A Sermon presented to St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church on the text Luke 1:26-38 These verses tell us of the beginning of Mary’s story, but the Gospel of Luke begins a few verses earlier, with the retelling of another parent’s encounter with an angel. This sets up a beautiful literary parallel between the story of Mary, a lowly servant, and the story of Zechariah, a priest of God chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord.
According to Luke, when Zechariah enters the sanctuary while fulfilling his duties as priest, an angel of the Lord appears to him and says that his wife Elizabeth, an older woman who has not yet conceived a child, is going to have a baby boy. Zechariah questions the angel and thus is rendered silent, unable to talk until the child is born and named John.
Mary, chosen by God, sees an angel too, but not in the sanctuary. This angel, Gabriel, tells her that she, like her cousin Elizabeth, will bear a son, in circumstances which also make conception seem impossible. But Gabriel proclaims, “All is possible with God.” Mary’s audible response to the proclamation is, “Here am I, let it be.”
A child herself, so perhaps because she is still so young, Mary has faith that God’s promise to her ancestors of a Savior is to be fulfilled.
With the parallels in these two stories—and there are many—the larger conclusion is that new life, in the form of two baby boys, is coming to all. Zechariah represents those involved in the leadership of the temple. Zechariah and Elizabeth represent the older generation. Mary represents the lay people, those not given opportunity to enter into the sanctuary and she and Joseph represent the younger generation.
Mary’s significance continues. As though her being chosen to carry the Christ-child isn’t blessing enough, she is also allowed to announce his coming. In proud declaration to her cousin Elizabeth she says, “for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name … He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy” (v. 1:49, 54).
She carries the child and for weeks feels his hands and feet pushing around in her belly. She sees the changes in her body and deals with the rushes of hormones and emotions that naturally come with pregnancy. And in another act of faith, she travels with her unborn child, as her ancestors once had traveled through the wilderness with their children, from a town called Nazareth to a city called Bethlehem.
Mary gives birth in this new place and finally gets to see the hands and feet of her child. She gets to smell him. She can carry the child in her arms and she can pull him to her face. She can look into his eyes.
Just a few hours after my child Annie was born, when all was finally calm and quiet, I drifted off to sleep. After just a little while, I woke up, remembered that she was here, turned my eyes to look at her, and saw her eyes looking in my direction. She lay swaddled in her bed. The hospital cap nearly covered her eyes, but they peered out, just barely cracked open, as though they were trying to decide if all the newness they saw was worth the effort.
In just a brief moment, I realized that my brain already knew her. It’s very hard to describe, but I knew what she would smell like, what she would feel like in my arms, what her face would feel like if I pulled her to my cheek. I wanted to keep my gaze on her in the precious stillness of the moment and all the while grab her and bring her in to me. She was my baby and I knew her and I loved her with a fullness like no other I had ever known.
And so, I imagine Mary, lying in the stillness and quietness of night, opening her eyes to see her baby, and knowing who he was to her, his mother. But as her child looked back at her, I wonder how much deeper were the dimensions of their knowing of each other? No trumpet was sounding in those moments, no kingly robes clothed the child, and no table was filled with an abundance of food. Yet this child brought joy not only to his mother but also to a nation of wandering people. The verses ring true: “When the shepherds saw the child, they made known what had been told them by an angel; and all whom they told were amazed” (v.17-18).
It is amazing; this new life of one brought new life to all.
Mary knew, Mary saw, Mary held, and she treasured those things and pondered them in her heart. Oh how beautiful the gift of a child. Oh how beautiful the gift of this child.
These words are the poetry from a choral piece that I sang in my youth choir:
I shall know Him when He comes, not with sound of pipe or drum, but by the holy harmony which His coming makes in me.
He shall wear no royal robe, or a crown of precious gold, but He my Lord, my King shall be always, ever be there for me.
He shall not in castle, warm, live in splendor, safe from harm. But in a manger, crude He’ll sleep, warmed by the breath of cows and sheep.
Come, Lord Jesus, tarry not. Find in me a resting spot. My heart is open, come dwell within. Let life be born in me again.
By the holy harmony which His coming makes in me, I shall know Him when He comes.
May we be like Mary: willing, faithful, and trusting in our God. May we delight in the birth of the Christ-child. May we treasure this gift and ponder these things in our hearts. May we allow our eyes to look up into the face of Emmanuel, into the face of one whom we already know, the face of one who already knows us.
Let us pray:
On behalf of all souls, we ask this thing: You have given us Joy, dear Lord. May we be bold enough to receive your gift.
Read more from Stephanie Little Coyne at her blog.