2nd Sunday of Advent Sermon Monologue
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead
Luke 1: 26-38, 46-55
Thank you for having me here this morning in this place of worship! Your sanctuary is decorated beautifully, and with such lovely music, I must say I thought I heard the angels sing. Forgive me. I haven’t introduced myself. I am Mary, the mother of Jesus. I have come from the “heavenly places” to share my story—my experience as the woman chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus.
As you probably know, I come from the little village of Nazareth. I was the first child born to my mother and father. We were a poor family, but we lived in a house filled with love. My father was a farmer and a godly man who studied Scripture whenever he could. When he was young he yearned for a formal education, but it wasn’t possible. Oh the many times I remember him and the other men of the community discussing the law and the prophets. And as Roman rule became more and more intense, so did their talk of the coming Messiah—the blessed hope from the line of David.
Mother was very protective of me. She and Father had been married a few years before I was born and she had begun to fear she was barren. So when I arrived she took seriously her calling to be a good mother to her “gift from Yahweh.” Later, she was to dote on my siblings as well, still the two of us had a special bond. And oh the plans she had for me. She hoped I would marry the son of a merchant in the village so that I would have the financial stability she had never known. It took a while for her to accept the love Joseph and I had for one another.
I can’t remember a time I didn’t love Joseph—his kind eyes, his gentle ways. He was a godly man, a carpenter by trade, who approached life with wonder and hope. After our engagement, we began making plans for the future. Joseph and his brothers began building our home while Mother and I were busy making bedding, tablecloths, towels—the basic necessities for our new life together.
Then one day, toward sundown I went to the stable cave to water the donkey. I breathed in the sweet smell of hay as I emptied water into the trough. Suddenly the donkey made a whimpering noise just as a bright shaft of light poured through the doorway.[i] I thought I heard someone call my name. I looked outside, but I didn’t see anyone. As I walked back through the doorway the light became even brighter and then I heard the voice clearly, yet gently say, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” I was so frightened I could hardly stand because what I saw before me was an angel of the Lord. The angel told me not to be afraid for I had been chosen to bring forth the Son of the Most High. He explained how this child would reign over the house of Jacob forever—his kingdom would never end. Then he told me of another miracle—my relative Elizabeth, well advanced in years, was also with child. “For nothing is impossible with God,” the angel said.
I was shocked. All the daughters of Israel imagined they might be the chosen one who would bring the hope of Israel into the world. But me? I wasn’t worthy. I had many faults. Sometimes I did not treat my mother and father with the respect they deserved. I often envied my cousins. No, I was far from perfect! Yet an angel of God stood before me and announced the will of God for my life and, with courage I did not know I possessed, I answered: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be with me as you have said.” And so it happened—the Spirit of Yahweh kindled life within me and I was with child—the Holy Child!
For days, I walked around in amazement, astounded that no one could see the change taking place within me. My parents, family, people on the street—they talked and laughed, they worked and played—in the same old way—they didn’t know, didn’t suspect—could not recognize the mark of God upon me. Oh that they would! Oh that they could! How much easier the days ahead might have been. I began to wonder how I would tell my parents—and Joseph, dear Joseph. My mother was the first to notice my singing had turned to silence. Repeatedly she questioned me until finally I could keep silent no more. So I asked her to sit with me for a while and then I told her of the visitation from the angel. She was stunned. She thought I was ill, having illusions, fantasies. She ran to get my father who was plowing with the ox out in the field.
At first my father seemed to believe my story—at least to entertain that it might be true. But then doubt set in and the questions began. I proclaimed my innocence again and again. I assured my parents that Joseph didn’t know of my condition because the child wasn’t his. After a while, my father told me I must tell Joseph at once—I know he was concerned for my very life. What would Joseph say? What would he do?
And so, that very night after the evening meal, Joseph came to visit. I’m sure he could sense my tension right away. How do you speak such a truth to the man you love? Finally, I simply said: “I am with child.” I could see the shock on his face and then silence, dead silence. Then his simple response: “Whose?” I quickly told him of the angel Gabriel and all that he had told me. But Joseph, this man of God whose voice often rang out in the synagogue as he read Scripture—he did not believe. Doubt was all around me. How could this be? My loved ones believed the Christ child would come one day, but not now? Not to us in our time, in our town? Not to Joseph and to me? No, no this great event must happen far, far away, to other people. That would make it credible. That would make it safe.
I told Joseph I would be going away. I had overheard my parents in the early evening hours; they planned to send me to stay with Elizabeth for a while. Joseph was crushed but being the gentle Joseph I knew, before he left he assured me of his love and he told me that as long as he lived no harm would come to me. With tear filled eyes I watched Joseph walk away.
Before my departure, my family and I attended my cousin’s wedding. I was struck by the irony of the wedding blessing, a distinctly polite thing to say at a Jewish wedding—“The hope of Israel, the hope of Israel.” The blessing spoke of the hope that from this newly married couple a son would be born who would be the savior of us all. But I knew in my heart that these same people who were shouting, “The hope of Israel, the hope of Israel” would look upon me with contempt should I tell them that even now their hope was being fulfilled. Isn’t it amazing how we believe in miracles, but only for someone else!
I felt so alone. I needed someone with whom I could speak openly, who would understand, who could accept this truth. Sending me to be with Elizabeth was my parents’ way of allowing us all some time to pray and to plan. But it was God’s way of giving me the encouragement I desperately needed. Yahweh gave me the gift of time with the only woman who could really understand my plight, dear Elizabeth who was herself the recipient of a miracle of God.
In retrospect, I realize that I had to go, to fulfill my parent’s wishes, yes, but also to proclaim this Good News. And the very day of my arrival, John the Baptist began his role of alerting people to the coming Messiah as he leaped in his mother’s womb.
Soon I returned to Nazareth. Joseph had planned to dismiss me quietly but after an angel appeared to him in a dream he eagerly took me for his wife. In time, Joseph and I came to realize that God had called both of us—this child, this miracle—had leaped into both our lives. And somehow, somehow, we trusted that God would make a way to keep us safe.
When I look back over my life on earth, I remember much love and pain, joy and sorrow. I was an unlikely candidate for God to use. I was young, poor, a woman. Today you may feel that your ability, experience, or education makes you an unlikely candidate for God’s service. But I am a witness to the fact that God works through ordinary people. God didn’t send Gabriel to a queen or a princess, but to me, a young girl betrothed to a carpenter. Remember what Gabriel said: “For nothing is impossible with God.”
When I look back over my life on earth, I remember that living obedient to God’s call will not guarantee a life free of pain. Although I was favored by God, the blessing bestowed upon me seemed a strange one. By today’s standards it would hardly be considered a blessing at all, for it offered nothing of the “good life”—power, social status, wealth! I was called to bring forth a child out of wedlock who would later be executed as a criminal. Acceptability, prosperity, and comfort have never been the essence of God’s blessing. Yet God has a way of blessing, even in the midst of pain. When you sorrow, when you hurt, look to God for comfort. In God there is joy—joy that will be multiplied in this life and in the life to come.
When I look back over my life on earth, I rejoice that God brought his people back to himself through his Son. I was chosen to deliver Jesus, the Son of God who would deliver us all from our sins. I have the unique privilege of being the only person present at my son’s birth as well as his death. I saw him arrive as my baby boy and I watched him die as my Savior. The goodness of God outweighed the evil of this world as Yahweh worked out our salvation through Jesus Christ. Salvation through Christ—it is what you will remember as you partake of the heavenly food—the bread of life and the cup of salvation.
Still today, people call me blessed and, yes, I am blessed—not because of what I did but because of what God did through me. I am blessed to be a part of God’s plan, blessed to be the mother of Jesus, blessed to have kissed his face, held him close, and witnessed his Abba’s hand upon him through it all.
Indeed, my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed;
For the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name.
Figure 1: Stushi Art by subscription
Figure 2: “Virgin Annunciate,” Antonello da Messina, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Luke 1: 26-49, NRSV
The New Interpreter’s Commentary: Luke
An Introduction to the New Testament, Raymond E. Brown
Portions of this narrative adapted from Two From Galilee, Marjorie Holmes.
1st Sunday of Advent
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead
Psalm 146; Luke 1:67-79
Zechariah is a priest in the days of King Herod. He and his wife Elizabeth are getting up in years and though they are righteous before God, they have no children because Elizabeth is barren. One day, Zechariah is chosen to enter the Sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. He steps inside while the people stand outside, praying—just another day in the life of a priest. That is, until an angel shows up right beside the altar. Zechariah is, understandably, terrified. The angel tries to relieve his fears with that—oh so common angel phrase: “Be not afraid.” Then the angel delivers God’s message for Zechariah: “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife will bear a son and you will name him John.”
Instructions are provided for the child’s upbringing and then the angel says: “Before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit… He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah is dumbfounded—and asks the angel, “How will I know that this is so? I’m an old man and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel, less than pleased by Zechariah’s doubting spirit, drags out the angel passport—as a little attention-getter, if you will. “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God!”
Gabriel who appeared to Daniel in the days of old and who will appear to Mary who is engaged to Joseph, now stands before Zechariah—“I have been sent to bring you this good news…but now, because you did not believe my words, you will be unable to speak until the day these things occur.”
I remember the first time I encountered Gabriel—oh, not to worry—it wasn’t a personal encounter. It was Christmas and I was 8 years old. I received an unusual present that year—a Children’s Bible Story Book. Now this may not seem like an odd Christmas gift—but it was for me. Except for one uncle who lived in another state, no one in my family attended church or professed to be a Christian. And it wasn’t even my Christian uncle who gave me the gift—it was someone who rarely gave anyone gifts and who never spoke of God. But there the gift was in my hands—a book with beautiful pictures. Of course, it was the pictures that drew me in and I began looking at the Old Testament images of Adam and Eve, Noah, Joseph, Moses, David and Goliath, Elijah, Daniel, Jonah… The first story in the New Testament was the story of Zechariah being visited by the angel Gabriel. I saw the fear on Zechariah’s face. Later, when I understood the story a little better, I realized that even though Zechariah was a priest, a man of God, he was still surprised when God showed up. Zechariah heard the angel’s words but even he wondered, “Is it true?”
As a child of eight, living in a broken home, fearful of many things—I could identify with Zechariah. Alhough I never had an angel to ask—still I had questions—lots of them—and I had questions about a lot more than Zechariah and Elizabeth. I questioned the whole Bible story from beginning to end. Is it true—or is it just a fairy tale? Is there hope in the Baby born in a manger? Are all of us welcome into the family of God? Are all of us welcome at the Table of our Lord? “Tell me, O God, tell me, is it true?”
The people have been waiting for Zechariah outside the sanctuary for a while. They have their own questions. No doubt, they wonder what is taking him so long. When he finally does come out, they do not have their questions answered but this they know—Zechariah has witnessed something of great magnitude. Zechariah has been in the presence of the holy!
In a short time, Gabriel is on the move again. This time to a young maiden engaged to Joseph. Another, “Be not afraid…” Another God Message of a child to be born. Another question, “How can this be?” And then the word from heaven: “The child will be named Jesus—the Son of the Most High.” Fast-forward a few months—a few months with Zechariah sitting in silence. From that quiet place, he must be aware that all around him, God’s Word is coming true. Elizabeth bears a son just as the angel foretold. The drama continues on the 8th day when the child is to be circumcised. At the “Naming Ceremony,” the priest must have assumed the baby’s name would be Zechariah Jr.—but Elizabeth responds, “No, his name is John.” They don’t believe her so they turn to the mute Zechariah who asks for a tablet—on which he writes, “His name is John.” And with the scribbling of a few words on a tablet, his silence is broken, his mouth is opened, his tongue is freed, and filled with the Holy Spirit, the old priest praises God! He begins preaching like he’s never preached before. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.”[i]
Zechariah’s song is a song of praise and prophecy. He praises the Covenant God of Israel as he remembers God’s redeeming acts in the past. Then he speaks of the future—of the Redeemer who will bring freedom and holiness and righteousness. He speaks of salvation and a light breaking forth from the shadow of death. A new era has come! In his praise, Zechariah weaves together the promises of old and the promises about to be fulfilled. He believes—oh, now he believes. His mind—once filled with doubt—no longer underestimates the love and grace of God. His boy, John, will announce the arrival of the Redeemer. God’s Promises are here! There is much to sing about!
Today, so many people are moved by the lights and glitter of Christmas—but the reality hardly touches them. True joy is silenced by unbelief. Zechariah knows something about the silence caused by unbelief and Zechariah knows something about the joy of faith renewed.
In the coming weeks, our televisions will be all abuzz with Christmas movies—some old, some new. One of my favorites is the classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Steward and Donna Reed. It’s an inspiring movie that reaffirms faith even in the midst of a cynical world. We are captivated by such stories because still—people are searching—searching for a word of hope, searching for a word of meaning. During this season of the year, Christians have an opportunity to offer another perspective—something other than faith in Santa Claus or trust in all that glitters. Instead we are called to a greater work. We are called to reaffirm belief in the enchantment and wonder of Almighty God entering the world as a Babe in a manger.[ii]
Perhaps we are frightened by the call—feel overwhelmed by the challenge. But with God’s grace, we can ponder our faith journey and catch a glimpse of God moving, working. Maybe we aren’t ready to sing it from the mountain top or preach it like Zechariah—but we might have faith enough to scribble down a word or two—something like: “God is here! God did this! Thanks be to God!” And who knows, someday, someday, God may turn our scribbles into speech and a song of praise may burst forth! It’s happened before!
At the age of 8, I had an encounter with God’s Word in the form of a Children’s Bible Story Book. And no one is more surprised that I am that these days my greatest joy is to stand before you each Sunday to break open God’s word and speak to you about the transforming power of God. It is my hope and prayer that together we may give voice to our song of praise. It’s a song that we who are believers carry within us. It is a song of wonder. But sometimes, our song sits stifled, dormant, waiting for sustenance—waiting for us to remember the waters of baptism that claim us, waiting for us to remember the bread and cup that sustain us, waiting for us to claim the power that lives within us.
It is the season of Advent—a time for waiting for the things of God—a time to expect the power of God to spring forth in our midst. My brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope you hear it. It is the season of Advent and it is time to sing!
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[Art by Stushi via subscription]
i. Michael Milton, “Zechariah’s Song of Peace in Christ,” http://michaelmilton.org/2010/12/10/zechariahs-song-luke-167-79/