by Elaine Maust
Advent 1, November 28, 2004
Happy Advent! Today is the first Sunday of Advent. This is the season when we anticipate Jesus’ coming. To help us with that, each Sunday during Advent we will add a different figure to the manger scene and consider their part in the Christmas story. For the next two Sundays, we will focus on Mary and Joseph.
Likely, Joseph and Mary were illiterate. But we are going to try to understand what waiting for the coming of Jesus was like for them by imagining letters they may have written to each other while Mary was living with her relative Elizabeth. This Sunday, Cheryl Landis (understudy for Melody Clymer) will play Mary, who is writing letters to Joseph. Next Sunday we will listen in as Joseph writes letters to Mary.
The setting is Elizabeth’s home where, according to Luke 1:56, Mary lived for about three months.
- Dear Joseph,I wanted to write to you as soon as I arrived at Elizabeth’s home to let you know I made it safely. I know I left all of a sudden and I really meant to talk to you about why… but well, I guess I just needed some time.
I arrived to find Elizabeth quite pregnant. She is doing well, despite her age. I am a great help to her since she is already so big that she cannot leave the house. I am the one to go to the market, and the well, and…
Joseph, how can I tell you this? You must know that I love you with all my heart. That I will always be your devoted Mary. But you need to know that I am pregnant.
And no, I have not loved any other man. This is what happened.
I was at home and an angel – yes, an angel – came to me. And he said, “Hello, Mary. You are precious to God. The Lord is with you.” Now Joseph, you know that I am a bit of a dreamer. But this was real, Joseph. As real as the beard on your face. It was an angel and he talked to me.
I was terrified and just trying to figure out what was going on. But the angel told me not to be afraid. He said that God was pleased with me and that I would have a baby boy, and to name him Jesus.
Oh, Joseph. Please don’t be angry with me. I asked the angel the question you must be asking: “how can this be?” I am a virgin, after all. The angel said the Holy Spirit would come over me and that the baby would be the Son of God.
The Son of God, Joseph.
Oh, how can I ask you to believe me? How can I ask you to love me still? What is to become of me? I am pregnant, Joseph. It is true.
And that is why I came to Elizabeth’s home so abruptly. That, and because she needs my help.
There is so much more to say. Please write me back. I pray that you will know that what I say is true.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote this promise from God: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jer 23:5) Well, the time was right for God to keep that promise.
There must have been thousands of women who were descendents of the famous King David at the time. God must have been walking around the little towns and homes of the religious elite, looking for just the right young woman. The woman who would become the mother of the new king. And who did God find? Mary. A humble teenager from a poor home. Mary. She was the perfect choice.
She was from Nazareth, a small, obscure village. And she was engaged to Joseph, a carpenter. Now in those days, engagement was a much bigger deal than it is today. It required a written legal document and a public declaration with witnesses. If her fiance died before the wedding day, the engaged woman was considered his widow.
We do not know a lot more about this young woman who was to become the mother of God’s son. But we do know that an angel brought her the good news and though stunned, she accepted God’s assignment for her.
She seems to have left immediately for the home of her relative Elizabeth, who was pregnant with a baby who would become John the Baptist. According to the Bible Encyclopedia, Elizabeth lived in Ain Karim, a small town close to Jerusalem. It was a road trip of about eighty miles on foot for Mary to reach Elizabeth. A little like walking from Meridian to Jackson.
- Dear Joseph,I ache to hear from you. I wonder every moment what you make of the strange happenings in our lives.
I am well, though I am tired all of the time. I feel like I could sleep all day. Elizabeth says this is normal. What would I do without Elizabeth? She is more help to me than I am to her.
This is what I mean…
I was in a hurry to get to her. The angel had told me that Elizabeth was six months pregnant. Imagine that! Why, she is older than Mother. But anyway, when the angel came to me that day, that’s what he said, that Elizabeth was six months pregnant.
I just had to go to her. To see if it was true. To get out of town until I could pull myself together. I don’t know if I was running away from Nazareth or running to Elizabeth, but I practically ran all the way to her house. When I got to the gate, I yelled, “Elizabeth, Elizabeth, it’s Mary!” And Elizabeth came running to me, holding her belly and shouting, “You are blessed, and the baby you carry is blessed. What good fortune that my Lord’s mother has come to my home.”
She told me that the moment she heard me calling at the gate, the baby she is carrying jumped for joy inside of her. She said I would be blessed if I believed that the Lord would do what he said.
Oh, Joseph, just imagine how I looked, standing there holding onto the gate, stunned by her greeting, exhausted from the trip! I had told no one about the angel. I had lost weight on that hard trip and because of my nervous stomach. She could not have known I was pregnant unless God told her.
It is true! I believe. I am going to have a baby boy, and he will be God’s child.
I forgot to tell you in my last letter that the angel said that my baby would be a king, a king like David. Can you believe it? I wonder if he will live in a palace like David did. I told the angel, “Here I am, I am the Lord’s servant. Do with me whatever you want.”
Oh, Joseph, please write to me. What should I do? Shall I come back to Nazareth? Please believe that God has given me a gift.
I will write again soon. I will always remain
In so many ways, Mary was ordinary. But in at least one way, she was exceptional. Her response to God carries a truckload of trust. (Luke 1:38) “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary said to the angel. “May it be to me as you have said.” It is okay, God. I give you the benefit of the doubt on this one. I don’t understand. I know others will misunderstand. I know this will cause suspicion, embarrassment, and humiliation, but God, I belong to you, and you go ahead with your plans for me. What tremendous faith!
Over and over in the years that would follow, Jesus would ask the disciples, “Where is your faith?” That question was never directed to Mary. She believed. When she didn’t understand all the meaning of an event, she waited, “pondering in her heart,” the Bible says. Like she did when the shepherds came and later when she discovered Jesus in the temple.
Mary could have gloated, “God picked me.” She could have disbelieved. But in simple and profound faith, the angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God,” and she believed it. She simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
- Dear Joseph,I am desperate to hear from you. Have you gotten my letters? Are you angry with me? Will I never hear from you again? Oh please, Joseph, write to me.
I am well and my little baby is starting to grow. Compared to Elizabeth, I do not even seem pregnant. I can still hide my swelling belly. But now I can see what I believed. Now I can prove what I knew was true. God has chosen me to be the mother of our Lord.
It is all so overwhelming. God is living inside me. Joseph, it nearly makes me dizzy. It is good that I have the housework for Elizabeth and Zachariah to distract me.
I have written a song, which I sing to my Lord, my baby and myself as I wash and sweep and carry water. Here is how it goes:
“I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me and look what happened –
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.”
So what do you think of my song? Well, maybe it won’t get published, but it puts my smile into words.
Joseph, I only wish I could share my joy with you. I hope you are well. Please write soon.
Mary’s song of faith and hope. Her poem of radical justice. Her joyful tribute to God did get published. What you just heard was Luke 1:46-56 from The Message. It is known as the Magnificat.
In addition to her humility, faith and obedience, this song she wrote shows that Mary had a remarkable understanding of the Old Testament. I am fascinated. How did that happen? Perhaps she learned at the synagogue. But in any case, Mary proves that she knew what God was like and what God wanted to do.
Eventually, Mary slipped into the background in the New Testament. The last time we read of her is in Acts 1:14, where she is gathered with other believers to wait for the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Mary, the first believer, now one of the charter members of the first church.
Mary was just a poor young woman when God chose her to be the mother of his Son. Her faith in the unlikely inspires us as we wait for Jesus to come to us. And to let her faith encourage us, reach out to do whatever God asks and to accept whatever Jesus brings.