B: A COSTLY BLESSING – ADVENT 4

Luke 1:26-38, Luke 1:47-55

In order to learn the language in Africa, I lived in an isolated mission which was two hundred years old.  It was a compound of about ten acres, with a bush, a vegetable garden, a spring, a cemetery, and a huge house made of mud and cow dung.   Looking at the grave stones in the cemetery, I often wondered how missionary families survived in the last century.  Many children were buried there.  Infants died before they reached their first birthdays, with quite a few dying at birth.  The life of the missionaries must have been hard.  I can”t begin to imagine how hard it must have been for women to go through the pain and suffering of giving birth and then seeing many of their children die.
 
My knowledge of child birth is from watching TV programs and films.  My daughter was born at the time when fathers were not allowed in the birthing room.  It all looks and sounds so painful.  I don”t like pain.  This is why it is hard for me to understand how any woman would be willing to give birth even in civilized conditions.  And yet, birth happens all the time, billions of times.  Without women”s acceptance of their painful role in procreation, our species should have been extinct a long time ago.  I sometimes wonder how women can accept child birth as a blessing.  If it is, and I am sure they think it is, it is a costly blessing.  The story of Annunciation is about a costly blessing and about Mary”s huge faith in God”s plan which she largely did not get to see realized in her life time.

When Mary received the news about her pregnancy, the angel Gabriel said to her, "God is giving you a big favour.  You will bear a child.  He will be great and called Son of God."  But Mary never sounded convinced that she was hearing good news.  "How can this be?  It can”t be true."  She said.  You realize that she was only a teenager of maybe 15 or 16.  But I don”t think she was completely gullible despite her age.  She must have known the fate that awaited a pregnant unmarried girl.  It was not just the hazards and pain of child birth.  At best, it could mean being cast out from the community for being a loose woman, or, at worst, death by stoning as an adulterer, which was the sentence for a woman who became pregnant outside of marriage.  Mary was right.  How can this be a blessing?  It sounded more like a curse than a blessing.

Her fiancé, Joseph, saved her from this cruel fate.  Without his incredible graciousness in accepting Mary”s claim, we would not have Christmas.  He believed a message he heard in a dream as God”s words.  He wanted to believe in God, because he loved Mary so much.  He swallowed his pride, and accepted Mary”s story and her faith in God.  Christmas is a story of love.  It is a story of the faith of a man in a woman, of a man who decided to believe an impossible story because he loved her dearly.  Today, if we heard a teenage girl say just like Mary, "God made me pregnant," we would probably ridicule her for being gullible and stupid, if not downright insane.  The story of Joseph is another miracle of Christmas.  It is also a story of a brave young girl who accepted as a blessing what looked like a curse.  She believed in God”s plans, although she didn”t understand what it was all about.  Mary believed what she heard and accepted the fate that awaited her and her son.  "I am a servant of the Lord; may it happen to me as you have said," she said.

The Annunciation is the beginning of a story of a costly blessing.  Mary”s life with Jesus was mostly the story of a mother”s suffering.  She was distressed many times as Jesus outgrew Mary”s capacity to understand.  Her son said many outrageous things in public, offended and angered many important people.  She didn”t understand him.  She tried to take him home, because she was so afraid of her son”s safety.  One time, she even thought that her son had become insane.  She was very happy, when her son became a popular healer and preacher.  Thousands followed him everywhere.  But the good time was short lived.  He was soon arrested, publicly humiliated, and died an excruciatingly cruel death on a cross.  What an ordeal for a mother!  How could such a son”s life be a blessing for mother?

But Mary was a mother.  Mothers understand the costliness of blessings, because they live through the pain of birth.  Though there weren”t many visible rewards for Mary in her life time, the annunciation became a blessing, nevertheless, because of her faith.  She never knew that her son would be adored and worshipped so universally two thousand years later.  She only knew for a few years the small daily joys of watching her child grow.  She had never imagined that she would be admired for her courage and faith, in the arts and music, and named in some faith traditions as the "Mother of God."  Her faith gave birth to a blessing for all of us.  Thank God for Mary and Joseph, and their faith in each other and in God, which made Christmas possible.

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