The angel goes on to say, “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.”
And then Mary speaks again. We can almost hear the beginning crack in Mary’s doubt in her words, the turning toward that with-ness with God. She says, “How can this be? I am a virgin.” And the angel paints a picture of what God hopes to do WITH Mary, what God hopes to bring into being through Mary, and what Mary is called to do on earth saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you… For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Mary answers simply, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, may it be with me according to your will.” Mary demonstrates in this simple statement what it takes to trust in God’s approval, God’s support, God’s favor. She lets go. She leaps. She releases fear and steps into the unknown, trusting that she has God’s support. Ash she leaps, she trusts she will be caught up in the loving embrace of a good God.
The poet Kathleen Norris describes Mary’s acceptance of God’s favor in this way, “Mary proceeds—as we must do in life—making her commitment without knowing much about what it will entail or where it will lead. I treasure the story because it forces me to ask: When the mystery of God’s love breaks through into my consciousness, do I run from it? Do I ask of it what it cannot answer? Shrugging, do I retreat into facile clichés, the popular but false wisdom of what ‘we all know’? Or am I virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self and say something new, a “yes” that will change me forever?”
The focus of the second Sunday of Advent is peace. Peace is found in trusting that you have God’s support, God’s liking, God’s unconditional love. Peace is found in believing that God always has your back. Always always always. It is in the peace of that knowledge that you are not only unconditionally loved but unconditionally supported that miracles can happen.
To find favor is to demonstrate the delight God has for each of us as individuals, and the hope God has for the world through the way that each of us becomes a bearer of Good news.
To this day, each of my Granny’s grandchildren remain convinced that each of us was her favorite. But what we were really reflecting was her favor. Her unconditional love, regard and support. Her demonstrated delight in each of us. And that’s how it is with God. We are all God’s favorite because we all live in God’s favor. And in allowing God to work through each of us to bear God’s presence in the world, we, too, have found favor with God. May you trust in God’s unconditional love, and may you trust in God’s trust in you to be a bearer of Good News. Amen.