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Accepting His Gift

December 18, 2016

By Rev. Enzo Pellini

4th Sunday of AdventJoys is coming

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

 

Christmas is the time of presents. The purpose of the presents is to make others happy. This, however, does not always happen. Some are disappointed by the present they received and think silently: “What am I going to do with this gift?” It can also happen that, over time, the person may find it useful and be happy. For example, when an uncle gives his little niece a piggy bank, the girl may at first be disappointed because she would have preferred a doll or other toy. However, she later finds out the true value of the gift and becomes excited.

The most valuable things are the gifts God gives us. Actually, our whole life is a gift from God, what we are and what we have, except for everything that comes from our sinfulness or the devil himself. And God gives us all things with the intention that we may rejoice. We are often surprised at why God has given us this or that. The gifts of God sometimes don’t meet our expectations and it can happen that we feel disappointed. It is good, in any case, to learn the art of receiving from God, to accept what God gives us, which may be even better than we expected. God’s goal is to rejoice. “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:11) Let us pray and let ourselves be surprised with joy at the gifts that God has for our lives.

Mary was surprised and gifted by God in a special way. Yes, gifted, for thus says the angel Gabriel: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” He could also have said: “You were rewarded by God!” The intention of this greeting is contained in the greeting of joy, for “I greet you” also means: “Rejoice.” And the angel adds the following: “You have received the favor of God.” That means: “God is going to give something away.”
It is a rather surprising gift, yes, an awesome gift what Mary receives from God. And it is a supernatural gift: she, a virgin who has not yet met a man, will be pregnant and will have a child. That son will be nothing more and nothing less than, the Son of David, the messiah that the people of Israel had waited for centuries for.

It is indeed an awesome thing that, the same angel Gabriel brings the message from God to Mary. Receiving messages from God was something for men. And as a single girl she received less respect than a married woman. Besides all this, she was a simple girl from a family of workers. Worse still, she lived in Galilee, the region which the pious people of Jerusalem and Judea no longer wanted to regard as holy land. Just like this Maria speaks to the angel Gabriel! It contradicted all human logic and expectations about God. But this testifies precisely to God’s way of acting: God likes to identify with the dispossessed.
I like Bonheoffer’s quote that is in our current bulletin: ‘And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. . . . God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken’. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Nevertheless, this gift of God is not a sudden whim. God works many times in a way that is incomprehensible and surprising to the judgment of many people. However, his heavenly and eternal outlook happens in a perfectly planned way. The angel Gabriel tells Mary about God’s plans: “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” And there we hear the words of the prophet Nathan; that God had given David a thousand years over his descendants. This promise was repeated by God through different prophets; now it is fulfilled in Mary. Yes, God decided to send this son of David, this redeemer, to the world when the world was still young. For Mary it was unexpected, for God it was the fulfillment of his plan of salvation, a plan of salvation that would cover the whole history of the world and that would have its climax in the second coming of Jesus Christ to the world.

The Holy Spirit will manifest this, Gabriel explains: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Mary also received a miraculous sign that it was indeed a work of God and there was no mistake: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” because there is nothing that is impossible for God.

One might think that Mary with this gift would be more scared than the content. Back then it was always more difficult for unmarried, pregnant women. And it may also be that all this divine news could have failed. She may not have been inwardly prepared to have a child. But Mary, however, willingly accepts this gift. Quickly, she learns the art of letting herself be given away by God. She says: ““I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

This story would not be included in the Bible, if it had been a personal gift from God to Mary. But it is something more. It is a gift from God to all mankind; it is a gift from God to all of us. Jesus will be called “The Savior” and this name is within God’s purpose: Everyone can access salvation through him. He will be a king over the house of Jacob, as announced by the angel. The house of Jacob makes us think of the people of Israel. But their physical descendants are not thought of as spiritual. All those who, like Abraham, trusted in God, are his children and form the true Israel, the true house of Jacob. In this way, this gift that Mary receives is a gift from God to us. Yes, dear brothers and sisters, we have received a gift through Mary, this Savior and King.

God always gives us this gift in a renewed way. Jesus comes again and again to the world, that is to say, where his word is preached and his sacraments are shared. To this day, the Holy Spirit continues to give away messages from God. The word of God and the sacraments (baptism and the Holy Communion) are the channels through which the Holy Spirit comes to us with Jesus and gives us the optimal and most precious gifts that God wants to give.

Dear brothers and sisters let us act like Mary and joyfully accept this gift! We may not always recognize its value and feel disappointed. It may be that some members of the church think during this time of the service that: ‘going to church is not worth much.’ They may even find preaching or liturgy somewhat boring. But think: Here we receive the best and most precious gift of God in a way we cannot understand according to our human standards. Here Jesus Christ Himself comes to us through the word and the sacrament. Here God wants to give to us so that we can rejoice forever, even beyond death.

Let us learn the art of accepting the gifts that God has for us. Let us appreciate the value of these heavenly gifts. If we know what has been given to us through Jesus Christ, then we will realize that: everything we receive in life is a good gift from God in the name of Jesus. Even if they surprise us or throw away the plans we had for our life or at first may disappoint us: Let us be surprised by God; It is interesting to live like this. And we cannot do anything smarter than to always say, “Here is the servant of the Lord.” Amen

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