26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
This past week, I have been working with a friend who is trying to get his life back on track. And part of what is coming to the surface for him is all of these messages that he either has been told or has told himself in his life. Messages that he is worthless and no-good and basically just a total mess up. And for so long, he’s just been bearing that weight on his shoulders, and you can see that it is crushing him.
And so I kept trying to find a way to communicate to him God’s love for him. That God cares about him. That he matters and has worth in this world. And the truth is, when I think back on it, I probably too much explaining and not enough telling. I probably got all heady and explained to him who God is, and what God is like, and how God works, and you know, therefore, God cares about you. But the whole time you could feel that everything I said just kept hitting this brick wall in him and falling to the floor. He was not receiving the message. All I wanted to do was find a way to get to the core of him and bless him in the name of God, but it just wasn’t working.
And so then that got me thinking about all of you. I couldn’t help but wonder what it is that you need, what works for you, for you to hear or to feel like God’s blessing really is upon you. What has the ability to cut to the core of who you are and bless you? To know that God cares about you, and that you matter to this world. And that you are important and have something to contribute.
I mention this because I keep thinking about that interaction between the angel Gabriel and Mary and how Gabriel is way better at pastoral care and speaking into Mary’s heart than I was with my friend. Which makes sense, with Gabriel being an angel and all. But still – it’s not good for this pastor’s ego.
Did you notice what Gabriel’s first words were to Mary? Gabriel shows up and says,”Greetings, favored one.” Which is shorthand for – “Hey, how’s it going? Oh, and by the way, you’re awesome.” And then Gabriel adds, “The Lord is with you.” So, not only are you awesome, but God thinks you’re awesome too and has come to hang out. Now, I’m not saying that we all can have such angelic pastoral care skills, but wouldn’t our world be a much better place if we all just greeted each other like that? “Hey, favored one. God is with you.” It is like a little blessing before the conversation even begins.
That’s the first thing that Gabriel does with Mary – he blesses her with those words.
She doesn’t earn it or deserve it. We don’t even know who Mary is at this point – it the first time we meet her. She’s probably a poor peasant girl. She likely has very little going for her. And yet the first thing Gabriel does is bless her.
Which isn’t typically how we understand blessing. We don’t usually think of blessing coming first. If you listen to televangelists you’ll usually hear that first comes your acceptance of Jesus as your Lord and Savior and then comes your blessing. First you give your life over to God and then God will bless you. Or more often than not, we’ll say we’ve been blessed only when good things are happening, right? We’ll say we’ve been blessed with a new car, or a big home, or a high-paying job, or healthy grandkids. But what are we really saying? That the guy in line to register for medical assistance and food stamps isn’t blessed and loved by God?
And that’s where we get blessing wrong. That’s not how it works in the gospel of Luke. No, in our story for today, God just blesses Mary. And then actually gives her some really scary news. Psssst, hey, uh…I know you and Joe aren’t married yet, and I know it’s kind of against the law for you to get pregnant before your married, but….ummm….you’re gonna be pregnant. And it’s going to be God’s baby. I know, I know, no one’s gonna believe a story like that…but…well, sorry.
I mean, that is not good news. In fact, that’s new that is more likely to get mother Mary stoned than it is for her to be viewed as blessed by God.
But that is what God does – God has this habit of blessing those who have a pretty high chance of never feeling like they are blessed: poor peasant girls, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the sick, lowly fisherpeople, thieves beside him on a cross. It’s just kind of what God does.
It’s almost like God blesses people not because they’ve done such righteous stuff in their life, but rather God blesses people so that they can handle the hard stuff in their life. So that people know that no matter what they do or what is done to them, they belong to God and God alone.
And then, after Gabriel blesses Mary, I can’t get over Mary’s response. After some totally appropriate skepticism and confusion on Mary’s part, in the end, her response is, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
I was thinking about those words and how passive they are. Let it be. Mary is saying, “Sure, yes, bring it on. Let it be.” And those words, “Let it be” took me all the way back to my Hebrew class in seminary when we were talking about creation. And most of us know the part of the creation story where it says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.” But a more accurate translation is, “And God said, ‘Let light be.’ And the light was.” Let the light be. Let the light be. Just let it be. And it was. Which in fact is the same verb that Mary uses – “Let it be with me.” And so I can’t help but think that something creational or re-creational is happening here. It is almost as if the simple act of the angel speaking words of blessing and favor onto Mary is what creates her into a blessed and favored being. The words do what they say. By calling her blessed, she becomes blessed.
And so can you believe that word about yourself? That you are blessed and favored by God simply because God says so? God chooses you as God’s blessed and favored one. When God looks at you, God doesn’t say “no” or “hmmmm…maybe, if he tries a little harder.” When God looks at you, God gives a resounding, “Yes.”And just in case hearing that promise isn’t enough, we get to see and feel and taste that very promise here at this Communion table. Communion is the visible version of God’s yes to you. It’s like a school yard game of kickball and God and the devil are the captains and God’s just like, “Yeah, I’ll just take all of them.” And the devil is left with absolutely no one to choose from. And we get to witness that here at this table. That God chooses each and every one of you as blessed and favored.
And you see that was my mistake with the friend I mentioned earlier. I spent way too much time explaining and not enough time simply telling. Instead of trying to explain to him how God loved him, I wish I would have just told him – God loves you, man. I wish I would have just been crystal clear about it like Gabriel – “Greetings favored one! God is with you.” And by simple saying, it would have become true.
So what greater opportunity than right now to proclaim a blessing to each other with a word from God? And not only that, but to also practicing being like Mary and saying yes to the blessing. I invite you all to partner up with someone. I would like you to place your hand on their shoulder or their arm and say to them, “May you feel God’s blessing and favor upon you this day.” And in response, I invite you to say, “Let it be with me according to your word.”
And now, you know what? After that, I don’t know about you, but I think all of us here are not only filled up with God’s blessing right now, but I think, just like Mary, we all are just a little more prepared to give birth to God out there in the world. Let it be so with all of us here. Amen.