Luke 1:26–38 and Romans 16:25–27 – Questions, Courage, and Christ-Bearing
Caitlin Trussell on December 21, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church
[Two Bible readings before the sermon]
Luke 1:26-38 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.
Romans 16:25-27 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith– 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
There’s a pretty good chance that something is happening in your life right now that has a lock on your mind. Something that nags at the gray matter. Something that is looking for a solution. And life keeps moving along with its time-tables and decisions and final exams and projects. Or at the very least there is something from which you need a break. A place to rest. To unhook from the daily dose of fear, inadequacy, and even shame. A pause in the action to find a little room to breathe.
Breathing allows a little space and time for being. For a moment to be flesh and blood and little else. Breathing allows for calm. The calm may be in the eye of the storm but for this moment, in this sanctuary, we are in the calm.
And here is Mary. Mary’s day-to-day is likely one of survival. She is, after all, a lowly one. Daily decisions and dangers – true threats to her creaturely, flesh and blood existence. And dropping in for a visit is Gabriel, the angel. Mary is “perplexed.” Great word.
Gabriel’s words, and Mary’s perplexed pondering, birth the question, “How can this be…?” This is an assertive question. A bold question. She puts her question to Gabriel but he’s simply the messenger. Her question is pointed squarely at God. “How can this be…?”
Such a flesh and blood question from Mary. Mary who is perplexed, and ponders, and asks for answers from her place and time. In her world that is plagued by poverty and political unrest. Mary who is trying to understand what she is being told. And also trying to understand how she fits into it.
It’s a pretty quick leap from the question of “how” to the question of “why.” From, “How can this be?” To, “Why is this happening?” In one form or another we ask this question a lot. We ask this question thinking that the gray matter is going to finally kick in and we’ll finally figure it out. All that nagging worry will finally pay off in reasons for the thing happening in the first place. We hop on the merry-go-round of our flawed humanity thinking that we’ll get that gold ring and make everything all right.
Things are flying by so quickly that everything’s a blur. How might God go about getting our attention while things are moving so quickly? What are all the ways in which that may have been possible? God needs to speak in human terms. But God, at some point, also needs to communicate in a way that bypasses our human defenses. So, through Mary the Christ-bearer, God shows up. After all, who can resist a baby? A baby whose life and death ultimately changes everything. It’s delightfully subversive on God’s part. Because, quite frankly, we’re just not that good at intervening on our own behalf.
In a startling move, Mary becomes the Christ-bearer. The one who birthed God into skin and solidarity among us.
Including today’s Bible reading from Luke, the gospels confess, time and again, that God and Jesus are one. Jesus is God and God is Jesus. The lowly birth we look forward to celebrating, in just a few days’ time, bears into being this incarnation of God, this flesh and fragile Jesus.
Gabriel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid.” Mary’s answer is so certain that it resonates with a fierce determination to do God’s will, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” The One who Mary bears into the world, is the One who is focused on the goal of bringing us back into God. This self-sacrificing love of God, given in the incarnation but given most completely on the cross, draws us back.  Through the cross, you and I become Christ-bearers too. Different from Mary, we are Christ-bearers of the crucified and risen One.
We await the party of the Christmas birth because we celebrate the One who shows up. The One who shows up knowing full well we are afraid, confused, and asking ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. As Christ-bearers, we are in a sweet-spot of sorts. We are in the sweet-spot between “How can this be?” and “Here am I, a servant of the Lord”; in the sweet-spot between asking God questions and fiercely set on God’s will.
Echoing between our questions and God’s will are Gabriel’s words, “Do Not Be Afraid.” Our fearful confusion is offered a place of calm. Fragile and flawed, we are given a bit of space to breathe…to be. “Do Not Be Afraid.” We can move from the ‘how’ and ‘why’ to the ‘what now’ with a bit more courage knowing that God is with us. God is with us confronting our sin, holding us accountable to each other, and giving us to each other to be Christ-bearers for each other and the world. As Christ-bearers, we are set free to meet each other’s fear and confusion with a word of forgiveness. As Christ-bearers, we are set free to meet each other’s fear and confusion with a word of hope.
Paul’s reassurance to the Romans is also for us. [There is a] “God who is able to strengthen you…and the proclamation of Jesus Christ…the revelation of the mystery…to the obedience of faith…through Jesus Christ.” The revelation of mystery has us asking, “How can this be?” The “obedience of faith” has us saying, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And “…through Jesus Christ” we are not alone, not afraid. The Hope born of Mary in the fragility of flesh and blood is the One born for you and for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God.
 Check out the ponderings of my friend and colleague Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber on the perplexing topic of the virgin birth: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/12/the-virgin-birth-fact-fiction-or-truth/
 Luke 1:38
 Koester, course notes, 12/1/2010. For further study see: Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).
 Luke 1:30