To Be Pregnant with Exactly What the World Needs

Presenter: 
Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Mon, 12/24/2012

Story: 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 (Gabriel) came to (Mary) and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But (Mary) 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.

**** 
I decided upon the theme of being pregnant with exactly what the world needs last year, when I heard second-hand from a colleague about a worship service she had attended at our seminary in DC led by Rev. Drema McAllister-Wilson on the same theme.

But, as often happens when one reads and reflects upon Scripture, when I read the passage you just heard, another point jumped out at me, another part of the reading seemed sort of underlined, sort of highlighted to me.  You just heard it, but let me retell it a bit:  The angel came to Mary, at home, presumably as Mary was going about a regular day.  “Greetings, favored one, the lord is with you”: standard angel greeting.  Mary, rather wisely if you think about it, was perplexed by his words and wondered what sort of greeting this might be.  If I had to imagine her face, I would imagine it looking like this:  [make perplexed face].  And the angel says, hey, don’t be afraid, it’s good news – and then he tells her that she will soon be inexplicably and miraculously pregnant with a child who is to be the Son of the Most High, a ruler for all time, a king.

The text says that Mary doesn’t immediately jump at this very unusual opportunity, even though mainstream Christianity sometimes wants you to think differently.  Being inexplicably pregnant is not such great news on the face of it, not in her world or really any world for that matter.  Mary asks valid questions – how is such a thing possible? How would it take place, anyway? I’m not so sure how helpful the concept of being “overshadowed by the power of the Most High” was to her, but at least it alerted her to something far outside the everyday. Nothing will be impossible with God.  That seems to be the main message.


And so then Mary says the most important thing she could have said, the most important thing any of us can say when presented with divine opportunity.  She said that she was a servant of the holy, and she said “let it be with me according to your word.”  She said yes.

***

It is this saying yes in the face of her own doubt that makes Mary who she is, a holy woman revered for millennia for her devotion.  In contrast, it was just a few paragraphs before her story in the book of Luke, where we hear about Gabriel’s first visit, to Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, a visit that didn’t go quite as smoothly as the visit to Mary went. 


Zechariah was a priest, so you’d think he’d know better, but when the angel came to visit him, right there in the holiest part of the temple itself, mind you, and the angel told him that his wife - who was older and had never been able to conceive before - would soon be pregnant with a prophet who would prepare the way for God, Zechariah says, "How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years." The angel is sort of incredulous, and he says, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur." (Luke 1: 18-20)  Yikes.  And that’s what happened.  Elizabeth did become pregnant, with the child who would be called John the Baptist.  And Zechariah was mute until the day of John’s birth.


Which makes me wonder about such invitations to accept or reject divine opportunities that might appear in our own, more average human lives.  The sorts of situations that come our way, they might not be as big or as scary or as indescribable as those that came to Mary or to Zechariah.  But they might still be big and scary and indescribable to us, and yet as scary as we find them, those opportunities for us to do something mighty might still be exactly what the world needs from us.  The occurrences might come to us when we’re in a holy location and might expecting such a thing, or they could come to us when we’re somewhere much more mundane, and we won’t be expecting them at all. These sacred chances, they might be something that will call us to live our lives in more intentional, more holy ways, or they might even be something that will save the whole world, or at least the little part of it with which we interact. 


What do we say when we are faced with these holy moments, when we are filled with fear and doubt and wonder and promise?  We can all make the face, [make perplexed face] we can all wonder what’s going on, but what happens after that?  Do we say “let it be with me according to your word?”  Or do we list all the reasons why whatever is offered is impossible, forgetting that nothing will be impossible with God, that this divine world offers potentials that none of us yet know, that this divine world needs us in ways we cannot always see?

***

The liberal Christian tradition from which Unitarian Universalism comes tells us that Jesus saved the world because he embodied the Divine on this earth, because he walked God’s walk of Love in human feet, and gave us a permanent example of how to be loving towards each other even when our instincts lead us in the most unloving of directions.  You don’t have to be very attentive to note that we human beings hurt each other, in body and soul, over and over again, and we always have.  Learning a different path is what Jesus’ birth calls us to do.  The Incarnation is when God – that’s Love – was made Flesh – that’s us, human beings.  The very fact of Jesus’ birth means that it is possible that love – active, practical, unconditional love - can reside in these bodies of ours, despite all the evidence to the contrary.  With God nothing will be impossible. 


This is what we are talking about when we say that Mary was pregnant with exactly what the world needs.  Because the world needs to know – it needed to know it then and it needs to know it now - that love is something that human beings can do.

But Mary is not the only one who is offered divine opportunity. The bible is replete with examples of divine love coming to human beings to teach a better way.  Some of those human beings said yes, and some said no, and some ran away, and some were convinced, and on and on.  The Bible’s always got an interesting lesson about who is in charge, and here’s a hint, it’s not us human beings, that’s for sure.  The holy will find a way whether we say yes or not. 


But when we ask how we are living our own best lives, whether we are fulfilling our potential on this earth, rather than stumbling through each day as if those days mean nothing to anyone or anything, we might ask whether we are saying yes to those scary divine opportunities that we come across in our own lives.  What are we pregnant with (that’s a metaphor, teenagers!), what are we growing inside of us despite our fears, that might be exactly what the world needs, if we are brave enough to birth it? 

Author Marianne Williamson once wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Folks, we are going to get a chance to let our light shine right now.  Grab your candle, and take a moment to be sure you won’t be setting anything on fire.  In just a minute, you will have the chance to have your light sparked by someone near you.  Let it happen!  Say halleluia!  And promise yourself and the world that you’ll let your light shine as brightly as it can.