You Promised

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Luke 1:26-38, December 21, 2014

One of the Christmas songs that is popular this year is a recording of “Mary, Did You Know?” by Pentaonix, an a cappella group. The song is about 20 years old, and it has been sung here at Christmas time in the past. The lyrics returned to me after the Session looked at the Gospel lesson at the start of their meeting Tuesday night. This is a very odd, even eerie passage. The Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and immediately she is perplexed. Then the angel tells her not to be afraid, that she will give birth to the Son of the Most High God, the heir of the great king, David, and that this son she would have would rule forever, that his kingdom would have no end…

I read the passage twice and waited…Out of the silence one of your ruling elders said, “I thought she took it pretty well.” This is amazing, earth-shattering news. It is completely unexpected, though it had been foretold by the prophets. We talked about this, and another ruling elder pointed out that she didn’t think Mary was done pondering the significance of this birth announcement, even when Gabriel told her, “Nothing will be impossible with God,” and Mary replied, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

That’s when I started hearing that song:

Mary, did you know,

That your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know

That your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know

That your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you've delivered

Will soon deliver you [“Mary, Did You Know?” Mark Lowry & Buddy Green, 1991]

The fact is, in Luke’s gospel there are repeated moments when Mary is confronted with how precious her son is and each time, she ponders or “treasures” this news in her heart. The night when Jesus is born and the shepherds come in from the fields, having seen first an angel, then an army of angels—that’s what the “heavenly host” is. No, it’s not right to call it an army, it’s heaven’s air force!

The shepherds come to the manger and tell what the angel told them, and that it’s exactly as the angel had described the situation and “all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” [Luke 2:18-19]

Eight days later when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple and made the appropriate sacrifices for the first born son. There were two people at the temple that day, Simeon and Anna. They were both very faithful and very old. When Simeon was guided by the Spirit to the young couple he said this

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,

according to your word;

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to the people of Israel.

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.” [2:29-33]

When Anna saw the young family she broke into praise to God and identified Jesus as the one who would redeem Jerusalem.

But wait, there’s more: When Jesus was 12 years old his extended family went to Jerusalem for Passover and then Jesus was separated from his family and they couldn’t find him for three days. Jesus had been in the temple the whole time, asking and answering questions of the learned leaders of the temple. Everyone who heard him was amazed at the depth of his understanding. Mary and Joseph were fit to be tied, relieved that they’d found their son, but steamed that he’d been lost for three days. Mary said, “Why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

And Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He returned home with them to Nazareth and “his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Now here’s something for all of you to ponder. Here’s Mary, the one to whom God sent the Angel Gabriel, the one who welcomed the shepherds, and presented her child at the temple. The mother of an extremely precocious 12 year, whose wisdom, knowledge and understanding dazzled the greatest minds of her society…who keeps pondering and wondering and being perplexed at her son, and also what God has planned to do with and through her son. Mary’s got a front row seat at the world’s most astonishing news…and it takes her a while to grasp what’s going on. She doesn’t get it all at once. She sees repeated signs and wonderful things. It still takes her time. And, more importantly, she gives herself the time to be perplexed, to wonder and to dream.

We know Christmas will be in four days, believe me, everyone in my house knows what will happen Thursday. There will be the traditional music, food, decorations, cards, that’s all in place and ready. Christmas, the holiday is under control. I might even call it “domesticated.” But what about Christmas, the Holy Day? The day that we confront the depth of God’s love for humanity. The day we realize that God has promised a ruler for the world, the first born will be the highest of the kings on earth, a ruler who lives in and radiates steadfast love for all people forever. A love that will last as long as the earth and stars. Are you ready for that? Can anyone, ever, be ready for that?

Emily Dickinson said, “The truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.” And I find that thought very helpful at this time of year. When many of us struggle to get into the Christmas spirit, or make peace with a family or life situation that has changed profoundly since last Christmas. We need to take time, and we need to give ourselves time to let the good news of great joy for all the earth come into our hearts and minds. Yes, God has done marvelous things. Yes, God continues to do marvelous things. And they are so numerous, and so marvelous that we can’t comprehend them all at once. So take time, and give yourself time. Journey with Mary who was also afraid and perplexed and overwhelmed. God became a human being. God became a human being for us!

Mary, did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

And when your kiss you little baby, you have kissed the face of God.