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United Church of Christ

533 Route 28, Harwich Port, MA 02646 | Phone: 508-432-1668

Mary’s Hope for the World

Luke 1:26-55

Mary’s Hope for the World

Sunday December 11,2016

Rev. Dr Susan Cartmell

Pilgrim Congregational Church, Harwich Port


         Throughout the season of Advent our sermons have been on the theme of hope. We started with a story about an old priest named Zechariah who had suffered so many disappointments that the candle of hope had blown out in his heart and mind. Last week we looked at the story of Joseph, the strong silent one in the Christmas story who had to deal with his own issues before he could accept God’s gift to the world – that came in his new wife’s unexpected pregnancy.

         Today we look at the story of Mary, herself. Now Mary has been discussed for centuries and revered for generations. Mary has been called Mother of God, Our lady of Sorrows, Notre Dame, Star of the Sea, Virgin Mother of Mercy, and Madonna. Many of the Christmas  pictures depict only Mary and Jesus because she holds her own.

         Given her visibility it is hard to peel away the layers of devotion and examine the young girl whose story we read today in Luke’s gospel. Mary was a devout young woman from the village of Nazareth who was betrothed to a man named Joseph. While she was waiting for her wedding she had a vision of an angel who told her that she would become pregnant before her marriage and give birth to a son. The angel told Mary to rejoice because she had found favor with God. Naturally Mary was cautious and confused. This child would be a special messenger from God, one who would be called the Son of the Most High, ruler of the house of Jacob forever in a kingdom that had no end.

         Mary was not sure at first. It seemed too ambitious and preposterous to her. But the angel was persuasive and Mary agreed. Let’s take a look at her story and see what it may say to us about hope.

In the first place, Luke says that we give one another hope. Hope is never born in a vacuum. Mary was planning to be wed to a good man whom she loved. The period of engagement is a time when most women blossom with hopefulness. Their faces fairly beam with thoughts of the future. When she heard the news Mary must have worried that Joseph would be perplexed by the news. Indeed his first thought was to abandon her.  Now all bets were off when it came to a quiet village life in Nazareth. When the angel left I imagine that Mary felt torn – between the life she had wanted for as long as she could remember, and this new prospect.

         In this moment as she was poised between confusion and hope Mary did an interesting thing. She took a trip and journeyed north to the Judean highlands to spend time with her elder cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah had been surprised by their own angelic vision and the promise of a son after years of waiting. Instinctively Mary knew that she would draw strength from Elizabeth’s wisdom. She would find re-assurance in the company of the older woman.

          Something powerful happened when they saw each other. The Bible says that the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaped to greet his Lord. Perhaps the child kicked or changed positions. Who knows?  Luke is telling us that something significant happened between the women. Something powerful moved between them in those weeks they spent together and they nurtured a bond and found instant comfort in each other. They each carried a child they did not expect. They each knew the stigma of an awkward pregnancy – one that came too late in life and one too soon. They both had been told that God needed them to become the mothers of children who would become great men. Somehow Elizabeth helped Mary not only to adjust to her new reality but find hope again.

         How often when family messes embroil you and you don’t know where to turn do you remember someone who might be able to help? You don’t have to find someone with all the answers, but someone who is a fresh set of ears; someone who can listen without judging you is a gift. The simple act of sitting with you while you sort through the problems can help you find a path through the clouds of chaos. In those moments a wise counsellor can be a true godsend. Someone with distance, or a different perspective can calm your anxiety. Someone who knows you and the players in your drama without taking sides can help you discover hope.

         One of the things about Mary that illustrate her stature is that in this moment she does not act like a typical teenager.  Most girls in this situation would avoid all adults and seek the company of other young women. But Mary intentionally seeks the advice of a wise woman, an elder stateswoman.  Mary was not afraid to ask for help.

         Netflix has recently released a new British drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Entitled The Crown the first season depicts her early years as monarch. Elizabeth came into power in the 1950’s after her father, King George, dropped dead suddenly of lung cancer, a condition he had managed to hide from his family and the nation he ruled. His secrecy allowed his daughters to enjoy his last months without worry. But his death came as a total shock to his children, particularly Elizabeth who was next in line to succeed him. A young woman in her 20’s, recently married and enjoying her two small children, Elizabeth must suddenly absorb not just the grief of her father premature passing, but the responsibility for ruling one of the most powerful empires on earth. One day she quite carefree touring colonies in Africa and the next day she is speeding home donning black mourning clothes and assuming the role of queen.  As monarch. She is thrust abruptly onto the world stage. She has to find her voice when she deals with the Prime Minister. She has to come up to speed on national politics and she has to navigate international affairs.  As you watch her mature into this role you see that a source of her emerging strength is her ability to recognize when she needs help. When she feels confused, she is not afraid to seek the advice of cabinet, or even call her uncle, a man who abdicated the throne but one of the few men on earth who understands the forces she is dealing with. In the end what helps her become a truly great monarch is that she is not afraid to ask for help. Often when she is surrounded by competing voices and it might be easy to lose her way, she finds new direction and fresh hope in the realization that she is not alone.

         It is myth in our society that true we are supposed to make independent decisions or that anyone can find  hope in a vacuum. Hope is hard to hold when you rely on your own private perspective. We need one another to find hope.

Finally, hope comes from knowing that we are needed. Mary went from being a young woman with conventional plans to becoming the mother of the Son of God in a pretty short time. While she questioned the whole idea at first after her trip to Elizabeth Mary praised God with magnificent words- we have come to know as The Magnificat. “With all my heart I glorify the Lord. From the depths of my soul I rejoice in God my savoir. He as looked with favor on the low status of his servant. From now on all people will consider me highly favored. Suddenly Mary is embracing her new destiny and has broken into poetry and song. She gives her heart and soul to the creative possibilities of her new destiny. She recognized the hope in this new life mission by talking to Elizabeth, and also from something else. She rose to the occasion because God needed her.  Mary accepted the news because she had a mission, a high calling.

         Realizing that God needs you is a game changer. Author LR Knost  writes:

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.  All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world awaits in darkness for the light that is You. You will bear the light of the world. We have put Mary on a pedestal. We have given her to the Roman Catholics and accepted that she is supposed to be revered. But Mary’s story is not supposed to separate her from us. It is supposed to remind us that God needs each one of us – to bear the light of Christ.

         It is a whole lot easier to keep Mary at arms distance than see in her the message that God needs us. God wants us to bring Christ’s light, or let it shine through our work, or ur ideas, or our vision. It is a whole lot easier to pray to Mary or build cathedrals named for her, or just ignore her than it is to ponder her story in our hearts. Imagine what might change in your life . Imagine how things could change is churches started to pray about how God could use us to light up the darkness we see.  Imagine what a new story we all could write this Christmas if we really believe that Jesus is coming through us? Just imagine….

Posted: Sunday December 11, 2016