Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. Beginning

By now, I probably don’t need to remind you that we are in the specific season of advent as we enter into the 4th week of this season. Advent symbolizes this time of expectant waiting as we wait for Christ, waiting as we follow our Christmas story, waiting for Christ to reveal himself in the present, and waiting for Christ’s return as we enter into final glory. Our scripture this morning lands in a place that precedes the scripture we referenced last week. It is the beginning of Mary’s story. Last week, we entered in at the tail end of the story, at the point of Mary’s rejoice, at the point of her praise.  But now we stand at the beginning, as God comes and approaches Mary through the presence of an angel, Gabriel.
Mary was there, an innocent girl, young vulnerable, about the age of 13, a woman of no specific status or title.  She had a modest beginning, she wasn’t wealthy, she wasn’t a religious leader, she was just a simple girl, who some would pass by without a thought, a simple woman who was in an oppressed class because of her gender and because of her heritage, because of the skin she was in, because of her religion, because she was a Jew, because she put her faith in the one true God and followed a monotheistic faith.  By societal standards she was just a plain anybody and by some standards she may have been a nobody.  Yes, now we bring value to the name of Mary, the one who we know now to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the son of God.  But Mary was just a poor girl from an oppressed class, that many would not stop to take a second glance at.  And yet, in her, God found favor – the angel of the Lord greeted her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!”  She was just a young and innocent, oppressed, poor girl, and yet God was with HER! Not someone of royalty, but her.  Remember, as we spoke last week, it is in her that the lowly are lifted up.  She was a simple girl and yet she was chosen as the one to be in partnership with God that she might birth God’s salvation for the world.


 II. Christ May Arrive Among the Lowly

Maybe as we wait for Christ in this Advent season, as we wait for Christ to move in the present, as we wait for Christ’s return maybe we should look to the lowly, maybe we should look to those who are cast out.  Maybe we should look to the ones who society has given up on.  Maybe we should look to the ones who feel like society has forgotten about them or that society does not value their worth.  Maybe we should look to those who have been rejected because of the skin that they are in, or the gender that they classify as, or the clothes that they wear, or the amount of money that they have.  Maybe we should look to those that have no place to lay their head.  Because the reality is that if our biblical history is any indication, God has quite often moved in the places of the lowly, in the midst of the outcast, in the midst of the oppressed.  So maybe that is where we as the people of God should place ourselves as we look and wait for Christ’s return.  Maybe we should be right there sharing our love among the outcasts of society.
As we turn back to our scripture it is known that the people of Israel are caught in this place of Roman occupation.  They are living in a land in which they are under the rule of another country entirely, their country and living is not their own and they have no citizenship rights to the Roman Empire.  Religious tradition had taught them that a messiah was coming to bring them freedom and liberation from their circumstance.  So, they were looking for that one to come that would bring salvation.  And yet God knows far more than anyone, the larger plan.  Because it was true that Israel needed redemption and liberation, but God knew that all of the world needed redemption and liberation.  Both the oppressed needed to be released form their situation and the oppressor needed a transformation that released them from their actions that are separate from God and moved them toward a new response of redemption that functions in love.  The world itself needed salvation from sin, redemption from death, and liberation from all that holds humanity captive trying to separate it from God.   In all of this it was not just Israel that needed grace, but it was the world that need grace.  It was the world that needed God’s presence and power.  And here God was using the agency of a young, girl, with no status and no reputation to deliver grace to the world.

 III. God’s Divine Love

Grace, the process of God reaching out to us, claiming us as God’s own and providing us salvation.  Grace, being the power and presence of God in our lives that we so desperately need. We are in so much need of God’s grace and yet God saw this and extended it to each and every one of us.  Grace was extended to us before we were even formed in our mother’s womb, before we knew God existed, before we knew we needed God.  And yet God reached out to us in that grace that comes before.

And some might be saying this morning, yes pastor, I hear you speak of grace, I hear that God extended grace, but was not the title of the sermon love, was not the theme of this Sunday in advent love?  But it is because of God’s divine love that we are offered grace. We are only recipients of God’s grace because God loved us so much.  Because of God’s divine love, God reached out into human history and extended God’s grace through the Son of God. It is because of God’s divine love that God worked through the vessel of an innocent virgin that we might have access to salvation.  It is through divine love that God came into this world through a vulnerable infant.  It is because of God’s divine love that God sent God’s son that we might have everlasting life.

According to the definition of love, love is both a noun and a verb. It is an action and a thing that can be given and shared among one another.  It is defined as an intense feeling of deep affection, or a great interest and pleasure in something.  It is to feel that deep affection and to enjoy something very much.  God has genuine love for us, that God crafted, with great intricacy, as a potter does to clay.  God knitted us together and knew us before we were in our mother’s womb.  God loved us with great passion and even as we strayed from God, God still had this feeling of deep affection for us and actively enjoyed our very being that God sent Jesus Christ in the womb of a young Mary, that we might be reconnected more fully to God, that we might be made whole. 

As I explored the definition, I found that one definition claimed that love was related or similar to a weakness.  And by all accounts it may seem to society that God’s action of love is weakness.  For God reached out to humanity and extended God’s grace in love, to a people who had fallen from God and were not deserving of God’s love because they were sinful and disobedient to God.  And yet God saw us as so precious that God loved us so, wanting to save us and restore us back to connection with God.  God acted in love and sent God’s son through a weak and helpless child born to a vulnerable woman of an oppressed class. Society might see this love as weakness. And then we see that God acted in love when Christ practiced his ministry and showed us how to live in love as he dined with the outcast and the tax-collectors, he healed the sick that had been pushed to the margins of society, he fed the hungry, he was called a wine-bibber, he spent time with that children and the poor.  He lived among the “least of these.” By society’s standard his act of love may have shown him to carry the very weakness perceived in the ones he sat among.  And then God acted in love as God came in the form of Jesus Christ and put on the cloak of a suffering servant, to offer himself up as a sacrifice that he might hang on a cross as he took lashings, beatings, and bruising.  As he bled and pulled himself up just so he might breathe, as he hung his head and died offering himself up as an atonement for our sin.  And yet in the great act of love, society quite surely saw weakness.

But on that third day Christ rose from the grave with all power, granting new life, showing society that love is in fact not a weakness but a strength.  For in God’s love, we are offered grace, in God’s love our sins are forgiven, in God’s love we are transformed, made new, redeemed in Jesus Christ and granted liberation.  In God’s love we find the greatest strength of all – we find the strength that redeemed the entire world.

For it is Love that created us and crafted us with intricate care; it is love that claimed us; it is love that rests with us, even as we reach the deepest moments of despair; it is love that gave its life that we might find new life; it is love that thought us precious enough to be worth God’s grace; it is love that came through a the womb of a young woman of no status or royalty, yet found God’s favor; and it is love that we are waiting for in this season of advent. Let us now be the people of God who direct the world to God’s love and show them how to find God’s grace. Amen.