Submit Your Own!
Free Sample for December 21, 2014
By David Howell
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Preaching Luke 1:26-38
Normally preachers are not encouraged to make announcements that lead to perplexity and fear. Normally preachers are inclined to resolve and comfort those conditions. However, following Gabriel’s actions and Mary’s responses, these may be the necessary conditions for God’s word to bear fruit.
In a wonderful article entitled, “Bourne in Perplexity,”1 Lillian Daniel notices that, in this account of the extraordinary dialogue with the angel Gabriel, Mary’s state of perplexity in never downplayed. In fact, Mary is perplexed even before she hears that she is pregnant.
This may be a different kind of comfort to us, at least to those of us who do not live in a state of quiet confidence or certainty about our faith. As Daniel says, “perplexity, as a state of mind, is hugely underrated in our surefooted society.” No one wants to be known as a confused person, yet, by bringing Mary’s perplexity to our attention, the passage implies that newness in faith may be made possible by the openness that perplexity brings.
This will be a liberating thought for many sermon listeners. The state of perplexity and the use of indirect communication, the presence of ambiguity, ambivalence, language that dances around the mystery of God incarnate—paradox—all of these normally unwelcome and uncertain forms may be essential to the hearing of a new “word,” the Gospel.
A valuable insight for preachers is found in Mary’s response to hearing this word of the Lord in Gabriel. As Daniel puts it, what if Mary’s response was “thanks for the update, Gabe. Consider me up-to-date and informed. I’m moving ahead with total clarity. I’ll take it from here!”? Would God have doubted that this was the right woman for the job? Instead, God chooses Mary because this was a job for someone with an open spirit, someone who could be touched by something new, someone smart enough to be afraid in the face of an angel, and decidedly not someone who had closed down on the possibilities that God is always offering.
Faithfully receiving requires a certain passivity. It is not weakness, it is the faithful stance of a person who trusts that, given a little space in our lives, God will move. It is to trust that God knows what God is doing, even if we don’t, and God is drawn to those who need divine grace and mercy. So being perplexed, vulnerable, young, alone, old, tired, these are not necessarily bad states-of-being when it comes to attracting a divine encounter.
Maybe the biggest trouble we have in this society is that no one is trying to be like Mary. We try not to be lowly. When you combine this encounter with Gabriel and Mary’s Song (Advent 3) as her response, we can see that this is about God overturning the tyrants of the world, but it also reveals that the “powerful” parts of “me” need to be overturned.
I don’t know how it is where you live, but over here we are almost certain that we must be successful, we must get ahead, we must be important, we must gain influence. Think of what we could do! Then we internalize these demands and believe that if we fulfill this mission, we will be safe, successful, influential, strong, powerful, and we will be safe.
I’ll be okay once I become a full professor, once I have titles flowing outward from each end of my name, once I have a nice house, universal respect, and your undying love. Then, I will be fulfilled with God’s grace and heavenly benediction. Then I will be fulfilled.
“Fool!” Says the Lord.
Every ad I see encourages women to deny their age, whether it’s too old or too young. What is the perfect age for a woman? God doesn’t seem to know, because here in Luke 1 he chooses one too-old and one too-young.
God knows, and we probably know too, that we really are vulnerable, we are lowly, we are anxious, we are nervous. It is a nerve-racking time in which to live. But God knows what God is doing, and God is drawn to those who need him.
God might just bring forth a baby Jesus from that loser girl you saw taunted in high school; even if she is you. God might just heal the crushed people, feed the starving people, raise up the lowly people—and we just might be saved by them.
1. Lillian Daniel, “Bourne in Perplexity: Luke 1:26-38” in Journal for Preachers (Advent 2005), 26-27.
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