A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
First, Isaiah 35:1-10
During this Advent season the Gospel texts are from Matthew, which has no story about Mary. But on this particular week, it offers as an alternative to the Psalm a song that Mary sang, in Luke’s story.
In Luke, the story begins with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. And when Elizabeth was pregnant with John, the angel Gabriel went to visit Mary, and told her she would be the mother of the Messiah. After that, Mary ran to be with her much older cousin, Elizabeth. And at their meeting, Mary burst out into this song:
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
In the first place, when the angel Gabriel broke the news to Mary, she did NOT say, “Oh, I was hoping this would happen!”
Nor did she say she THOUGHT it would happen.
In fact, she was troubled, and wondered what it might mean that God was paying any special attention to her. And then she said, when the specifics were revealed, “How can this be?”
But somehow, she got from “How can this be”
Well I have a confession to make: I am not known for making that same journey very often. Faced with a challenge, I’m skeptical.
I’d like to say it want; always that way, but neither can I say I’ve always been an optimist.
I’ve thought about this.
I’ve argued about this.
I’ve wrestled with this.
I know plenty of optimists, and I love them (even if they cringe at my skepticism).
But I LOVE them, and they’ve taught me much more than a thing or two.
But what I believe is that love is hard and I refuse to pretend that it isn’t.
So I have been convinced for quite some time now that Mary was that sort of girl:
She knew the facts.
She knew grief.
She knew hunger.
She knew poverty.
She knew the way of governments of her time:
People like her got ignored.
Even now, when in some way shape or form we still try to do something for the poor, We don’t understand them.
But Mary did, because she WAS poor.
On the other hand, I don’t think she let herself get pushed around. Not too much, anyway.
I think that because I think God likes that.
And I think she noticed when other people got pushed around.
I think THAT because of the way her son turned out.
And even if she couldn’t; do anything ABOUT her friends getting pushed around, I think she had compassion for them, and anger for injustice.
I KNOW that, because I KNOW God has those things.
So that’s where she started from, and those things are ESSENTIAL in order to get to
Because you have to have something to shout magnificent about!
But still, I think she wasn’t expecting anything. Because she knew grief and she knew hunger and she knew the way things are, and she knew that things had been that way for a long, long time.
But I think something else WAS going on in Mary’s heart.
Something that told God MARY WAS THE GIRL.
Something that prepared Mary for the weird, unbelievable tin God was going to do.
And maybe, it was prayer. Maybe Mary prayed.
Not for world peace, or an end to hunger, or for kingdoms to topple.
But for daily bread.
For that one guy to stop bothering that one girl.
For the kid who was afraid because his mom was sick.
And I think sometimes, she saw God’s answers-
Some of the answered surely came in the form she asked for.
But surely OTHER answers came in offbeat, unusual, and unexpected ways.
So- I think that for Mary, nothing was impossible with God.
Which is what she said, finally, after she had that puzzled conversation with Gabriel.
So there was she was, favored by God and favored by the scandalized shock of her neighbors, and she ran to Elizabeth- who just happened to live way out I the hills where there were not any nosey neighbors.
And she had to be afraid.
In those days most every woman who was pregnant WAS afraid,
And she was a teenager with a righteous boyfriend- we’ll talk about HIM next week.
But she knew the truth about life
And she believed the truth about God.
And God had confidence in her.
I’m suRe you know, there were some absolutely horrific fires in a place called Pigeon Forge Tennessee. That’s in the Smokey Mountains.
Well, it turns out I have an old high school friend living there, a retired Methodist pastor.
Her name is Lorrain, and she was grief stricken. But she set to work.
And the challenges were great
And they continue, every day.
But she knows that those challenges come from God.
Which must mean that God has confidence in her.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying there are some times when I wish God did not have quite so much confidence in me.
But God does.
Because when God is IN US, then we can do ALL THINGS.
And God was in Mary, in more ways than one, in ways that God has never been before or since.
So Mary knew how it was when God was at work.
Those folk who live on the wet side of Hawaii-
They know how the earth works.
The world’s most active volcano is there, and lava has been overflowing there, but it’s barely made a blip in the news.
But my friend Gail lives two miles from it, and several times a week she goes to look.
And it never ceases to wow her.
To her, it’s magnificent.
Friends, how we get from “What? Seriously?”
Is this: we know what needs to be done
We know that God CAN do it
And we feel God doing SOMETHING in us.
Because God IS.
And when it’s really there
We might even sing.
We might even dance- but we’re not GOING to today…
But we might shout-
So why not shout right now.
Shout after me:
It is Magnificent God!
This thing you are doing in me!
Because I was just moseying along
And you found me
And lit a fire into me!
But don’t ever forget, it was God who did it. That’s what Mary knew. That’s what she sang.
That’s what she never forgot.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.