That the invitation would be issued to such a one may seem unexpected to us! Our own bishop Howard in his Advent meditation for this week says the following about God and about Mary:
"...She was young. Twelve years of age was the minimum age for marriage for Jewish girls of that time. She might not have been much older.Neither she nor her family had great stature, wealth or influence.In all likelihood, she barely knew Joseph to whom she had been promised in marriage.We first learn of Mary at a moment which must have been confusing and frightening for the young girl. It was a moment in which not only her fate, but yours and mine as well, hung in the balance. Human history itself was on the line...awaiting the response of a young girl...So it was that the good news of Jesus, of God's incarnation, began. Not with compulsion. Not with an arbitrary act on the part of God. Not with God forcing himself upon the unwilling..."It began with an invitation from God!
Here are some simple truths about the invitation of God we can find in this blessed story...
* The Invitation of God is not to the expected
Many modern day Christians would probably feel a bit uncomfortable with God's invitation issued to a mere teenage girl! I am not sure I would be completely comfortable to entrust the fate of a newborn into the hands of any teenage unwed mother! Yet, God did not see it that way! His invitation is not related to our expectations!
You and I tend to underestimate people, we underestimate the young in particular! However, He who sees the heart of all looked into the heart of Mary and there found favor and grace! We think of David a mere teenager when, depite been passed over by his family, is annointed, chosen to be king! He is underestimated by his brothers and his very enemies mocked his youth…! God was not amused! Samuel comes to mind , a child raised in the temple, one to whom God had never been revealed but called to be a prophet of God! Jeremiah, too young , said he, I can barely talk!...yet chosen by God , invited to be part of His plan!
Whom does God invite? A simple glimpse through the Scripture leaves us amazed! A young girl of a poor family, a simple carpenter, an octogenarian woman of prayer, a bunch of fishermen, a woman of ill repute Jesus meets at a well, another possessed by the very devils, a persecutor of Christians! Certainly no one that we would expect nor have had on our short list for likely invitees to the plans of God ! And, that invitation has been issued to you and me, by someone who knows us intimately, acquainted with all our ways! We too are the unlikely…the least expected!
* The invitation of God is not to the possible!
I will never forget my mother's encouragement whenever I faced a difficult task or decision..." You do the possible, God does the impossible" I have found her advise true and helpful in many ocassions, except for the fact that often God invites to to do quite impossible things!
So it is with Mary and the angels's invitation; "now you will conceive... and bear a son! The "bear a son" part is in the realm of the possible, Mary was after all promised to be married! It’s the "you shall conceive now" which is hard to fathom! How can this be? The answer; "...for nothing shall be impossible with God!..."! God’s invitation is not to merely acomplishing the possible, WE CAN DO THAT VERY WELL ON OUR OWN THANKYOU! He calls us beyond that which we feel and know we can do, he calls us to trust him, to believe him, to follow him beyond our senses, beyond our knowledge, wisdom an experience to that which can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit!
Isn’t that how it very often seems with God? Moses was called, one man to lead an entire people out of slavery , while armed with a speech impediment and a stick...impossible!! Noah- had no ship building skills, and was not a zoo keeper! Besides Sampson’s long hair and his good looks he did not seem have a lot more working for him, yet he was called to be a judge for Israel. Fishermen with no formal education were issued the invitation to form the basis of the kingdom of God , to carry on the good news of God’s love! Upon disccusing the impossibility for a rich man to get into heaven, Jesus looked at his stunned disciples and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all ... Mark adds, "but not with God; for with God all things are possible!
Likewise the call of God to the Christian is to a task "impossible for the natural man". We are called beyond our pretty churches , altars , the confort of our pews and stained glass windows. We are not merely called to be Episcopalians, nor Christians, nor religious, we are called to be the "dwelling of God", the "temple of the Holy Spirit"..., the "body of Christ", "the light of the word..."! God does not call us to be goody two shoes, mere church attenders, he calls us beyond that to "new life"! To be a Christian is to live an impossible life, made possible by the very life of God lived inside you and me! Quite an impossible task for any human but for the power of the Holy Spirit!
* The invitation of God is not to the faint hearted!
Mary do not be afraid! These are words of encouragement and power! Words that encourage the hearer from timidity to expectant faith! There are so many times these words are uttered in Scripture by a heavenly messenger!
"...After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward..".
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife..."
"...Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul..."
"...So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows..."
It can be a bit scary to hear God's call, to feel him tugging at the strings of your heart, his Spirit leading you to paths you would normally not have chosen! To follow him in commuicating good news to the needy or to a hospital room to comfort the sick or to a more intense life of prayer. We fear the loss of our priorities, our time, the disruption of our schedules and life! The confortable and timid are very hesitant to follow! Yet as Episcopalians we should very well know that to follow Christ takes "courage and singleness of heart"! We pray at every Eucharist to have the strength and valor to serve God! God does not invite us to timidity or to lives of hesitation and fear, but to be unafraid!
Mary rises to the challenge, decides to risk it all! Her plans, her wedding , her parents expectations, her very life! Her response "Here is the Lord servant, be it done unto me according to your words" leaves no doubt of her courage as she accepts the invitation of God.
May it be so with us, may we valiantly face life's challenges, may we accept the call of God in our lives, may we follow him even in the way of the cross!
Have a very blessed Christmas