I remember my seminary professor of worship commenting that one of the
strangest things about Christmas, is that we don’t read the scripture about the
angel appearing to Mary until the last Sunday before Christmas. This year, that
timing is particularly strange because -- with today being Christmas Eve, this
morning we read about Mary being told by an angel that she is pregnant, and
then tonight we will read about her giving birth to Jesus. So in less than 12
hours we will go from Mary hearing about God’s plan, to her being in the very
fulfilment of it.
So the timing of the scriptures this year is relatively entertaining. She
barely has time to buy maternity clothes before giving birth! Amazingly it is
estimated that 1 in 2500 women doesn’t know she’s pregnant until she goes into
labor! There are some wild stories out there. So much so that TLC has a
television show called I didn’t know I was pregnant.
Of course, we know Mary’s pregnancy didn’t really happen like that. And
that is what my seminary professor was trying to remind us.
We really ought to read the passage of the angelic visit 9 months before
Christmas – so that we can be part of the slow build up to the birth. Then we
can experience the agonizing decision of Joseph as he planned to disband his
engagement to Mary, and then changed his mind with the help of a dream. We can
enjoy the days, perhaps weeks and months that Mary spent living with her aunt
Elizabeth who was also pregnant. We can wonder with all of them, and ponder
with them what God’s intentions are for this child who is developing and
growing in Mary.
Then as the day nears, and we are in the last month, we can experience the
frustration they must have felt in knowing that they would have to travel for a
census. Yes, it would take longer than our time between services for Mary and Joseph to travel by foot or by slow
footed donkey (if you believe tradition) from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It’s a
trip that takes 2 hours and 10 minutes by car according to Google maps, but for
a pregnant woman walking or riding would take 4 to 7 days. And all of that not
knowing if the baby would be born along the way, or wait until they had reached
My professor was trying to remind us, that this was no easy one day
pregnancy. It was an emotional roller coaster, with ups and downs, struggles
and difficulties. And we don’t take enough time to consider all that went into the
preparations for the birth of Christ. We make it sudden, as if it only took a
few days. Imagine if we started reading the angel’s announcement in March, if we
agonized with Joseph in April and May, if we visited with Elizabeth and read
about the joy of their meeting in June. If we heard about the upcoming census
in August, and made travel plans in September and October. And then last week,
we had left with them by foot. For some of us, this would be too much
Christmas! But the power of it would be a reminder that God’s ways are often
slow and deliberate. And that what we read in a few sentences in the bible is
God’s work over months, and sometimes years.
Reading this passage so close to Christmas can give us the illusion that
God’s answers to the world’s problems are quick, like an order on Amazon.com
with delivery by Fed-Ex, absolutely guaranteed to be there the overnight. But
God often takes the slow, grow a messiah in a mother’s womb, let him be a
helpless babe, grow into a child, mature through being a teenager, wait until
he is 30 years old before he goes public, path to salvation.
But, as I was preparing for today, and knowing that we would go from the
announcement to the birth in the space of 8 hours, I thought, perhaps there is
something for us to learn from hearing the two stories in such a short time,
Perhaps there is power in thinking of the birth of Jesus into our world as
a sudden and surprising event that we didn’t really have time to prepare for.
Because honestly, that is how it was for most of the world. Mary had time
to prepare, but the shepherds in the fields didn’t. Suddenly there were angels
singing in a heavenly host around them. And they had to decide right then and
there if they were going to go to Bethlehem and see this child who had been
Joseph had time to change his mind, but the innkeeper didn’t. He had to
decide when the couple came to his door, right then and there if he had space
And sometimes the same thing is very true for each of us. Although we have
time to get our decorations out and ready for Christmas, and although we have
time to consider and reconsider what gifts we are going to give each of our
family members, when it comes to God erupting into our lives it is often a
sudden and unexpected thing that we are not ready for.
For example, this has literally happened to me. I have been driving past
someone’s house, and I have been nagged by God to stop and go in and see them.
As though God is shouting at me, “Now, right now.” Twice I have had that happen
and the person has been on their death-bed with family around. They hadn’t
called me to tell me. But God had.
Or an accident occurs and you are the car right behind it. So you are the
witness, and the first on the scene to try to provide help. You don’t have time
to prepare for that. And yet God is calling you to serve in that moment and to
use your gifts and talents at that moment to help in any way you can. To be an
agent of calm, to summon help, to pray for those involved, to give first aid.
Whatever it is, God is calling you to be present.
Or perhaps you are in prayer, and suddenly God is saying to you, “Hey I
have a job for you to do. A project for you to give birth to that will bless
the word.” God has never put that idea into your mind before, you had never
considered it. A change of profession, a move to a new area, starting of an
outreach to homeless, or opening a pre-school in the church. But there it is –
a calling from God. Suddenly later that day a door opens in your life and the
very opportunity that God shared with you in prayer is available, and you
simply are not ready. It is too sudden! But you know that you have to decide
now, whether you are ready or not.
That’s where Mary becomes a role model for us. She stands there in shock
and surprise with an angel standing before her and she says, “I am the Lord’s
servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”
She is a role model of listening to God’s surprising news, listening to
God’s sudden and unexpected announcement and saying, “Yes.” So for all those
moments when God throws us into ministry, into service, when God calls us
without warning – she reminds us as unready as we are, we can enter into the
whirlwind of God’s call upon our lives. Oh, yes we will wonder what is going to
happen next. But before we know it, time whirls by and the next thing we know
God’s promises are coming true for us. It is the sudden and surprising that
leads to the long range and the life changing.
Yes, there is something for us to learn from this amazing 12 hour
pregnancy, it is that when God bursts into your world, say, “Yes” and be
prepared for the blessings that follow. What unfolds may take weeks, months or
years to come to fruition, but it is the suddenness of God’s call that begins
the process. So this morning we celebrate the surprising nature of God’s call –
which can come out of nowhere like an angel appearing to us – and we
contemplate what it means for us to say, “Yes.”