Saturday, December 6, 2014

Here I Am - A Sermon for Advent 2

An intriguing cast of characters populates our Advent panorama.  Last week, we encountered Elizabeth and Zechariah, the aging couple about to become the parents of John the Baptist, the man who would one day herald the arrival of Jesus. This morning, we hear from John himself, grown to adulthood to cry out the words of the prophet Isaiah -- "Prepare the way of The Lord! Make his paths straight!" -- and we meet the young Mary, stunned by the appearance of the angel Gabriel in her life, and yet quickly responsive to the call from God he shares with her.

This past week, two groups met for our new Bible study and had an opportunity to consider together this event in Mary’s life.  An angel appears to this seemingly ordinary young woman, this young unmarried woman, living in a small town of no particular significance, and tells her that she is to bear God’s son into the world. We imagined the possibilities:
·         Was she inside or outside? What were her surroundings like?
·         How, in the small and crowded world in which she lived, did she happen to be alone?
·         What did it mean for a young, unmarried woman of her time, a person whose status was entirely dependent upon husband and children, to be confronted with a surprising pregnancy before her marriage?
·         What did her face look like when she heard this news?  What would yours look like if you received news like that?
·         How did she feel?  How would you feel?  “Perplexed” is the word our text gives us.  What about – also – surprise?  Fear?  Shock?
And we marveled at how quickly she moved from her astonishment at Gabriel’s announcement to acceptance of the honor bestowed upon her.  “Here am I,” she says, “the servant of the Lord.  “Let it be with me according to your word.”
Now that’s not how we would be likely to react, is it?  Imagine yourself having just received surprising news – shocking news, even – that is about to transform your entire life.  News that will cause everyone you to know be skeptical of your story.  News that will alter all of your relationships.  News that sets you on an entirely new and completely unexpected path.  How likely are you to say, “I will live in accord with your will, God?” As Pastor Dave pointed out in one of our classes this week, aren’t we more likely to say, “What about MY will? What about MY plans?”
But Mary says, “Let it be with me according to your word.  Here am I.”  Or, in words with which I’ve taken a bit of liberty, “Here I am.” 
“Here am I.  Here I am” – as we’re going to sing those words at the end of our service this morning.  These are the words of prophets.
Isaiah speaks them; the song we’re going to sing in based upon the words of the prophet in Isaiah 6:8, as he responds to God’s call: “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’”
Listen again to Mary: “Here am I.”
They are the words of Samuel, last of the judges and first of the prophets of Israel, when as a young boy he hears the voice of God calling in the night and, thinking that it is the elderly Eli calling for him in the dark, responds, “Here I am!”  And then, do you recall, that after Eli understands that God is calling, he instructs the young Samuel in how to respond, and Samuel does so, saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3:1-20)
Listen again to Mary: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”
The words of a prophet.  The words of someone responding to God’s call to speak and to show God’s people how God is moving among them and how they are themselves called to respond.
And make no mistake about it: Mary is a prophet.   
In her words, and in her very body, Mary is engaged in the prophetic task: faithfully trusting in and responding to the call of God, showing what God is doing in the world, and modeling for us the way in which we, too, are called to answer God’s movement in our own lives.
Not sure?  Yes, she responds as Samuel did, and as Isaiah did: “Here I am.  I am your servant, Lord.” Yes, she carries the Son of God into the world.  But there is more, in words we did not read earlier but will hear now, in the words she speaks to her cousin Elizabeth.
Remember, the aging Elizabeth, is herself, also surprisingly, pregnant, awaiting the birth of the baby who will become John the Baptist.  Mary, quite naturally, upon learning that she, too, is most surprisingly pregnant, rushes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is delighted to receive her. And Mary says to Elizabeth – and I want you to listen carefully here -- Mary says:
[God’s] mercy is for those who fear God
   from generation to generation.
 God has shown strength with God’s arm;
   God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
God  has helped God’s servant Israel,
   in remembrance of God’s mercy,
according to the promise God made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ (Luke 1:50-55)
Are these not also the words of a prophet?
There is a long prophetic tradition in the Old Testament, a tradition in which those called by God are called, not to predict to the future, as we today so often think of prophecy, but called to assure those in need, those who are poor and hungry and sick and disenfranchised, that God is laboring for them. And called to warn those who are powerful and wealthy and in political control that their ways are not God’s ways, and that their power will be toppled and their wealth destroyed -- in favor of God’s new creation in which all people are called into a kingdom of peace and love.
And is this not exactly what Mary says?  And does? 
Mary is not a simple peasant girl waylaid by an angel.  Mary is not a meek and mild young woman called to quiet submission to things as they are.  Mary is a woman of prophecy, a woman who proclaims through both her very being and through her words, that in her son,
·         God scatters the proud
·         God brings down the powerful
·         God lifts up the lowly
·         God fills the hungry
·         God sends the rich away empty
·         God fulfills God’s promises.
Friends, the world is in need of prophets today.
·         The world is in need of people who insist that the hungry be fed.
·         The world is in need of those who insist that the sick be made well and the injured be healed.
·         The world is in need of those who stand in the streets to cry out against injustice.
·         The world is in need of those who work tirelessly to reform our criminal justice system.
·         The world is in need of those who persist for peace, for an end to war, for an end to all forms of violence.
·         The world is in need of those who say. “Here I am, Lord.  Here I am, your servant. Let it be with me according to your will.”
This world is in need of prophets who say, with Mary:
·         Here: In this time and this place.
·         I: This person, me, this person you, my God, created with these gifts for this time and place.
·         Am: Right now, present tense, responding with what I have to give, to your call in this time and place.
“Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”
So says Mary. 

So, God asks, say we all.


  1. Mary is a prophet, no doubt, and a brave one, too. I like the end, Here: I: Am:....

  2. I love all of this, but especially the breakdown of "here I am" at the very end. (as an aside: my dad always sings "Here I Am, Lord" with "here am I," just because he thinks it sounds better/more biblical).

    1. I love your dad's little act of resistance!

  3. This sermon started out as entirely a breakdown of those three words, but somehow went somewhere else. I find that I am struggling these days to find the right balance between the needs of my very challenged congregation and trying to bring the narrative itself to life in the context of our broader world. I guess it's the same struggle we all face every week.

  4. I think it was Frederick Buechner who suggested that, when writing, we should let the story tell itself. The readers can sense when writing becomes contrived and solely focused on "teaching us a lesson."

    When reading your sermons, I get the sense that you are bravely following where the story leads rather than tailoring the story to fit the lesson. That takes guts and faith.
    I never quite thought of Mary the way you just described her. Very cool.