Sermon Dec 24, 2017

“Risky Business”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC

Luke 1: 28 – 38                                                                                                                 4th Sunday of Advent

Then 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.”                           — Luke 1:38i

Maybe it’s because she was so young. Some scholars suggest Mary may have been all of twelve years of age, most put her at 15 to 16. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have this to say about the adolescent brain:

…recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.

In teen’s brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not necessarily at the same rate. That’s why when teens experience overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.

So maybe Mary said, “let it be to me according to your word” because she wasn’t thinking clearly.

Here is how Fredrick Beucher describes the meeting between the angel Gabriel and Mary:

She struck the angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, but he’d been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it.

He told her what the child was to be named, and who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. “You mustn’t be afraid, Mary” he said.

As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings he himself was trembling with fear to think that the future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.1

This is risky business.

Risky for Mary. Had she even thought about Joseph? How would take it? Either she’s nuts, all this talk about angels or she’s immoral. We know how he takes it. He decides to leave her. He’s not going to make a big fuss about it, no public shaming, no public stoning. Just slip away and try to forget the whole thing.

Risky for Joseph. What would people think. She’s pregnant and he left her. What a louse. If he had let it be known that the baby wasn’t his, maybe he could preserve his good name. But here is what Deuteronomy says about the matter:

If a man marries a girl who is claimed to be a virgin, and then finds that she is not, “they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsmen shall stone her to death” (Deut. 22:20)

If a man has relations within the walls of a city with a maiden who is betrothed, “you shall bring them both out to the gate of the city and there stone them to death.” (Deut. 22:23) but if they were in the open fields, “the man alone shall die”, because if it was in the open fields, “though the betrothed maiden may have cried out for help, there was no one to come to her aid (Deut, 22:25-27)

His good name paid for by the stoning of Mary? He could not. He would not. So he was willing to live with a questionable story of an angel and God’s will. And if he bought this crazy tale, he now had to figure out how to raise the Son of God. Risky business for Joseph.

And for God. We know that Golgotha awaits, that the sweet baby Jesus will suffer and die. I suppose God knew it, too. When goodness confronts evil, a price is paid. But remember the great golden wings and Gabriel’s hands trembling with anxiety as he awaits Mary’s answer? God risked the world on a young family’s goodness. On the decency of a man and a woman to love this helpless infant. God risked it all on the goodness of a family’s love.

There is much that is wrong with the world and injustice abounds. When God created the earth, put the stars in the heavens and breathed life into lifeless dust, the Bible says, “And God saw that it was good.” You and I are stamped with the image of God and like Mary and Joseph God’s goodness is reveled through us. Oh, it does not happen all the time. Sin persists. But we rise.

And so, as we await yet again the infant’s cry, pray that you are willing to take on this risky business of faith. Rise. The miracle may lie within you. Let us pray.

1 Fredrick Buechner, “Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who” (New York, NY: Harper Row, 1979), 39.

i 26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The 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[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then 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.