Characters of Christmas: Mary – December 10, 2023

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

About 10 years ago during seminary, I spent two weeks on a study abroad in Israel and Palestine. It was so transformative and impactful and I could talk about it for hours, but there was one place in particular that drew me in. The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Built where the angel Gabriel is supposed to have appeared to Mary, as we heard in our scripture today, the church had been built, destroyed, and rebuilt over the millenia. Most of the current church dates to 1969 but the cave structures underneath are thought to be the original home of Mary when she was young. The church and its grounds are filled with mosaics, paintings, and sculptures from all across the globe each depicting Mary in their own way. I loved just walking through the church yard, seeing the images of Mary from hundreds of countries, all so different yet so similar.

Something about Mary has always called to me, has always drawn me in. And in some ways I think the Protestant world misses out on fully experiencing Mary. Sure, we bring her up at Christmas, some of the most beautiful songs are about her. But its almost as if, over hundreds of years in our attempt to not be Catholic, we’ve pushed Mary away, we’ve pushed her to the side. And I’m United Methodist for a reason and my theology is deeply Methodist. But when we put Mary in the corner, we miss the fullness of what she has to offer us. We miss how Mary, this courageous and curious teenage girl, can change our life.


The Gospel of Luke gives us the most detailed picture of Mary. In Matthew, Mary appears in name only and never speaks. In Mark, she never speaks and is barely referenced. In John, Mary is present and speaks twice but only later in the book, and she referred to, not by name, but as “the mother of Jesus” during the wedding in Cana and at the foot of the cross. But in Luke, we get multiple chapters that talk about Mary. Mary chastises Jesus when he is a youth and separates himself from her during a religious pilgrimage. Mary ponders in her heart the words of prophets and shepherds as they greet her and Jesus. Before giving birth, she spends time with her cousin Elizabeth and speaks the powerful words of what we know as the Magnificat. Words of God’s justice and power, words that inspired one monk in the Middle Ages to call Mary, the hammer of justice. And we have where it all begins, with our passage today.


Mary, this teenage girl just going about her day, receives a visit from an angel. The angel welcomes her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” She feels perplexed, and ponders why the angel is here. Which, good on you Mary. If an angel stopped me during my day, I think I would be much more like, what, what what is happening? The angel tells her to not be afraid and announces that she will give birth from God and will name him Jesus. She, amazingly, doesn’t freak out, but stays curious and open, and simply asks, how is that possible. And in the end after the angel explains, she says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Here am I, servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. She’s a teenager y’all, a teenager. As young as 12, possibly as old as 17. A teenager says possibly the most courageous and faith filled sentence in all of scripture. And that is the power of Mary. A teenage girl who chooses curiosity over skepticism. Who chooses courage over fear. Who chooses vulnerability, trust, and faith over walling herself off and running away. This is the invitation and gift of Mary: courage, curiosity, and trust, vulnerability and faith. Of all the images we may have in our head of Mary: a middle aged mother cradling her dying son; a new mother placing her baby in a feeding trough; a jubilant, hammer of justice, we get none of those images without starting here. We get none of them without our verses today, this is where it all starts for her and this is where transformation can start for us.


Take a moment, close your eyes if you want to, and think about your life right now. The coming month, the start of the new year. Breathe in. Breathe out. Maybe you’re facing some uncertainty or fear. Maybe you’re facing some stress or pressure. Maybe you’re joyful and feel good. Maybe you’re feeling sorrowful. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed or tired. Breathe in. Breath out. Amidst whatever comes to mind, amidst whatever feelings come up, imagine Mary, imagine teenage Mary, holding out her hand to you. I know life can be hard sometimes, she says. Fear and seemingly impossible situations come up, I know. But you are not alone. God filled me with courage, she says. God helped me stay curious and open, God showered me with grace and strength, and God does that for you too. Breathe in. Breathe out. Open your eyes.


Mary invites us to courage and vulnerability.

Mary invites us to trust and faith.

Mary invites us to discover a strength within us, a strength we may not even realize is there. But it is.


This week, how can you channel Mary? In the face of whatever this week brings, how can you tap into God’s strength? Tap into the heart of Mary this courageous and curious teenage girl.


Let us pray.


Holy God, here I am, offering all that I am.

Help me be strong

Breath of heaven

Hold me together

Be forever near me

Breath of heaven

Pour over me your holiness…

Breath of heaven

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