Fear Not. Yeah. Famous last words that God’s messengers always seem to start with just before they announce a huge disruption. With these words it seems the world has just been upended for the listener. And here is young Mary who is troubled by the obvious sales pitch coming from the angel Gabriel who sounds like a slick sales guy: “yo- pretty lady, you are so lucky you met me.” She didn’t really ponder the words so much as she was troubled by them. She seems to sense that there is a flip side to this deal and she knows that being “favored” is not as great as it sounds in those days- I mean Queen Esther was “favored” too, and if she had turned it down she and her family would have been killed. In all honesty, his words, “Do not fear” don’t exactly establish trust or good reason to chill out. They are kind of like the phone call from the hospital that says, “ I don’t want to alarm you, but…”
So, God bless her for her teenage attitude- because she listens to the messenger with a typical teenage heart and immediately begins to question the messenger. Only a teen girl could have the courage to challenge an arc- angel, am I right?
You can almost hear her saying “Um, hey, Gabe, just how is that supposed to happen since I am not exactly having sex? Didn’t anyone teach you the birds and bees?”.
And then the messenger tells her how it will work.
You know that song, Mary did you know? Yeah, well, Mary knew alright. She knew every step ahead of time and she surely knew from seeing other young women get pregnant before marriage that trouble was on the horizon.
Still, she has more courage than almost any other biblical character and she says, “ok.”
She says yes to the biggest cockamamie idea yet- one that could likely get her killed. And she had choices. Unlike Esther, she could have said no. She could have argued, been bitter, been angry. Instead she says, Yes, not just yes, but resounding and rejoicing yes. Because the messenger reminds her that with God, nothing is impossible.
Each of you are here tonight because the holiday season is painful. Your hearts are not in it and you have good reason. Some of you have had more than just a disruption in your life- some of you have had it decimated by death, destroyed by addiction, or shattered by circumstance beyond your control. You know what it is to be standing neck deep in agony – breathless and without any sense of control, promise, or hope. Unlike Mary, you didn’t get to say no to divorce, death, illness, poverty, or a loved one’s addiction.
But that doesn’t mean we cannot glean a glimmer of hope and light from her experience. Joy is light for us to follow, to be warmed by, to dance by. But when you are breathless from grief, fear, and anger, it is almost as though joy is a wimpy little flame that can be extinguished by the tiniest exhale. So we keep holding our breath- our tears- our sorrow and we sit, still and silent even as we yearn to run, to scream, to cry, to move, to sigh, and breathe every breathe that we can . Meanwhile, we wish we had the bonfire of life and light to dance like the Wild Things we are inside- to be warmed and to love by.
I promise you, the bonfire of life and joy is waiting. But it starts with a tiny flame that we nurture and celebrate by beginning to live again without fear- taking the lesson of Mary and offering our very self up to God to use and fill and give new life from. Tonight is about realizing we have been waiting to exhale and then doing it. Giving our tears to God, letting our very breathe be prayer (ya-weh) and offering our pain up to God. Because that is why God sent Jesus- why Mary endured the humiliation to bear a child into the dirtiest and most unwelcoming place so that God might be WITH us and we would never need to endure alone.
In the midst of the busy season while other bustle- you sit still and holding your breath. Let it out. Let it go. Let it be the prayer it needs to be- let the Holy Spirit translate the words you cannot say and then, let God BE with you.
Yes what you are bearing may be impossible to bear alone. But the wisdom of the angel’s promise to Mary’s guides us- For nothing will be impossible with God. The good news is that Christ is already born, already with us, already accompanying us if we will but let him.
That is the good news- the news we have been holding our breath to hear and remember- Christ is born this day to be with you. Fear Not, you, beloved are also highly favored- God sent the son to be your light. The gloom will not win. Light is coming, light is here, God with us, Emanuel.