Sermon for Advent 4

(On Luke 1:26-38)

We have a surprising God.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (before there were cars, or ballpoint pens, or power tools) there was a tiny rural village, nestled at the bottom of mighty mountains, and it was called Nazareth. In 2,000 years, the way city people talk about little towns hasn’t changed much—city folks thought Nazareth was pretty simple and it’s people pretty rough around the edges.

It was a Jewish village—for hundreds of years, only Jews lived there. Everyone who lived there lived according to Hebrew law, remembered Hebrew prophecy, and shared stories of God’s love and promises to His people.

Someone’s daughter lived in that village, a teenage girl named Mary. If she lived with us here, we might see her studying for an algebra test, playing sports, or babysitting the kids next door. Instead, she was getting ready for her wedding. Still, she was an ordinary young girl.

One day Mary got a lot less ordinary. She was at home, cleaning or weaving or spinning, when an angel walked in.

An angel.

Gabriel, in fact. Mary might not have known it was Gabriel, but this is the messenger sent to Daniel, who just 6 months before had visited Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. This is an angel with some extraordinary messages.

And Gabriel said, “You have nothing to fear. God loves you. The Almighty Creator of the Universe is on your side, and thinks you’re wonderful.”

That’d be a pretty unusual introduction, even if it wasn’t coming from an angel. As it was, Mary was mesmerized and confused all at once.

“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t think I follow.”

So Gabriel tells her: You’re going to have a baby.

“I’m going to have a what?”

A son. Mary is going to have a son. Mary is going to have a baby boy who will grow up to rule Israel forever, a king whose reign will never end. Mary is going to carry the Messiah that Israel has waited and waited for. Mary knows that everyone is waiting for a Savior. She is hoping with them for someone to come and heal their nation, and a messenger from God has just told her that the Messiah is coming through her.

An awful lot of people want kids they can brag about, but this had to be overwhelming.

“How can we do this?” Mary asked how she could possibly become pregnant, but she wondered who would take care of her if she did, too. It can be pretty hard to be a single mom now, but then it was fatal. As explanations go, “an angel came” is pretty weak when you’re up against a group who could stone you for getting pregnant.

What’s her fiancĂ©, Joseph, going to say? What will her parents say? Her priest? How can this work? Will Joseph still marry her? Will anyone believe her?

What will the baby be like? Will a Messiah be like the other babies she’s seen? Will she be a good mom? Can Joseph love this baby that isn’t his? Is there anything special she should be doing?

Is she going to have the money to feed him? Should the child Messiah go to special schools?

And more than anything: why me? Why not someone wealthy, powerful, or at least more experienced? Surely there’s someone kinder/smarter/holier that prays more/keeps house better/would know what to do with a baby.

But this young girl, this teenager, put aside her questions and fears and worries and doubts and said, “Yes. Let’s do this.”

She trusted God, and she began to obey without asking what God’s 10-year plan was. In the midst of angels and Messiahs and virgin births, that might be the most miraculous part of the story. She trusted, and she didn’t need all the answers in order to obey.

But Gabriel wasn’t done telling Mary about God’s unbelievable new beginnings.

Her cousin Elizabeth couldn’t have children. Some of us don’t choose to have children, but Elizabeth really wanted to be a mother, and wasn’t able to. She’d dealt with this for years. Her mother wanting grandchildren. Her girlfriends pestering her about when she would have a family. Other people who weren’t as kind, whispering about how sad it was that Zechariah didn’t have any sons to carry on the name, about how Elizabeth wasn’t a very valuable wife. It certainly couldn’t have been easy for her.

But Gabriel told Mary that she wouldn’t be pregnant alone, that her cousin has had a miracle, too. Because with God, all things are possible.

All this was a lot to take in. Mary couldn’t believe her ears—would you? Would you believe God picked you, specifically you, to do wonderful things? To fulfill a central part of a centuries-old promise? Do you feel to young, or too old to be picked by God? Too poor, or too comfortable where you are? Do you feel too slow or shy to be loved and chosen by God? What about the person next to you? Are they too pushy or too wishy-washy? Too smelly or too fancy?

Writer and priest Barbara Cawthorne Crafton said this about Jesus’ return: “The first time around, nothing was as expected. What makes us think the second will be predictable?” God in Christ is meeting us in our lives every day, but never predictably.

Let yourself watch God moving around you- in yourself, in others, in nature. We have such a surprising God. When we trust the God of Mary, the God of Elizabeth, our God, we’re expecting astonishing solutions. In this Advent season, let’s wait. And watch. And expect God to work through people and circumstances that we would never think to choose. Let’s look for the stories around us. On the way to work, in the grocery store, when we gather with our families, let’s try to see the story beginning. Once upon a time there was a man with no home. Once upon a time there was a girl who couldn’t walk, a boy no one likes very much, a woman addicted to drugs. And with God nothing was impossible. God does use each of us to fulfill promises. You have nothing to fear. God loves you. The almighty Creator of the Universe is on your side, and thinks you’re wonderful. Let’s welcome God’s surprises.


  1. Anonymous11:26 PM

    I love how much of you I can hear in this. It's a great rendering of such a familiar story. I like the message you gave it. loves, lola

  2. This speaks to me on a very deep level. I'm just in the beginning stages of (maybe) perceiving a vocation, and I've been terrified about a lot of things. Will I have to move? Where will I get the money to go to seminary, if that's where I'm meant to be? What if I can't do what God wants of me?

    And then I read this, reminding me to just trust in God, because it doesn't matter if I know what's going on, He has it all worked out. Thank you, thank you so much!


"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins