12/18/2011 sermon: The prophet Mary

Location: Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Dunn Loring, VA
Text: Luke 1:26-38
4 Advent, Year B

The prophet Mary

Today, on my last Sunday with you as a seminarian, I am going to “come out” to you, to reveal my secret identity to you. I am a prophet.

If I were to ask you to name a modern prophet, chances are you wouldn’t think of Jo Belser. NO, chances are you would think of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Theresa, or the Most Rev. Desmond Tutu. And rightly so; these are people in our time who God asked to bear God’s message into our world—messages that the whole world recognized as being from God.

Isn’t that what a prophet is, someone whom God has chosen to deliver a message to the world? Prophets embody God in the process, take God’s Word into their being and deliver that Word into our reality.

Usually God co-opts our mouths when we are asked to participate in any divine God-bearing scheme, at least at first it is our mouths, but I’ve noticed that our feet and hands are often pressed into service, as well, into service in aid of the mouth that bears God’s Word into our world.

There are a whole series of books about prophets in the Old Testament. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos… and the list goes on. These were people who God called to deliver an important message to those around them—usually to people in power—to bear God’s Word into their world.

Who the prophet is often can be an important component of the message that God has to share. I am thinking here of the great prophet, Dr. King. The message of non-violent racial reconciliation—the God’s message of God’s transforming love for everyone, Black or White, simply would not have been as effective if it had come from, say, a Northern White man instead of a Black preacher.

In human terms, “The messenger IS the message.” This concept doesn’t seem to apply in God’s call of humans to be prophets, though. God seems to always pick the most unlikely candidates to bear his Word. In this way God ensures that we understand that the message could not possibly have come from the message-bearer, that it is God’s message being heard.

Despite their individual differences, there is one characteristic that all prophets share. Ultimately they say “yes” to God. Most of them do NOT say “yes” to God right away, though.

Moses was one of the greatest prophets of all time. As we heard just a few weeks ago, at first Moses said “Here I am” to God when he saw God in a Burning Bush. But then God told Moses that he had “seen the misery of his people” and had decided to “come down to rescue them …” Moses had no objection to God’s plan until he found out what God envisioned his role to be. All that God wanted Moses to do was to visit the supreme ruler of Egypt and ask him politely, in the name of I_AM, to free a whole bunch of his slaves.

Moses argued that he “lacked eloquence” and that someone else should be sent instead. To put it bluntly, Moses stuttered. VERY roughly translated, what happened next is that God rebuked Moses for presuming to lecture the One-Who-Made-the-Mouth on who was qualified to speak and not to speak. Only then did Moses agree to become God’s prophet. No, Moses didn’t say “yes” to God right away.

The teenaged prophet Jeremiah also did not say “yes” to God’s call right away. He said that he didn’t know how to speak and he was too young to be a prophet. Listen to what God said to Jeremiah:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.… Do not say, ‘I am a child. Go now to those to whom I send you and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to protect you—it is Yahweh who speaks! (Jeremiah 1:4-9)

Are you ready for one more prophet? Unlike the other prophets whom I have mentioned, this one said “yes” to God fairly quickly. In our gospel lesson today the teenager Mary gets a visit from an angel of the Lord, an angel who explained God’s plan.

And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Is that a great plan, or what? Mary is to be the mother of the Messiah. There surely is no message from God borne in our world that will ever be greater than this! God, come in the form of a human-yet-divine baby, come to set his people free from sin and death.

There’s just one catch, and Mary names it right away. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” This sounds like Moses and Jeremiah all over again. The Angel of the Lord did not answer Mary as God answered Moses, though. If so, the angel would have rebuked Mary for presuming to dispute with the One-Who-Made-the-Human-Reproductive-System on who could and who could not have a baby and how that baby might be conceived.

So Mary was a virgin, and God asked her to be a prophet, to bear his Word into our world. Her response marked her as a prophet. Do you remember what Mary said? She said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be done according to your word.”

This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. On this day next week we will witness anew, for the roughly 2,011th time, the fruit of Mary’s prophecy; Jesus will be borne into our world, God-come-to-be-One-with-us because he has heard the cries of his people and has come to set us free, FOREVER. Jesus will be born into our world in an improbable way, the child of a teenaged virgin from a town that wasn’t even on the map. Jesus will be born into our world in a MOST improbable way, delivered by the prophet Mary, who allowed her whole being to be used to bear God’s message of love to us.

At the beginning of this sermon I told you that I am a prophet. I make no special claim about ME when I tell you that I am a prophet. The message that God has asked me to share in this world, in this diocese, and in this parish, is that God loves ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE unconditionally; there are NO exceptions. God loves absolutely everyone, and God sent his Word into the world as a result. That Word is Christ Jesus, come to set his people free. This Word cannot be contained and given to only the righteous, because “There is no one who is righteous, not even one…”[1] EXCEPT for the One who will be born anew next Sunday.

God’s Word spills out and around and through every single thing that God has made. Being a prophet is not about the messenger, it’s about the message. And hasn’t God given each of us a message to bear into our world?

What message has God asked you to share with the world, and what body parts are you going to use to share that message?


[1] Romans 3:10 (NRSV)

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