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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Favor is Yours

Luke 1:26-38

“Greetings, favored ones. The Lord is with you and plans to do great things through you.” These words come straight out of the gospel text this morning, this text we associate with Mary because it does indeed tell the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary to announce to her that she has found favor with God, that God blesses her, that God has great things in store for her.

But I would submit to you that this is God’s greeting to you and me as well. “Greetings, favored ones. The Lord is with you and plans to do great things through you. And yet as we contemplate these words, we might well echo Mary’s response. “How can this be?” Mary was challenged to accept these words, because, she thought, she was but a young girl.

We might be challenged to accept these words because of our own circumstances. Pope Francis recently said, “Today, everything comes under the laws of competition and survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized; without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

Perhaps our challenge to believe that this blessing applies to us comes from the fact that we count ourselves among the marginalized. Or perhaps it comes from the fact that we know we are actually among “the powerful” and that knowledge convicts us and causes us guilt and grief as we consider our own culpability in the exclusion of the “masses” to which the pope alludes. How could we ever be considered “favored?”

Perhaps the challenge for us comes from the fact that deep down inside, we don’t feel worthy of such blessing. We are broken. We know it. We feel deeply the weight of our sin and our failures. We doubt, we have suffered grief, and we have caused others pain. We cannot see beyond our own needs and wants at times, and they, rather than our identity as children of God, become the driving force of our actions. For some of us, this challenge might come as we remember all the times we have tried – and failed – to live into this blessing. We bear all the scars of our human nature. As Martin Luther phrased it, we cannot, not sin.

Yesterday, in this very sanctuary, we held our first “Blue Christmas” worship service. Those who participated in the service and many who didn’t, know ambivalence and the pain and exclusion from celebrations warranted by this season of expectation and anticipation. Most have suffered losses, know grief that is all too fresh no matter how long they have held it. The joy and peace of Christmas may be hard for some of them to feel. They are not alone.

How then, can we truly be favored; how can God do great things through us? God doing something great for us, we might be able to believe. But given our human frailty, and all those realities just listed and more, how is it, truly, that God can do great things through us? These verses and the promised blessing may feel like too hard a pill for us to swallow.

Yet, the scriptures this morning point out to us the fact that God does both. The same God who created the universe from chaos and nothingness, who knows our name and numbers every hair on our head, who knows us to the very core of our being; This God loves us, in ways both profound and miraculous. In Christ, God has done wonderful things for us. God has seen beyond the obvious, and God has favored us. And now. the same God who did this crazy thing – choosing Mary, a humble, meek, inexperienced, unremarkable teenage girl to deliver into the world God’s love incarnate, chooses and favors you, and you, and you – in spite of the reality of our own “poor estate” – and in so doing, God blesses us to be a blessing to the world, because God loves us with a love beyond all knowing.

The psalm for today expresses the wonder at the core of Mary’s response to God’s blessing upon her, words that we also recognize as “Mary’s Song,” which forms the text of Luke’s gospel beginning just a few verses later:

You, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant;
You have done great things for me, and holy is your name.
You have mercy on those who fear you;
You have shown the strength of your arm;
You scatter the proud in their conceit.
You cast down the mighty from their thrones; You lift up the lowly; You fill the hungry with good things; You send the rich away empty.
You remember your promise of mercy.

Before Mary’s “yes,” before she even has time to contemplate Gabriel’s words, or their implications, God has blessed Mary. In God’s “favor” God has set her apart and given her identity. God has done the same for me and for you through baptism. Before we even had time to respond, God blessed us, and God blesses us still. God has blessed us with life, and God has granted us eternal life. As we abide in God’s favor and blessing, God does great things through us. God didn’t bless Mary because of her answer, yet in trust and courage, Mary answered, “yes.”

Her willingness to trust the promises of God is the mark of true discipleship. What is it that she believes? That God favors her. That God has noticed her. That God knows her. That God has great plans for her. Her response? “Let it be. - Let it be with me according to your word.”

God has blessed us and has great things in store for us, too. And God has promised that through the Holy Spirit, God will continue a daily cycle of blessing, forgiveness, accompaniment, and empowerment, that through our words and actions, through our daily walk, God can do great things through us. As disciples of Christ through whom God blesses, forgives, empowers and loves others, may we, too, “let it be, O Lord, according to your Word.”

Blessing is a powerful thing. It is a rare thing. The funny thing is, true blessing is neither deserved nor earned; it is always a gift, a gift that in the church we often refer to as “grace.” As David Lose says, “Blessing intrudes into, interrupts, and ultimately disrupts our quid pro quo world to announce that someone sees us worthy and special apart from anything we’ve done. This is why this passage is so important… not because it lifts up Mary as the exception, but rather because it identifies her as an example of what can happen when you believe that God notices, favors, and blesses you.” The Lord is with you and plans to do great things through you. This is God’s promise and blessing for us.

May you, who are highly regarded by God, favored and blessed that God may do wonderful things through you, find power through the Holy Spirit to believe in God’s promise and abiding grace. May you be guided in all you do and say, that God may indeed, bless the world through you.

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