Annunciation of the Lord: Gospel and alternate Psalms Passage – How Mary played a part to bring the Light to fruition

[I’m going to tread down a divergent path for this passage, so be warned.]

“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.” (Luke 1:26 – 27)

Have you asked or heard about how your mother and father met? My parents met as a high school they both attended. My husband’s parents just got to know each other living in a small town, or at least I assume that is the story. My husband and I met at college. My grandfather say my grandmother traveling on a street car and liked her looks enough that he followed the street car. For every child, there is a story about how his/her parents met – regardless of whether it is a pleasant story of not.

In the Jewish tradition that Jesus grew up in, most marriages were arranged. So Joseph and Mary may have been matched up by their families instead of meeting at the market square or by the town’s water well. Jesus’ mother and his “other” Father – that’s a different story.

“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.” (Verses 28 – 33)

Now Mary and the Lord God knew each other. She had to in order to “have found favor with God.” While women did not serve in the Temple or Synagogue, and they had a special place in the Lord God’s house of worship, it was not uncommon for a woman to be devote in worship of God. Jesus and his disciples knew of women who were devote, as did Paul. So Mary must have been such a woman of devotion. But nothing in any woman’s experience of worship of God would point to this type of service to God. Mary did not question that she was called into service to God but wonder how this would come about according to her understanding of fertility and child birth.

“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.” (Verses 34 to 35)

I used to think that it was a great burden to place on a young girl to be singled out by God and be made subject to the type of criticism and disfavor that she must have borne in her community. I have revised my thinking on that. But still, it must have made an interesting story to young Jesus when/if he asked about how his parents met or how babies are born or any of the other questions young children might ask. Questions that are universal and timeless amongst young humanity.

Just as Mary’s pregnancy was distinct and set apart from other women in her community, so too was the birth of Jesus. It is good to remember this when we think of Jesus. From the first moment of his conception is was different and set apart. Yet he grew and matured as any other child and young man. It is good to remember this as we journey through Lent. That Jesus’ life story is close to ours, but yet different. That we may live a life like any other, yet as followers of the Lord God and Jesus Christ we are set apart. And that all followers of the Divine are part of a unique family starting with Mary, and with Joseph.

“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.” (Verses 36 – 38)

“Let it be.” One of the many reasons I admire Mary is that she trusted in the Lord God so completely that she was obedient. Even when things looked unfathomable, she trusted. I try to that too. And I look to the same God that she did. Through that connection she is my spiritual sister.

I do not know if Mary would have read the psalms or been familiar with them. I would like to think that she was. Because it seems to me, in many ways, Mary’s life lives out the psalms. To her is credited the Magnificat. And the alternate psalms passage for this day sounds a lot like what Mary might have felt.

You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalms 40:5 – 8)

Mary, however, did not say much out loud. Many times the scriptures tells us she pondered things in her heart. I would like to think in her older/later years she talked and told the people around her about what God had done for her and how the Lord had accepted her service. Indeed, how would we know so many things about Mary if she had not spoken to someone?

“I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” (Verses 9 – 10)

The Day of Annunciation is at it’s foundation Mary’s story. Yes, it is the story of how/why Jesus is the Son of God. But it is Mary’s story; of how faith brought forth greater faith. And it can be our story too. We may not be called to bring forth an infant Jesus, but we can carry the news of our Lord God and Jesus Christ. That too is part of the journey of Lent.

May you, gentle reader, ponder in your heart and then tell the “glad news of deliverance”! Selah!

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The Annunciation of the Lord: The Gospel, Old Testament and New Testament Passages

“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.” (Luke 1:26-38)

The Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end. While we are still considering Jesus ascending to God, we are also considering the foretelling of Jesus coming to earth. Of course, according to many, Jesus was already foretold and the progress of his ministry, his crucifixion, death and resurrection established. It is often when we understanding the ending of something, we can best understand how it started.

“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.
Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:10-14)

If one reads this in context, and the verses that follow, it would be hard to know if this is a sign just for Ahaz or if it is a sign of the coming of the Messiah. That is this passage is cited for the annunciation of the Lord, which is the day of recognition and celebration that Mary was visited by the angel, tells you the way the RCL interprets it. But “signs and wonders” can be for many things, and have a variety of meanings and interpretations. What once was may be no more. Former beliefs and practices give way to new understandings.

“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:4-10)

Perhaps the annunciation of the Lord coming so close after Easter is a reminder that Jesus’ death and resurrection was the culmination of a plan started many years before, and the possibility of foretold longer ago than that. I have said before, beloved reader, that there is enough in the Divine for of all of creation and all of humanity (and if you have not read me saying that before, take note of it now). Not everyone needs and appropriates the same aspects of God, and the Lord in infinite wisdom had prepared a faith for each person so that they might believe. That we come together in common enough beliefs to create corporate worship and fellowship is another blessing of the Lord. Yes, there are common beliefs to Christianity – Catholic, Protestant and all others that common together in ecumenical harmony. But I digress . . . . again.

May you beloved reader pause and take note of this day of beginnings. Selah!

Christmas 2015 – The Gospel Passages

The Gospel Passage – The Week of Christmas: Jesus is here!

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.
Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1-20)

I wish you could see, beloved reader, the “full-stage” production I see in my mind when I read this passage. At all the appropriate moments a choir breaks into songs such as “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Silent Night”, “Away in a Manager”, “Angels We Have Heard on High”, and narrator guides the watcher/listener throughout.

I love Christmas time with all its decorations, colors, songs, and celebrations. I love especially the gospel of Luke’s telling of the story. What I like best about the Luke story is the line buried in all that “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” I do not know if that is something writer of the gospel of Luke actually knew (and how it was known) or if it was just something that was attributed to Mary. But it always made me fill some kinship to Mary, because I am a ponderer too.

May you, beloved reader, ponder on the story of Jesus’ birth. And may your thoughts of wonder and joy carry you through the Christmas season. Selah!

HAVE THE SAME LOVE AS CHRIST . . . Focused on God and God’s mission in the world

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2 from Philippians 2:1-11)

It is Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve most things focus the evening hours, leading up to midnight when the hours of darkness slowly turn to the hours of dawn. And the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

But two thousand plus years ago, the story of Jesus’ birth tell us, the focus was the daytime hours and Mary & Joseph journeying into Bethlehem and the busy-ness and noise there. If you have ever played a part in birthing a baby, you will know the hours leading up to the birth can be fraught with pain and desperation. So this passage is quite conducive to the minutes and hours leading up to Christmas day.

Encouragement? I am sure Mary needed lots of encouragement. “I’ll find some place for us to stay tonight” Joseph must have said. “It’s only a little further” Mary must have told her self. “I’ll find something soft for you to lay down on” Joseph probably told Mary. “Lots of women have had babies and lived to tell about it” Mary probably told herself.

Consolation from love? Joseph loved Mary – he took her for his wife, braving the scandal. Mary loved Joseph – he believed she was special amongst all women, and not just because she was his wife. They both loved God and believed that God was with them and blessed them.

Sharing of the Spirit? Oh, the Spirit was there gentle reader. Make no doubt of that. No other baby had its birth announcement done by a heavenly choir.

Compassion and sympathy? While a stable might have been one of the worse places to give birth, it is a birth story that has moved countless millions and has engendered Mary and Joseph as celebrated of parents.

As for joy? The world have been moved by joy yearly.

Paul may not have intended for this snippet of his letter to the Philippians to be applied to the Christmas story, but I do not think he would be displeased. So would say to you also, gentle reader. Be of the same mind; trust in God as Joseph did. Allow yourself to be used for God’s plan as Mary did. And go out into the world declaring joy and peace as Christ did. Be of one mind with them all! Selah! And shalom for your day.