And that idea is true. For over a thousand years, paintings and sculptures of Mary holding the baby Jesus has moved through artists hands and people’s souls. This gentle, nurturing, loving motherliness connecting with this vulnerable, but holy child. That’s the power of God, it is indeed.
But that’s not all of the power of God. Nor is it all of Mary. In the Gospel lesson for today, the angel Gabriel appears to a probably teenage girl, maybe fourteen or fifteen, named Mary and says, “Greetings, favored one!”
Mary is not sure what to make of all this. Because these angels, for all their beauty, for all their trans light speed wings with their sharp, smooth rainbow feathers and their blazing glory, angels bring trouble.
Gabriel brings trouble. This is the same Gabriel who appeared to the prophet Daniel to interpreted Daniel’s vision of the last days, and more to the point, his vision of the fact that God is greater than the Greek Empire that was persecuting the Jews at that point. God was going to shake things up. God was bringing hope, but God was also bringing trouble.
This is the same Gabriel that appeared to Zechariah, the father of the prophet John the Baptist, told Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth were going to have a son when they had not been able to. That was hopeful. But if you know the story of John the Baptist, then you know that there was going to be trouble.
Mary is not sure about this.
Angel says “Do not be afraid Mary, you are going to conceive and have a baby, who will reign over his people forever.
Okay, that’s trouble for sure: trouble on two counts. First of all, the Romans are not going to like somebody else besides them ruling over the people of Israel, even for a little while, much less forever. That’s going to be trouble.
Secondly, Mary lives in a traditional village culture in first century Palestine. She knows what happens when women give birth out of wedlock. It’s not pretty. This is trouble.
But before all the trouble, Mary asks a question. One piece of this story does not add up. There are certain procedures that need to take place before a person can get pregnant, and Mary knows for a fact that these procedures have not taken place with respect to her, so she says, “How can this be?” “How is this going to work?” in other words.
You know, it’s good to ask questions when things don’t add up. It’s good to find things out when we don’t understand. That also is the power of God.
Angels Gabriel explains, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the most high will overshadow you,” and so on. The one to be born will be called Son of God.
Wait a minute. We will hear more about this tonight. But guess who else was called “Son of God” in first century Roman Empire? Augustus. The Emperor if Rome. So which is the real Son of God, the Roman Emperor or Jesus?
Yes, very clearly, there is going to be trouble with the Romans.
More immediately, Mary knows a village culture. She knows that people will whisper about her. She knows that people will point at her from behind her back. She also knows that she might lose her fiancé, Joseph, who, by the way, was probably not very much older than she was, probably was a teenager too. Common people got married early in those days because there wasn’t time to wait. Just setting the record straight.
Mary could easily have lost her fiance’. She knows this.
But Mary also knows the God she is dealing with. She knows this is the God who brings people out of slavery to the mightiest superpower in the world, where there was no hope whatsoever of deliverance, no hope at all of escape, this is the God who brings hope where there can be no hope. She knows this God.
Mary knows this God, who looks out for the widow and the orphan and the poor and the foreigner, the refugee; this God who requires, requires those who are not destitute, requires those who have families and jobs, to care for the widow and the orphan and the poor and the stranger, the refugee.
Mary knows about the whisperings of the village, but she also knows what kind of a God this is, so she says to the angel, “Sure, I place my allegiance on the side of this God. Sure, I’ll do it.”
This is the power of God too.
Today we have read Mary’s song instead of the Psalm. We read it last week too. Mary sings this song when she goes into the hill country of Judea to see her relative Elizabeth, both of them are pregnant, both of them are touched by miracle. And Elizabeth blesses Mary. And out of that blessing that sisterly connection of new life, comes this proclamation:
“My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For he has looked upon the lowliness of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed.
. . .
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the delusions of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
No, no, this is not so much holy Mary mother meek and mild, is it. This is trouble. This is hope. Can you hear Mary roar?
This is the power of God too.
So how is the power of God working in you today? How is the power of God calling you to gentle kindness, nurturing mothering love? How is the power of God calling you to ask questions to find out new things, to seek to understand? How is the power of God calling you to set aside the tyranny of appearances, the slavery to what everybody else might think, and say to this God of freedom, “sure, I’ll do it.”? How is the power of God calling you to connect with others who have life in them, because we all have life in us, whether we will ever be pregnant or not. How is the power of God calling you to roar like Mary?