Preacher: The Rev. Deacon Richard P. Limato
I must confess I was tempted to lead with Mary’s response to the angel in our Christmas pageant, Oh wow!
I enjoy reading the Op Ed section of the New York Times. And I am particularly drawn to columns written by David Brooks, he frequently makes me say, “Oh wow!”
In a recent column, Mr. Brooks quoted the writer and social critic Thomas Mann.
“Democracy is the only system built on respect for the infinite dignity of each individual man and woman.”
I was struck by that line, as struck as if an angel had broadsided me to deliver the message.
It seems that we’ve lost sight of that foundational value, respect for the infinite dignity of each individual man and specifically woman.
Yet, some suggest that with the intense focus on our failure to regard woman with dignity, we are entering a new age.
A time where we will begin to treat all, regardless of gender, sexual identity, status, ethnicity, with the dignity bestowed on them as beloved children of God.
And perhaps move closer to the vision of society that Thomas Mann so forcefully describes.
And perhaps move closer to the vision of society that today’s Gospel heralds.
The Annunciation, the moment of Mary’s reckoning with her special place in salvation history, presents a humble woman as a role model of faith.
Living in a remote village, far from the busy center of Jerusalem, Mary had no idea that she was destined for a singularly distinctive role.
An angel appears out of nowhere, as if to implode the lack of hope that existed in Mary’s heart, as if to satisfy her yearning for a miracle.
Something extraordinary happens and the Gospel intentionally places a woman in the center of what is about to unfold.
She is a young girl, probably illiterate, lowly and poor, in a society that values men, bestows on them privileges that she and others who are marginalized do not enjoy.
Yet she is the one highly favored by God.
God has a plan that will transform her life.
God has a plan to transform the world.
God has a plan that relies on her bold affirmation of faith.
She will be the means for the extraordinary to happen, for God’s vision to unfold.
And much happens in this encounter with an angel giving us insight into her own experience.
Mary questions, believes, and affirms her faith.
She responds to her vocational call.
She trusts, she acts, knowing that nothing is impossible with God.
She offers herself; she becomes a part of the “priesthood of all believers.”
She embodies the Gospel message that all, most especially woman and the marginalized, are integrally included in the work of God.
She gifts us with the depth of her faith, and example as she responds to Christian vocation, to incarnate Christ into her world.
She brings us closer to the threshold of a fuller meaning of Christmas and our life beyond it.
Her story challenges us to become a part of salvation history, to reorient our thinking as to what incarnation means.
God barges in, intervenes not just in her affairs, in her very own being.
Like Mary, we are asked to let God barge into our very own beings.
We are asked to consider our own participation in the creative process of God, to become the means for the extraordinary to happen, for God’s vision to unfold.
We are asked to trust and to act, to make Christmas miracles happen time and time again.
We are asked to break down the barriers that prevent us from being able to bear Christ to the world.
And to trust that nothing is impossible with God.
And yet, like me, you are probably wondering how we could possibly do what seems to be so impossible?
Mary’s own puzzlement addresses that question. She gives us permission to reflect, to be cautious at best.
Her hesitation gives us permission to question our own circumstances, our own abilities.
Her questioning gives us permission to question the difficulties we face, to consider the personal trials and tribulations that limit what we have to offer.
Her own doubt understands ours as we join in asking, “How can this be?”
Yet through Mary’s experience and faith-filled response, we have insight into how God seeks to work through us to attain Christmas miracles.
The Holy Spirit bursts forth into the earthly realm, into a particular time and place, to a particular person, a particular community.
To a woman, thought to be inconsequential, a woman riddled with doubts, into a world yearning for God’s presence. Just like our world today.
Into a world filled with economic disparity, enslavement, a world where barriers prevent advancement and a lack of human dignity appears to frequently guide actions. Just like our world.
A world that yearns for her to courageously birth Christ’s light into all that darkness. Just like today.
A world governed by self-interest, where individual gain and profit all too often appear more important than building a beloved community.
A world not unlike our own, where the Holy Spirit wants to break into this particular time and place through us.
Where the message and the intent of God’s Kingdom is not always understood, often not appreciated, and often undervalued.
Where divine intervention is disbelieved, and accompanied by naysayers.
Where it is all too tempting to imagine that this broken world, filled with broken lives, can never be healed, never be reconciled, never be transformed.
Yet Mary’s story, her faith tells us otherwise.
She sees beyond her own limitations and the challenges.
She sees beyond the seemingly insurmountable limitations of her world.
She sees beyond her own personal limitations.
She sees beyond her present day realities and believes that redemption is possible, reconciliation within grasp and God’s kingdom attainable.
She sees beyond the darkness, she can bear the light; she can make the impossible happen.
Today’s Gospel asks us to do the same.
Are we willing to do the discernment necessary, to accept the gift of vocation this Christmas, to be a part of salvation history?
Are we prepared to build a world where the individual dignity and respect of each and every person becomes a solid foundation?
Are we willing to affirm our faith, to bear Christ’s light to those who live on the margins, to those who live with abuse, to those separated by barriers of economics, ethnicity, discrimination, and judgment? To those with whom we disagree and find difficult to love?
Are we capable of seeing those among us who live in these circumstances, are we capable of letting them know that they are not alone?
Mary’s story is one that unfolds God’s vision for us.
To bear Christ’s comfort to those in need, to provide shelter, food and clothing to those who want, and to offer a loving heart to those who need our compassion.
To participate in building God’s Kingdom, a world where status, ethnicity, economics, gender, sexual identity, abilities, racism and false gods don’t keep anyone from an abundant life.
Mary’s story is our own.
It challenges us to participate in salvation history:
To confront that which causes our very own puzzlement;
To incarnate the light of Christ into a dark world;
To make Christmas miracles happen each and every day;
To respond in faith by saying, “Oh wow!”
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be according to your word.”