Scripture: Luke 1:46-55
Every year during this time several radio stations switch over to only playing Christmas music. There are probably some of you who love it, and have been listening to Christmas music non-stop since them. Others might be on the opposite side, and this late in to December you feel like if you here Feliz Navidad one more time you might scream. The Billboard top 100 tracks the most popular holiday songs based on radio play during this time of year. When looking at the top 10, many of the songs you might expect are up there such as It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year or Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. Not too surprising but somewhat disappointing there is only one religious based song in the top 10. Overall I do find that kind of a bitter irony. The reason why we have Christmas in the first place is to celebrate the birth of Christ, but only on of our most popular Christmas songs is actually about him. I suppose the silver lining is that the most popular Christmas song, the #1 spot for 2014 is the one religious song on the top 10. It is the song that Susan just sang, Mary Did you Know. This song is often near the top of the list though the singer often changes, this year the a Capella group Pentatonix holds the top spot. This song has clearly hit on something because it has been a perennial popular song since it debuted in 1991, and today is considered a modern classic. The song though ask a question (several questions actually), and it is a question that is begging to be answered. The song asks “Mary did you know?” The answer is Yes, Mary knew. She may not have known that Jesus was going to someday walk on water or calm a storm, but she knew that her son was special. In fact she knew that her son was the most special child to ever be born, and she knew that the child she delivered would one day deliver her. This morning’s scripture helps shows us that Mary knew. She did not know the details of what would happen but she knew what God had promised her. This morning as we consider what Mary knew, I think we should also be open to learn from the example that Mary set about how we can best follow God.
In general we tend to picture Mary as a scared teenager. A lot of this imagery comes from us reading into the story. What we know of 1st century Jewish culture means that yes Mary was almost certainly a teenager. We think about an un-wed teenager being pregnant and away from home because of the census. It is easy for us to project fear on her. What we are missing though, is that Mary did not have reason to be afraid of what was happening, because she had the assurances of an angel. When Mary found out that she had been chosen by God, the angel Gabriel told her “Do not be afraid”, and she was not. This morning’s scripture, traditionally known as the Magnificant, is not a song of fear but a song of confident praise. Mary knew who Jesus would be because the angel told her. Luke 1:31-33 records: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever: his kingdom will never end.” Mary knew what this meant. Being a faithful Jew during this time, Mary would have been familiar with the Messianic expectations. She like all Jewish people were looking and hoping for the savior, and the angel’s description is exactly what she and others had been looking for. A king sent from God to redeem and restore. This morning’s scripture makes it clear that Mary knew what was promised when she sings, “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” From anyone other than the mother of the promised messiah, that would sound extremely arrogant! This morning scripture ends with “He has heled his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” Again, this shows that yes, Mary knew. She knew that Jesus was being born for greatness. It shows that she knew Jesus had a special destiny. It shows that she knew, Jesus was the messiah.
Yes, Mary knew-but she did not know everything. How could she? She knew her son would be the messiah, but how would she know what that meant? Very early on she got glimpses though. Luke records that after Jesus was born that Mary and Joseph took him to the temple as Jewish custom dictated. While there they were they met Simeon an old, devout man who had been promised through the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the messiah. Simeon once again reiterated that Jesus is the Messiah, but he also told Mary about Jesus, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Likewise, when the Magi came to visit in the gospel of Matthew, one of the gifts they brought was Myrrh, which was most commonly used as a burial fragrance. It did have value, but surely it had to strike Mary as an odd gift to give to a young child. Mary knew Jesus was the messiah, but how could she know what that would lead to? How could she know that events would lead from her placing her baby in a manger to having her soul pierced when she watched him hang in agony on the cross? She could not. She knew what the angel had said, and that led Mary to praise God in this morning’s scripture. She did not though the details. She did not that she would one day urge Jesus to turn water into wine, that he would walk on water, or that he would one day be executed. She knew what God had promised, but she did not know how that promise would be carried out.
There are many things that we can learn from Mary as her story is presented in the gospels, but today as we consider what Mary did and did not know, what we should take away is that even though she did not know everything she was still faithful to what God was calling her to do. In fact she did what God asked of her without question. In fact after the angel told her what was to happen, Mary replied “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” Mary knew who Jesus was to be, she knew the gravity of what God was asking her to do. However, she did not know the full story. She knew her child was special but she did not know what that meant, or what pain that would cause her. In the same way, we can follow God’s leading with confidence but we have to be willing to follow even though we do not know the full story.
We do not like that though do we? We like to know where we are going and what is going to happen. We do not like the idea of committing until we know exactly what we are saying yes to in great detail. We tend to only like sure bets and we try to avoid risks. We want to know the full story before we sign on, but that is not how God works. Abraham did not know where he was going when God told him to go. Moses did not know what was in store for him when he met God at the burning bush, David did not know what he would go through when Samuel anointed him king. The disciples did not know what they were in store for when they left their nets behind when Jesus said “follow me.” And Mary did not know what being the mother of the son of God would entail. In all of those instances though, there was an assurances from God. They knew they could count on God, but they did not where that would lead them. They had to trust God in the process. They did not know what the ups and downs would be, but they knew that it was God was the one that was asking them. Like Mary sang in this morning’s scripture they all knew that “His mercy extend to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds” We are several generations removed from that song, but God is still merciful and he still performs mighty deeds. God is also still calling and wanting us to trust him.
Unless one of you has an amazing story that I do not know about, we are not often visited by angels today telling us what God wants of us like Mary was. It is probably also fair to say that none of us have ever been led by God to do something on the same scale as what Mary was asked to do. However, we do have the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised us, and I sincerely believe that through the Spirit, God still leads us and guides us today. The workings of the Spirit are different in that life. Sometimes the Spirit is a still small voice that speaks to our inner most being, other times it is a nagging feeling about what we need to do and it does not go away until we do it, and other times the Spirit leads with a sense of urging that it feels like we are going to jump out of our skin if we do not do it. If we are not careful we can be guilty of ignoring the Spirit. We try to silent that small voice, we run from God’s leading, we hide out of fear. We run and we hide because we do not know the whole story. We tell ourselves we would gladly do whatever God is telling us to do, if we knew what it all entailed, if it was safe. That is not how it works though. God call us, and we choose to respond or not. We choose to trust in only what we can see or we trust in the loving creator of the universe.
When is the last time that you took a risk in following God, a big potentially life altering risk in being faithful to what God is calling you to do. I know those kind of events do not happen in our lives every day, but hopefully you can think of at least one time when you felt God leading you and you took the plunge to follow God. I know for me, the last time I took that kind of big risk was right about a year ago. It was about a year ago that I got a call from the district superintendent asking me to consider coming to Edinburgh. I knew that it in being faithful to my calling in ministry it was time for me to find a place where I could preach more. The district superintendent was certainly offering that, but he was also offering a choice. I had to choose between playing it safe or taking a risk. You see, the week before that phone call I had interviewed for a position at a church in northern Indiana. It was primarily a youth ministry position that had a preaching element as well. On paper it was the perfect position for me, I was extremely qualified and well suited for the job, and the interview went unbelievably well. I felt extremely good about my chances at getting that position, but now I had to choose between waiting for it or saying yes to what I was being asked to do. I had to choose between something that was known or safe quantity or in taking a risk and jumping into what was unknown. I prayed about it, but I did not have to pray too long before I knew what the Spirit was urging. I had to take the risk, so after a day of praying and thinking on it on December 11th 2013 I called Bev Perry, who would be my new DS, and told her that I would be coming to Edinburgh.
For the past several months, every morning when I walk into the church I remember that I am here because this is where I strongly feel that God has led me and I remind myself daily to trust God with this day, because I do not know the whole story. I do not know what plans God has for us together, I do not know what ups or downs we will be facing. I do not know how this part of our combined stories will go-but I know the God who does. Like Mary, that gives my soul reason to glorify the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” I do not know what plans God has for Edinburgh UMC, but I trust daily because I know that God has a plan; a plan that will lead to the making of disciples, the nurturing of disciples, and God willing the transformation of the world.
I do not know what it is in your life, but if God is calling you to take the risks that you have not yet taken, may you follow the example of Mary and say “I am the Lord’s servant.” Whatever step in faith you need to take, may you stop waiting for it to feel safe and may you instead trust in God to be there for you. Chances are being faithful to what God is leading you to do, will lead you physically, emotionally, or spiritually to places you were not expecting, to things you could not anticipate. There is a reason that we talk about living our faith we often talk about a faith walk or faith journey. If we are being faithful in following God, then that should take us places. May we be faithful to God and in turn discover just how faithful he is to us. In doing so, we may find ourselves like Mary, proclaiming our own song about how good, great, and faithful God is.