A God of Scandal – The Feast of the Annunciation 2019

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 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.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be since I am a virgin?”

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. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

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.

Sermon Text

Did you know the feast of the Annunciation was during Lent? I did not.  Where else would you put it though, except nine months before Christmas? This is also, according to some traditions, the original date of good Friday. The idea being that a good man could only die on the date he was conceived, which is one of many contributing factors to Christmas being on the twenty-fifth.

I start with this aside to the timing of the Annunciation because we often place the story of the Annunciation in a similar category to Christmas, that is to call it an offshoot of older pagan myths that Christians adopted, so the argument goes, to integrate into wider pagan society. What if though, they were not just leitmotifs? What if the Annunciation was not a copy paste edit job, but a unique event in history? I’m speaking of a God who is willing to enter into history and subvert our expectations of what God will do.

God calls upon a poor girl, likely a teenager, and tells her that she is to give birth to a king. God, unlike the Zeus or Poseidon, does not achieve this through sexual violence but by a work of the Spirit. God, rather than conceiving within Mary a king who will conquer gives her a king who will die. God came down in the Annunciation and worked compassion and opened the Godhead to human suffering. Nothing about this was an imitation game, but at every turn was a sign of a God who loved us, a God who was willing to upset the status quo for the inauguration of the Kingdom.

That Mary responds to this, a terrifying but astounding mission with such willingness is daunting. This, by all accounts, little girl stands up to a community that would have her stoned as an adulteress. She has to face her fiancée and tell him that she is pregnant, but don’t worry it’s God’s kid no one else’s. She has to face doubt, she has to give herself to years and years of venomous looks and conspiratorial neighbors whispering every time she crosses the yard. She does not know there will be a flight to Egypt, for all she knows she will raise this child with everyone looking to her as a slut and her child as a bastard.

These terms stand out to us because of their evil. To call Mary a slut or Jesus a bastard makes us flinch, we’ve cleaned up the story so that we do not have to think about how all this looked. Yet, when we look out at mother’s raising children alone, no husband, how quick are we to throw these and much more disgusting language around. The single mother is irresponsible, the child is seen as an object of pity or a scarlet let, and no one takes a moment to extend love to either. Or, if someone is willing to love them, do they do so halfheartedly and with a holy pretention to them?

God chose to come into this world in scandal, and the lesson to us was that no matter what the circumstances of someone’s birth – their mother and themselves ought to be seen as blessed. The face of Christ is seen in the faces of the least of these, every one of the least of these.

Rather than looking upon this uncertain and terrifying future with dread, Mary shows us why she will be called, “Blessed among women,” she praises God that she takes part in this scandal of incarnation. Oh, Mary, did you know? Sure seems like she did…

Mary counts this child and all the struggles that will come with it, as a joy. God, she says, “has looked in favor on his humble servant… Has done great things for me.” She recalls all the gifts of God with this new one, the gift of becoming the mother of God. Mary, in proclaiming this work of God then begins to elaborate on how God has and continues to work throughout history. As usual, the presentation of God is not exactly what we might think at first.

God is first described as merciful to all covenant people. We need only look in the Psalms to see the way that God has showered mercy again and again, with every struggle we ever face God is willing to stand beside us in grief and lift us up in exalted healing. Now, with the birth of Christ, there is a new beginning, one in which mercy will spread out across all the world, and God will be able to reconcile all things to Godself.

She calls God strong and describes God as using this strength to dethrone kings and crush the proud. Pharaoh’s army was scattered, Nebuchadnezzar lived like a beast, David and Solomon even faced God’s wrath for their abuses of power. We do not always see how God tears down Babel from day to day, and we need to look no further than our world today to see a great many in power are committing a great number of evils. The promise of God being born lowly is that God knows what it is to suffer under oppression, and God will not forget on judgment day what evils have been committed by the powerful.

She says that God feeds the poor and starves the hungry. We know when God is active in a community because of how much scarcity there is in the area. Where money is hoarded among elites or even wrapped up in the consumer practices of the middle class while people starve, God is not working God’s fullest work. God would have us all give up our pet comforts to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but we have made God out to be a friend of the rich. Luke, from which this prayer comes, makes it clear to any reader that God has no interest in propping the rich up, but has ever interest in clearing them out.

She then closes with a final appeal to the covenant. That from Abraham to today God has been working for the good of God’s people. The Annunciation and Jesus’ ministry is not new work, but a continuation of what God has been doing all along. Jesus’ entry into life was among the poor, among the oppressed, and among the people of Israel. God has always been working among the poor, the oppressed, among God’s people. What makes the incarnation amazing is that God not only enters into human suffering but that God redefines God’s people in the incarnation.

Now, the promises which were forever a part of Israel are all our inheritances. Those who hold onto faith are gifted as Mary was gifted, as Miriam was gifted, as Sarah, and Hagar and Rebekah were gifted. The glory of God is not for the rich, not for the powerful, not for people born in proper circumstances, but for all people and especially for the oppressed. God makes clear throughout scripture, but especially in this moment, that those who side with power will ultimately fail. The Magnificat glorifies God as a savior, and as Jesus as the ultimate sign of this salvation. Let us make sure at all times that we side with God in all matters, that when the kingdom comes we are not among those who will be scattered. – amen.

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