Summit Presbyterian Church
December 24, 2011
Luke 2: 1-20; Titus 2: 11-16
When the shepherds came to Mary and Joseph they made known what the angel had told them about the child: that they would find him in Bethlehem, lying in a manger and wrapped in bands of cloth. That he was a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. That his birth was good news of great joy for all the people. That they needn't be afraid.
Luke says that Mary treasured these words, and pondered them in her heart. She must have added them to the words she had heard about her son from the Angel Gabriel: that he would be great, and called the son of the most High. That God would give him the throne of David, and his kingdom would have no end. Gabriel had also said, that, she Mary, was favored by God. Which might have come as a surprise since she was poor, young, and unexpectedly pregnant.
Mary also had - and would have - words of non-angels to treasure. When pregnant Mary had visited her pregnant relative Elizabeth, Elizabeth's baby in utero leapt for joy - leading Elizabeth to tell Mary, "Blessed is the fruit of your womb." A few days after the shepherds' visit, Mary and Joseph took their newborn to the temple to be dedicated. A holy man named Simeon proclaimed that in Jesus he saw the salvation of God, prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to the people Israel. The elderly prophet, Anna, who lived in the temple, praised God when she saw him and spoke about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
How did Mary imagine the future for her firstborn son, as she pondered all these words that had been spoken about him? She may have pictured Jesus climbing the throne in Herod's palace, with the Roman army in retreat, along with their local collaborators. She may have imagined visiting heads of state, her son honored even among the gentiles. She may have imagined herself as queen mother, favored not only by God, but by the people. And she must have imagined peace and prosperity for the people of Israel, and other nations, under the reign of her son, the hungry filled with good things and the lowly lifted up.
She probably didn't imagine a crucifixion. A painful, and shameful death, with none of his friends, even, willing to bear witness. She probably didn't imagine such a humble life for him, a traveling teacher and healer. She probably didn't imagine Rome stronger than ever, the Jewish rebellions crushed, the hungry still empty and the rich still full of good things. Surely, after these words, she expected Jesus to outlive her, as children should. As her son breathed his last breath and the stone was rolled against the tomb, what did Mary make of those angelic words from that night long ago?
We can only imagine, for Luke doesn't say. After the birth and childhood of Jesus, he seems to lose interest in Mary. She's not listed among the followers or opponents of Jesus as he teaches and heals in Galilee. She doesn't appear that last week in Jerusalem. She's not one of the women to discover the empty tomb, nor does Jesus show himself to her. But Mary appears one more time in Luke's telling, in the Book of Acts. Luke says that after the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples and they saw him lifted into heaven, they were in an upper room, constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus.
Nothing went for Mary's son the way the angels led her to expect. He never ascended a throne and was executed as a criminal. Most folks didn't know who he was, and they didn't call him great. His disciples reported they saw him alive again, but she had only their word, and every reason to fear those were idle tales. Yet she remained faithful. She didn't turn from God to emperor worship or a mystery cult. She didn't cling to the past, building a nativity scene in her living room as a memorial. She gathered with her fellow disciples. She devoted herself to prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit and for God's future to unfold. Despite all she had been through, she still trusted in the words she heard that night. The words that promised salvation for all and peace on earth.
Our joyful challenge, at Christmas and always, is to trust, like Mary, in the good news the angels proclaimed. To believe that Christ saves, especially when it feels like we're drowning in grief, addiction, pain or loneliness. To hope for peace on earth, even though we live in a world of nuclear weapons. To insist the hungry can be filled with good things, even though we live in a time ravaged by greed. To trust that things are not as they seem, that even in the brokenness of this world, Christ lives and works among us - where there's love and healing; where justice is done; where peace is restored. The reign of Christ is yet to come in all it's fulness; but Jesus is here on this Holy Night, and God's promises are also for us. As Paul said in his letter to Titus: the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, even as we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
May we wait in faith, and hope, and love. Amen.