I don’t know what it is, but this time of year always makes me think back to elementary school.
I remember most of my teachers, and I remember a few of the classes…but what I remember most was recess. I especially loved recess in the fall and early winter.
That’s when we would start playing football on the playground.
Back in my day, we had three recesses. Two were 15 minutes and one was half an hour.
So we’d organize a game in the morning that would sometimes take all day…we just broke it up into three sections.
How it happened was two of the more athletic and competitive types in the class would bring up the idea and get a bunch of us together to play. They were like the team captains.
Then they would start choosing their teammates from the group that was assembled.
They’d always keep it fair by going back and forth…for example, Jason might pick someone because they could throw the ball really far and accurately, so then Luke would have the chance to pick someone who was really fast and could run the ball down the field.
So it went, each side picking their team from the kids who were willing to play.
And as everyone knows, it’s an awful feeling to be the last kid picked.
I’m guessing this morning that this playground mentality is how many of us have been trained to understand choice. We choose based on a specific quality that we’re looking for.
On the playground, you choose a quarterback…then someone who can catch, then a defender, and so on.
In the workplace, you choose employees who will be good workers, people who have a special skill or talent or ability.
Socially, we choose people who are more or less ‘like us’, people who make us laugh or feel good about ourselves.
All of that is fine and good–but there’s always going to be someone leftover at the end of the day, someone who wasn’t picked.
So when we come to a story like the one we’re looking at this morning, one of the first questions we might ask is “What makes Mary so special?”
“Why did God choose her, when he could have chosen so many other people?”
What was it that set Mary apart from the other girls her age…what is it that God was looking for in a mother for Jesus?
We’ve heard about how Mary was special because she was simply humble enough, or devout enough not to question God’s plan for her life.
Or she was special because she was extra kind and gentle. She was the best mother possible for Jesus at that time.
Maybe she was special because she was a virgin, and God wanted to prove that the impossible can happen…a virgin can give birth!
…Or maybe she just came from the right family…or maybe she was marrying into the right family.
Maybe that’s what made her special. There had to be something, right?
These are all reasons I’ve heard as to why God chose Mary…and they’re all valid points.
There’s a good sermon behind each of those answers!
But it’s not the sermon you’re going to hear this morning!
Mary was an exceptional person. God chose her specifically to carry out an extraordinarily difficult task. He called her to laugh in the face of social convention…He called her to be publicly disgraced so that the Word might become Flesh within her!
Mary’s calling was indeed a call to come and die in every way we think is important; so that God might live in her.
It was really kind of a violation of her right to a normal life, wouldn’t you say?
Nevertheless, it’s not going too far to say that the whole world depended on her faithful obedience to her calling.
The scandal of the whole thing is that we could say the same things about everyone in this room!!
At the end of the day, this story isn’t about Mary.
It’s about God!
It’s about a God who is so in love with us; that He couldn’t bear to see us go on as we were!
It’s about a humanity that is infinitely valuable in the eyes of this starstruck God.
It’s about you and me…and the infinite worth of everyone else on the planet!
This story isn’t about Mary being chosen–it’s about a God who has chosen! All of us!
God isn’t like an athletic fifth grader who chooses his team based on their special talents and skills and what they can do to get him the win.
*Gabriel’s message to Mary is God’s message to us as well!
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” “Do not be afraid!”
I know it’s a message that gets drowned out by other shouting, especially at this time of year.
But you can still hear it if you sit down long enough to listen.
It’s true Mary is highly favored by God.
It’s true that she was given an all-important role to play in the history of God’s redemptive work.
It’s true that she was chosen to bring the very Word of God into our world, and that the advent of God’s kingdom hinged on her being faithful to the message that she received.
All of that is true…but it’s just as true for us as it was for Mary!! She really wasn’t all that unique!
You have been chosen. Just like Mary was chosen!
That’s the whole point of the story…that God uses normal, everyday people like us to accomplish His will!
So stop trying to do amazing things!
God has already put His creative Word within you! All that needs done is bringing it up, helping it grow! Not unlike a child.
The Word is the Holy Spirit, and the whole world depends on its being made flesh–not in an abstract way, but becoming flesh in you–your life–the decisions and actions that you are making right here, right now!
It might mean you take a step down socially. It might mean people won’t respect you. It might be extraordinarily difficult and cost you more than you ever thought possible…Just like Mary.
She is no more highly favored than you are. Or I am.
And the task to which God is calling us is no less miraculous or impossible than the virgin giving birth!
No less hinges on our faithful nurture of that word which is within us.
The same God who moved in her is still planting seeds of change within His people… that’s what Advent is all about. You cannot earn God’s favor.
You can do nothing to make Him love you more; or less…because He already loves you as much as he possibly can!
If you have a bellybutton, you have infinite worth in the eyes of God!
Even if for some reason you don’t have a bellybutton, you still have infinite worth in the eyes of God!
I know that sounds like a thousand messages we’ve all heard before; but it takes on new meaning when we stop to acknowledge that we’re not worth any more to God than the child abuser who’s sitting in jail, or the addict down the street, or the vandal or thief who’s still at large.
All my religious knowledge, my seminary education, all the good deeds I’ve done, all the Bibles I own and all the time I spend in church…it doesn’t add to my value in God’s eyes.
This story says much more about the character of God than it does the virtue of Mary.
Our God is not a God who chooses like we think of choosing.
Rather, our God is a God who has chosen!
The very Spirit of God lives inside of you.
This is the message I want you to hear this advent season if you hear nothing else.
That you are infinitely valuable in the eyes of God, and that the person you value least in the world; that person is also infinitely valuable in the eyes of the God you claim to worship!
The rest of our lives as believers is just a matter of working that out!
How you treat people when you see them as infinitely valuable is completely different than when you see them as means to an end, like tools to help you win a football game or amass wealth.
We are highly favored; for God has chosen!
Not because of what we’ve done; not because of anything we will do…but because He is a God who loves his people, and longs to be known by them, and within them, and through them!
May it be to us as it was to her.