Mary’s response, “Here I am,” is a powerful affirmation of personal faith. With these simple and humble words, Mary models trust in the God who dwells within our hearts and minds. However, Gabriel’s message to Mary was not only about a personal relationship with God. His words “great,” “throne,” “reign,” “David,” and “kingdom” describe God’s saving grace for peoples and nations. Mary submitted to God’s saving acts in politics and society.
Jesus does dwell within us through the Holy Spirit. God is personal and loves us intimately. Like Mary, we experience the Christ Child in the intimate recesses of our interior. Also like Mary, we discover that God dwells in our womb not only to bring forth joy and comfort, but in order to save the world.
We discover that God is active in the lives of our relatives, our Elizabeths and Zechariahs. We note that even in our day, God sends magi from foreign lands and proclaims good news to workers in the fields. We watch kings and Taliban react to God’s calling with fear and arrogance, slaughtering innocent children. We declare with Mary that God moves, speaks, confronts, nudges, inspires, convicts, loves, threatens, comforts, forgives, and sends messengers to the people of the earth and the nations of the world.
Jesus, securely growing in the warm darkness of Mary’s womb, points to the mysterious intimacy of God’s love. The anticipation of his birth in the shadows of a cattle stall excites our wonder. But the darkness of tyranny also threatened Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, Israel, and all peoples. Mary’s “Here I am” gives birth to our trust that God not only dwells within, but also intercedes in the affairs of the nations.
We experience the double darkness of Mary’s life. We know the comforting darkness of God’s mysterious presence, of tender joys, of peace in our hearts, and a purpose for our lives. But we also encounter the darkness of tyrants and terrorists. We know the harsh darkness of broken families and conflicted congregations. We hear the sobs of those who grieve. We feel the pain of those in need.
This week a phone call brought the voice of a woman who lives in her car with a nineteen-year-old special-needs son. Their battery was dying, which meant that their housing was at risk. You have to be able to drive from place to place when you live in a car. All Saints’ bought them a new battery. You also gave vouchers for clothing and a Christmas box of food to another woman and her four children. This week an elderly member laughingly spoke about the barrage of daily appeals for money she receives. All Saints’ was one of those letters. While writing this sermon, Joan with the new battery called again, asking for more help with her car. I said no, but offered her food.
Mary is such a powerful witness to the joy of motherhood and the wonder of participating in the natural miracles of life. This week I held a tiny sleeping baby in my arms. During that meeting, I kept looking at little Lizzy. While she slept, she sighed, moved her mouth as if nursing, and stretched her feet.
Mary witnesses to the absurdity of saying yes to God. She had nothing to give but herself. How absurd was the message of Gabriel! How right was Mary’s simple answer, “Here I am.” We recognize that we really can do very little. Like Mary, we are simple human beings. In a recent pastoral meeting I was trying to help a woman recognize that God’s love for her translates into the truth that she is lovable. I stressed that the message of self-hatred from her mother really came from the father of lies, the devil. Finally, I blurted out the following, which she immediately asked me to write down so that she could post it in her kitchen and carry it in her purse: Unworthy as I am, I am worthy through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.
“Here I am.”
Mary witnesses by responding faithfully in a world darkened by terrorists and sometimes hateful neighbors. Mary and Joseph fled with the baby from Herod’s soldiers, who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem. This week we read about the slaughter of children in Pakistan, and it broke our hearts. We carry Jesus in our broken hearts. His Holy Spirit transforms us into a sacred community. We follow the Prince of Peace in a world of violence. We are Mary, wondering what we can do. Like her, we have only one answer. The rest is up to God: “Here we are, servants of the Lord. Let it be to us according to your Word.”