Luke 1: 26-45
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He 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. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The 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. 36And 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. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then 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.
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
My name is Sam Picard. I’m the pastor of Laurelton United Presbyterian Church about 3 miles north east of here. I also work as a paramedic with Rural Metro. I meet a lot of young mothers on the ambulance. It’s not uncommon for me to take 15 year old girls to the hospital in labor. In 2007 19% of births in Rochester were to teenage mothers. Many of these moms are single. Most live in poverty and have a hard time digging themselves and their children out of that situation. Being a parent is challenging, as many of you know. Think how much harder it would be as a teenager with few financial resources.
Many teenagers living in poverty feel hopeless. Their circumstances and surroundings can conspire to make them feel worthless. Sometimes that’s a big part of why young women get pregnant. Surrounded by poverty and violence I imagine it’s hard to imagine a better future.
There was plenty in Jesus’ scenario that could have made Mary feel the same way. Certainly, women were far from equal in that culture. The Roman occupation limited Jewish opportunity, surrounding them with constant reminders of their lack of independence and power. Nazareth, Mary’s hometown, had a bad reputation as well. Like many young mothers in Rochester’s poverty crescent, it would have been easy for Mary to feel like a nobody and give up hope.
But that’s not how God sees things. God chose Mary to be the mother of the savior of the world. God chose an ordinary girl in challenging circumstances to play a special role in our salvation. Paul’s words about Christianity in general fit Mary well: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”
That’s part of God’s character. God doesn’t care about appearances or how the world sees things. God has a long history of seeking out unremarkable people and families to do amazing things with. One of the blessings of the church’s decline as far as economic and social power is concerned is that it frees us to see God’s love for the ordinary and humble.
The church’s future isn’t in big fancy buildings or reaching out to the rich and famous. The church’s future is in rediscovering God’s love for the simple, for the least impressive, the under resourced, the despised and the impoverished. The church’s future is committing ourselves once again to the city, to those places forgotten or ignored by empire. Our future is in finding ways to bless and stand with those in need, reaching out to the hungry and hopeless.
Mary’s story helps us see young mothers and families in our community with new eyes, with God’s eyes perhaps. Each child, each parent, each person is a beloved child of God with gifts and possibilities waiting to be unlocked. In Mary’s story we see God’s special love for the oppressed and forgotten, and we know that our calling as God’s people leads us to serve the people God loves.
Serving and learning from families in need can help us see Mary’s story with new eyes as well. As we get into the messiness of urban ministry we’re reminded how revolutionary Jesus’ birth truly is. Jesus could have been born in a palace or a capital city, but instead he was born to a poor teenager from an oppressed culture in an area people avoided.
Our Urban Presbyterian congregations follow God’s calling in the city in many ways. We tutor kids in urban schools; we house homeless families through Rochester Area Interfaith Hospitality Network. We feed the hungry through the grocery program here and the dining room ministry at Third. We work with other Cameron and other organizations to provide clothing and after school programs. We support families with affordable day care at Lakeside Presbyterian and nursery school at South and Third. The list goes on, but we know our calling goes deeper still.
As we find more ways to work together in Urban Presbyterians Together we will become more engaged in the joys and struggles of our neighbors’ lives. As we deepen our ministry engagement in the community we’ll learn more about Mary’s faith and God’s calling. We’ll see new glimpses of how Jesus comes to life in the faces of the children and families of our city. We’ll grow in hope as we see God at work in new ways. We will be part of God’s healing love for our broken world and city.
We’ll also find God’s healing for ourselves. We’re wounded by oppressive systems and intimate heartache. We’re scarred by illness and trauma, whether physically, mentally or spiritually. We need God’s healing, and we find it in the love of Mary’s precious son Jesus.
The angel tells Mary that she will give birth to David’s heir, God’s chosen king. Isaiah writes about that future king, and about God’s kingdom of healing and peace. Listen to Isaiah’s words and imagine God’s healing power for yourself and for our city:
“2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
The God who chose to be born in a stable for us, the God who chose a teenager to be his mother, the God who suffered a young and violent death to show his powerful love, is still working wonders in our world. God can do amazing things with humble servants, be that a teenage mother or a small, urban church. As we prepare our hearts this Advent, listen for the echoes of Mary’s voice in the world around you. Let the sense of possibility and courage we hear in her voice lift your heart and open your eyes to God’s unfolding, surprising, healing love.
Thanks be to God.