In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 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." "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail." "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled." Then the angel left her. -Luke 1:26-38 (NIV) Read the whole chapter.
So you may remember from your days of school, or maybe you've done professionally a bell curve. It's a graph that shows a distribution of things that generally is shaped like a bell, where there's a trailing up, a peak, and it comes down and trails off again. So typically this is to show things as an average. That most times, things will happen in that larger central part but then you have those tales of a very few things happening on either end. Well, when we look at our reading this morning, we have our Christmas story being told from the two perspectives of women who are on the extremes of childbearing.
In that ancient time, I don't know what the average age would have been where most women would have been conceiving and having children was, but it definitely wasn't Elizabeth's experience. And more than likely, wasn't Mary's experience either. We have Mary, young and naive who is engaged. She's filled with hopes and dreams for what life and marriage and all of those things are going to look like. Until the angel shows up and interrupts that dream and gives her a new one. On the other end of that, we have Elizabeth. Now Zachariah is a pretty wise gentleman because he questioned the angel Gabriel when he was told that they were going to have a child. Zachariah said, 'I'm an old man and my wife is getting on in years.' He didn't call her old, good for him. But she was on the other end of that bell curve from Mary. Melissa and I had that experience with the birth of our last child Mallory. We weren't young but there was a good medical term that was applied every time she had a visit at the obstetrician: advanced maternal age. Melissa was not thrilled to hear that. We knew what they meant by that but we also understood the implications. So anyway, everything went well.
So we have Elizabeth with her advanced maternal age. And Mary, very young. It's on these extremes, these tail ends of this bell curve of childbearing women that God chose to change the world. Mary, as I said, filled with those dreams of what life and marriage would look like with Joseph. They were engaged, they were going to get married. They were going to settle down. They were going to establish a home. Then they were going to have children and life was going to be whatever. Young Palestinian women of that daydreamed. But then Gabriel shows up and wipes those dreams off the table and says, 'I got another plan. It's God's plan and here it is. Mary you're going to be pregnant. It's going to happen now. It's going to be God's child, so everything will be okay. You don't need to worry.' But for Mary, I just have to imagine that whether she spoke the words out loud or not, they were going through her head, first an angel appears, 'Oh no'. Then this angel says, 'Guess what, you're not married yet but you're going to have a baby.' 'Oh no.' 'And guess what this child isn't going to be any child, this is going to be God's child.' 'Oh no.' 'And this child is going to be a king.' 'Oh no.'
There wasn't much in this announcement that should have filled Mary with joy. In that moment, it was more than likely filled with a lot of 'oh no's. And yet we're told that Mary was a faithful person. She hears all of this, she asked that question that was appropriate to ask, 'But how is this going to be?' And the angel tells her, 'This child will be God's. And God's dream is that you will be the mother of His son who will forever change this world.' Mary takes all of this in. I don't know if there was a lump in her throat or a big gulp beforehand but she says to Gabriel, 'Here I am. May it be with me as you have said.' What a step of faith for this young naive girl. To say, 'God I still am not quite sure what you're doing but I'll do it.' For Mary to hear those words of the angel could have easily been a moment where she felt alone, forsaken, and abandoned. This angel comes to her and her alone and says, 'Guess what? God has plans to work through you that His child would become flesh and blood and a human being. You will be the one to deliver Him. You will be the one to bring God into this world for the salvation of all people.' That's a lot for anybody to take in, nevermind this young woman who potentially was going to have her fiance leave her when he finds out she's pregnant, her family reject her, and the community she's a part of legally and in all practicality could have had her stoned. Because the only way young unmarried women become pregnant is through adultery, at least that would have been the assumption. There was a lot for Mary.
So we're told that the angel says, 'But guess what? Your cousin Elizabeth who is thought to be barren she's pregnant too. In fact, she's in her sith month.' We're told that Mary with haste went to see Elizabeth. She didn't go and see her parents. She didn't run to her mother or any other family member. She went to see Elizabeth. Because I think everybody in the family knew that well Elizabeth never had any kids, never will. Her dreams of fulfilling her role in society and her family of bearing a child just weren't going to happen. And yet, now this angel says, 'Elizabeth's dream will come true.' I think May need to go to see Elizabeth for some affirmation, for some comfort, some assurance. Because if the angel has said, 'You have found favor with God. You are going to bear a child and his name will be Jesus. He will be God's son and guess what, it's already happened to Elizabeth.' I think Mary had to see for herself, 'Alright, if Elizabeth is pregnant then probably I can believe what this angel just told me.'
So she quickly went. She gets there and is greeted by Elizabeth with joy. And Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit says, 'My child just leapt for joy when I saw you and heard your greeting Mary. You are blessed among women. How lucky am I that you have not only come to share my moment with me but yours as well.'
These dreams of these women were something that they didn't have to carry alone. Mary, will all of those, 'Oh no' announcements that the angel made is able, I think for the first time to sense, to experience and even as we heard in last week's Scripture reading from the Magnificat, her joyful song that she burst forth with joy. Because she's not carrying this news by herself anymore. How often is that the case for us? That we have these plans and at times, they seem overwhelming. They can seem daunting to the point where we're not sure how it's going to happen or how we're going to be able to muddle our way through or have the strength, or the endurance to see it through. And yet, we discover that there are those around us to make that journey, to carry out that task, to share that. There are those around us to make that journey, to carry out that task, to share that love, to endure that grief. That we are never alone either.
Mary was asked by God, through the angel Gabriel. She was called to a specific purpose of bearing Christ to this world. While she may have been the one who delivered that child and cradled him in her arms and watched him grow up, we too are called to bear Christ to this world like Mary. God is saying, 'Recieve my Son. Take Him to this world. Share Him and my love in this world that others might discover the love that I have for them. The dreams that I have for them in doing this.' We are not alone, for we are a community of faith who do this work together. We are a people who have God with us at all times. In discovering that we are not alone, those dreams and hopes that we have for a world set right include letting others who may be struggling know that they're not alone either. Christmas is a time of sharing hope, joy, gifts, and blessings with others. It's a time in which we see kindness and mercy show up in ways that we don't at other times of the year. So may we continue to dream the dream of that world and to know that as we dream we are not and never will be alone.