Favor.

Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Joy Sunday!  I also found out that this Sunday is often called the Sunday of birth, and also the waking of the church.  That fits, because love, as we talked about last week, gives birth to new things, it also awakens us to new realities.  Now, in full disclosure, I’d have to say that last comment about the church being awakened could have also been influenced by the Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens”, loved that movie.  

But, still, Love is an interesting word.  And love can be hard at times.  It gets tossed around quite a bit in our culture.  

I also found this description online:

Love is unconditional affection with no limits or conditions: completely loving someone. It’s when you trust the other with your life and when you would do anything for each other. You hide nothing of yourself and can tell the other anything because you know they accept you just the way you are and vice versa. 

Regardless of how love is defined, it’s safe to say that love has lots of meanings to different people.  I would say, at its core, that love is a deeply relational term that has a meaning of commitment, loyalty, faith, compassion, grace, honesty, struggle, passion, and deep affection….that can also lead to joy.  

In our gospel passage today, we see this kind of love expressed in many ways, especially the hard part of love.  Mary, a soon to be teenage mom, has just been told that God has given her favor.  That she will be the mother of God’s son.

Mary is also from a working class family, she doesn’t have much status in society.  She is taking this in I’m sure with some trepidation.  It’s also an uncertain time in her life, and then to have this news, had to put her in a more uncertain place.  Now, the angel appearing before Mary tells her not to be afraid…but, she has some questions.  How can this be true if I’m a virgin?

Now, in the first century, there is some nuance here.  As we said in previous weeks, if you were engaged, you were pretty much married.  Yet, she was still not legally married.  

Yet, love worked it’s way through the conversation, and it must have been compelling.  She embraced the role, she trusted, and even in the hardship that followed…of giving birth, of fleeing to Egypt as refugee, of seeing her son crucified, love won and a deeper sense of joy carried her throughout life.  A joy not defined by things going the way that she would have planned, but of living in God’s love and trusting God’s movement in her life.  

The authors of Luke are not trying to give out facts, they are telling a story of promise and deliverance for all who are enslaved to something, which is everyone.  They make a point to say this is a journey, just like the Israelites were on a journey in the wilderness.  This deliverance is a process that takes time and struggle, but something good is being produced in us in the journey.  Both both Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth, have been promised that they’d be blessed with pregnancies, although both pregnancies have difficulties:  one has the stigma of being a teenaged mom without status who isn’t married yet, the other is an older woman with status, but well past her child-bearing years.  Yet, they trust God and God’s love.  

This passage is conveying to its readers that God makes promises to us, gives us favor, loves us, dreams big dreams for us, yet those dreams involve risk and may bring some anxiety…and seem complicated.   We may even be in a wilderness experience, right now…it certainly seems that way.  Yet, God has given us God’s self, and God’s self, at God’s core, is about a crazy love for all of us, we can move through life with purpose and peace even in complicated, anxious times.

This love carries us, give us peace and hope, that does produce joy.   This love can be experienced through friendships, moments of great importance, during hard times when we feel like giving up yet something holds us together, through simple things like sunsets, music, or a small gesture of kindness.  This love permeates everything and always wins!  And, it’s for everyone! 

We have come to this 4th Sunday of Advent to celebrate the coming of Christmas, the coming of God into humanity as a human.  We come to celebrate a God who keeps promises of being with and of loving us radically and unconditionally.  

As my friend Brennan Manning would say, “God loves you just as you are, not as you should be, because you never will be as you should be.”  This is the kind of message that should permeate our thoughts about ourselves and others.  This is the kind of message that people should be hearing from Jesus followers, and experiencing!  

We should be telling others, as well as ourselves, that NOTHING can separate us from God’s Love as it says in the book of Romans.  Nothing.  This love is like a stream that keeps on flowing.  It carries things, moves things, shapes things, fills every nook, and is relentless.   This love changes us, just as streams grow into rivers and rivers flow into oceans…it is unstoppable.  We can even nail that love to a tree, try to kill it, yet even death can’t overcome God’s love…it keeps moving!

I don’t know if this was on purpose, but New Year’s follows Christmas.  Change happens as love is birthed into us and the world around us…and, out of hardship, even a crazy year like 2020, joy can be produced as we adapt to the changes around us and in us…and embrace the moment we live in and know that we are in God’s favor that cannot be stopped or taken away, by any pandemic, political or social unrest, or even killer hornets and whatever else 2020 gave us.  

Friends, may the Love of Christ cause us to move towards faith where joy is present.  May we be awakened to God’s delight and God’s Spirit washing over us and be reminded of God’s faithful and loving relationship with us.  

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