Some Sundays ago, I preached a message to the congregation I serve that I intended to be hopeful. In it, I talked about the “scandal of change”. My main point was that scandal is part and parcel of any change endeavor. The text that I was preaching from was the Annunciation from Luke 1 where Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that she is going to conceive a child who will change the world.
Not growing up with a focus on Mary or most of the liturgical calendar, I often struggle in the beginning of these seasons with these types of passages. I have to spend a lot of time reflecting on what these passages might mean to me since I don’t have a cultural connection to them. The first several times I looked at the verses, they meant next to nothing to me. In order to bring the passage into contemporary relevance, I had the members consider the question, “What if Mary said no?” The following words are from the text of the sermon:
What if Mary said no?
Now here’s something to ponder–what if Mary said no? Have you ever wondered that? If not, I think it is an important consideration in this season.
What if after the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God,”, Mary came back with, “Well it might not be impossible for God. But, it is impossible for Mary. Because I am not about to go out into these streets pregnant when I am not even married to Joseph yet.” Do you know what kind of scandal that would be? No thank you.”
You see, without coming outright and saying it, we take for granted that Mary had no choice in the matter. But as Loretta Ross-Gotta points out in her contribution to Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary was, “you will conceive…” Conceive–a word that Ross-Gotta says is active and at its Latin roots means to seize or to take hold of. She goes on to recount what Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, says to Mary when her own baby leaps in her womb at the arrival of the woman who would give birth to the man who we call Christ, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” This statement also points to Mary’s active participation in this process. She believed when she didn’t have to. And more than simply believe, she stepped out in that belief.
After two thousand years of telling this story, it is easy for us to look at this moment from the perspective that, “It all works out in the end.” But to do that is to miss much that this story offers. Consider that even today, unwed pregnancies are not often welcomed. Let’s just be honest. And although we have progressed from literal stoning, we still tend to emotionally, mentally, and intellectually stone those who make decisions that we don’t agree with. Very few of us immediately jump to, “It’s all going to work out in the end.” And from what I have witnessed, it’s a rare person that doesn’t think that it’s annoying when people who get to that place at a point that we think is too soon. So, let’s not do that to Mary.
Since delivering that sermon, I have been constantly wondering to myself about how what I pondered about Mary is playing out in my own life. What are the positive scandals that I am being called to? And am I, like Mary, willing to openly display my scandal for all to see?
I want to tell myself that the answer is yes. But admittedly, I have along way to go. The gauge by which I measure myself is the degree to which I can say wholeheartedly that I love every facet of humanity and that I know people are doing the best they can no matter what shows up in the world. There are some days where I see this clearly and others when I don’t. When I don’t, it is because I am allowing myself to be distracted by judgments that I know are not mine to make.
In 1 John 4:8, it says that people who do not love do not know God because God is Love. All I want to accomplish with this life is to love God and those who God loves. Without going into my whole story, I was convicted years ago that I had to accept that there is a God absolutely or not at all and that God is Love. I chose the Absolute and since then, I have witnessed as all of my excuses not to love have been dissolved. Some dissolve more easily than others. But I know for certain that I am not going to get out of this life with excuses to less than love. And in this world, it turns out that there is nothing more scandalous than choosing to love everyone.