Vicar David Sivecz
Luke 1:26-38 - “Here am I… A Servant of the Lord”
Those four words. Those four words have been spoken many times throughout the Gospels. Those four words have been spoken many times throughout all of Scripture. Many people said those words; whether it was directly from God, through an angel, or from Jesus. Whenever we hear those words, it’s time to pay attention. We should sit straight and focus. It’s time to wake up the person seated next to us. It’s essential because something is about to come our way.
If we are not paying attention, those four words will quickly pass by us. Sometimes they move so fast that we won’t have time to comprehend what was said. We might miss out on what’s said if we don’t listen to those four words. Specifically, in this evening’s Gospel lesson it might be so difficult to hear. But I can assure you it’s there.
Those four little words weren’t that little. Those four words had significant implications for Mary. More importantly, without those four words, we wouldn’t even be sitting here today. Don’t be mistaken; Mary wasn’t the only one who followed those words. Many people needed to hear those words. People such as Moses, the disciples, and Paul. People who were called and sent out more to cure every disease and every sickness. People who cast out demons, and have compassion on the helpless and the harassed. People who felt unworthy and unprepared. But they needed to hear those four words.
I’m sure by now you’re probably wondering what four words I am talking about during the last couple of minutes. Those four words are, “Do… not… be… afraid.” We need to hear those four words more often. We need to hear, “Do… not… be… afraid…” constantly. Unfortunately, we hear the complete opposite most of time.
We are always surrounded by situations that cause us to be afraid. For as much as we don’t want to be afraid it seems to be around us all the time. Being afraid often controls much of what we believe and as a result of what we do. Think about how much fear dominates our lives.
How often are we not willing to try something because we are afraid what might happen? Do we ever resist change because we are afraid how it will impact us? Has there ever been a time where we’ve feared building a relationship with someone different because we are afraid what they will do to us?
We are grasped by it, whether it’s through talking to others, when we walk out on the streets, and even when we look at the news. For many of us, one of the first things we do, when we wake up in the morning, is put on the radio, watch television, or read the newspaper.
As for myself, when I wake up in the morning one of the first things I do is that I reach for my smartphone to check the headlines. Reading the news has become part of my morning routine. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve always struggled to wake up, just ask my parents, they can testify. Over the years I’ve tried everything; setting my alarm clock on the other side of the room, making coffee so I can smell the aroma, and I’ve even attempted to go to bed earlier. Nothing seemed to work.
Over the years I’ve discovered, there’s something about the light from my smartphone that wakes me up. One of the first apps I click on is the news. It’s what I do instead of reading a newspaper. As I’m scrolling through the headlines, I see every story from across the world. Nothing says good morning like, “U.S. Led Liberation of Mosul Cost 9,000 Civilian Lives,” or “America’s Ballooning National Debt Will Have Painful Consequences,” or “Eight Americans among 12 Killed in Mexico Bus Crash,” or “North Korea Begins Testing Anthrax Onto ICBMs.”
There is so much around us that can make us afraid. As we’ve become more connected, our world has become smaller. As a result, we hear and see everything. Years ago it would take weeks or months to get information about a tragedy that happened across the world. Now we can witness everything.
So, it gets very tiring when I hear people say the world is getting worse, in particular when it comes from the church. There is a reality that there are different challenges today than there were fifty years ago. Many people are aware of the difficulties and the opportunities that are out there. As I’ve heard from many people my age, it’s discouraging listening to the older generations talk about how afraid they are for the future. It doesn’t make much sense to be afraid, especially after hearing what else happened to Mary.
First, what happened was that God sent an angel to Mary, which meant that God noticed Mary. Mary a young girl, an unwed virgin, who was engaged to Joseph was noticed by God. She wasn’t wealthy or well-known or had power. Until this point in her life, she wasn’t an accomplished person. Still, God noticed her and sent an angel.
Second, God blessed Mary. The angel showed up and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Imagine how we would feel if we heard this? What would go through our minds? Deep down, would we believe we would be worthy and great? Or, would we be uncomfortable and a little anxious?
Again, God blessed Mary, but it’s not for the reason many of us would assume. She didn't do anything to earn that blessing. Instead, Mary was just blessed. It even puzzled her, and Mary questioned it when she asked, “How can this be since I am a virgin?”
I know it doesn’t make any sense to me either. To be blessed, especially by God for no reason goes against our culture and society. We live in a world that thrives on quid pro quo. In other words, we live by the phrase we earn what we get. If we work hard and play by the rules, then good things will happen. Unfortunately, getting what we deserve bleeds into our understanding of God. Many of us believe that our lives are dictated by how well we live by God’s rules. If we do what God says, then we will be blessed.
Right here in the Scriptures, we don’t find that understanding. What we discover is that God blessed Mary so she could be a blessing to others. As that blessing sunk in, Mary was able to open herself to the work of the Holy Spirit. She was no longer afraid to let God use her. As a result, she blessed the whole world through her willingness to carry Jesus.
The same thing holds true today. God notices and blesses every one of you. Not just when you come to church but also throughout the rest of your week. God will work through you to be a blessing to others. We shouldn’t be afraid to hear those words. Regardless of our situations, what comes with hearing “Do not be afraid” is God’s promise of Good News. It’s not just any good news; it’s the Good News that God favors us. God's blessing doesn't mean God makes us superior to others; instead, it’s God blessing of grace, or unconditional love, favor, and acceptance.
We carry that promise, in the midst of living out Christ’s mission. We carry that promise through everything we experience. It’s the promise that gives us the courage to know that God is working. It’s the promise we carry as we wait for Christ’s ultimate return. That should shoot adrenaline into our souls and help face all of our fears head on.
We should hear those four words as often as possible. We need to say those four words so that others will listen to it louder than the fear they encounter every day. The people who need to hear it are those who the world has forgotten. The people who need to listen to it are those who are broken, lost, and suffering and living in fear. They need to hear that someone is standing up for them.
It’s not just that we are standing up so they will come to church or for us to be the dominant religion in the world. It's not to make God love us anymore. We are standing up so that all will know God’s promise that they are freed from death, from suffering, and from fear to experience abundant life.
So, let’s try saying those words together. Repeat after me; we will start with one word at a time. “Do… not… be… Afraid…” Let’s try it again. “Do… not… be… Afraid.” One more time. “Do… not… be… Afraid…” Now, let’s say altogether. “Do not be afraid.” One more time, “Do not be afraid.” Do not fear death. Do not fear conflict. Do not be afraid of the future. Do not be afraid of change. Do not be afraid of what God is doing in our world. Do not fear what God will do through us. Most importantly, do not be afraid to say to God, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord; be with me according to your word.”