Tonight we leave our musings on John’s gospel and shift to the gospel of Luke. Like we talked about a couple of weeks ago Luke’s gospel is one of the synoptic gospels. It contains many stories that originated in Mark’s gospel and is similar to Matthew’s gospel in many ways.
But it is also its own deal with its own peculiarities. Luke is reckoned to be a very educated person and was writing to an educated and non-Jewish audience. These are followers of Christ from the Gentile part of the population in the area around the Mediterranean. They’re not going to just hear a story and agree to it so Luke goes into a fair amount of detail and specifics about Jesus and his life. Mark and John don’t mention Jesus’ birth and Matthew gives the birth narrative a whole 7 verses in chapter one of his Gospel. Luke gives two entire chapters to the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth!
Which is where we get tonight’s story. This is the classic Advent story frequently referred to as ‘The Annunciation’. A fancy way of saying Mary’s going to hear some news and while it is Good News for us, it was a little more problematic for Mary, I imagine. When a woman finds out she is pregnant it is not always good news and in Mary’s case it’s even more perplexing given that she is a virgin.
This is not a new story for any of us, I don’t think. But close your eyes for a second and imagine the scene. I can’t decide of the angel Gabriel comes swooping in like an eagle coming to land, which would be somewhat startling even if you saw it coming. Or does Gabriel just kind of appear out of nowhere, which would also be somewhat startling, I should think.
In any case, Gabriel’s arrival isn’t the only startling thing for Mary. The entire message that Gabriel is bringing is one startling statement after another. Do not be afraid. WHAT! You have found favor with God. WHAT! You will conceive a son. WHAT! He will be great. He will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. WHAT! WHAT! WHAT!
How many times would you say WHAT! to someone who showed up unexpectedly with some decidedly unexpected news before you would be ready to just kind of give up and go home to binge watch a season or two of Cheers on Netflix?
It would be hard to find fault with Mary bailing on the whole situation. I mean really, you can only say WHAT! so many times before enough becomes enough. But… she doesn’t. She stays. She stays and she says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary is on her game when it comes to her faith. There is a whole lot of Nope Nope Nope that could fit in here but instead of Mary attempting to stiffarm God she leans back into her faith and says Yep Yep Yep. Mary has had some faith formation somewhere to be that willing to do what God is telling her. We do well to ask ourselves if we would do the same or would we refuse and come up with what sounds like a good excuse.
It seems to me that God expects a great deal of all of us. Well, okay, maybe God doesn’t expect from us QUITE as much as God expected of Mary. So far as I know no one here has been called on to give birth to the Messiah or anything along those lines. And yet, God has expectations of each of us.
Great expectations. Expectations that we live according to how God wants us to live. And that isn’t always easy.
The thing is, God isn’t some capricious control freak that wants us to do random things to keep the creator of the universe entertained and happy. God is a loving God who wants the best for each of us. Now God could hand us all the things our hearts desire but that presents a couple of problems. One, we never want only the things that are good for us and two, related to the first, if we have everything we want handed to us on a silver platter, how do we usually act? We usually act like the spoiled brats we’d be as we’d have no appreciation for what we had.
Instead, God has set up our relationship in part that we do our part. We can’t earn God’s love or forgiveness, no surprise there. But we can learn a deeper and profound appreciation for God’s love and forgiveness when we are part of the relationship surrounding that love and forgiveness. This is where we get called on to be obedient to God. Very few people actually like the word obedient and more problematic is the idea that very few people try to be obedient. Most people try to be good and try to do the right things, but that is different than being obedient. Being good and doing the right thing tends to be more of a habit, a good habit to be sure, but a habit nonetheless. Obedience, on the other hand, requires some mindfulness and attention.
It’s a lot easier to be obedient when things are going well. Obedience can even be dangerous when things are going well if we associate our obedience with God rewarding us for being good and obedient. It is easy for us to say, “Look at me, I’m doing what I’m supposed to and God is blessing me.” That’s a dangerous, and for Lutheran theology, incorrect place to be. We’re talking more about blessings on Sunday but associating our behavior and our ‘rewards’ doesn’t make much sense when actual bad things happen to people who are genuinely good people.
And ironically, it is when things are challenging that we most need to be obedient. That’s true of the things we do for our physical health, that’s true of the things we do for our emotional health and it’s most certainly true for the things we do for our spiritual health. Do the things we should be doing in all three areas.
Advent in general, and Mary in particular this evening, are reminders of being obedient to God. Mary is in a seemingly impossible situation what with being an unmarried pregnant virgin carrying the Messiah. And yet her response isn’t, “What!” Instead, she says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Advent in general, and Mary in particular this evening, remind us to ask ourselves, am I doing what God asks me to do. Am I spending enough time reading God’s word? Am I spending enough time praying? Am I spending enough time being obedient? We ask these questions not because God gains anything from our obedience but because WE gain from our obedience.
We gain things like freedom, knowing that God is God and we are servants of God. We gain things like peace, knowing all we can do is be obedient. We gain things like hope, knowing that God is coming to us in Jesus Christ our Savior.