"Perplexed and Pondering," Rev. Fred Kinsey
In our first parish, in the first month of our first year, just green out of seminary, having arrived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at Christmas time, a totally foreign and rural community– we received a message. The messenger was the Church Council President. And the message was, ‘I don’t want you to worry,’ but the twins, who just happen to live next door to the church, well, one of them is pregnant, and the twins are only 16 years old! They were just as perplexed as we were, and, as you look now too, Pastor!
The Church Council President just happened to be their uncle. And that’s the kind of news that can’t be kept secret, for very long, anyway, in a small town of 400 people. I think, as the new pastors, he was kind of feeling us out, for how we might take the news. And if we passed the test – including if we would agree to do the baptism – we would then be invited to meet with the expecting mother.
There were no plans for marriage, at least not right away. They were only Junior’s in High School! Though a few years later, we would indeed perform their service in the very church we heard the news, that Christmas. The mother-and-father-to-be, had already crossed the hurdle of whether or not keep the baby. And the plan was for the parents of the mother-to-be, or grandparents, would take a big role in raising the child. It would work out. Fear not young teenager, you are favored! And of course, yes, we would do the baptism. The child should not be punished, for whatever anyone thinks of an unplanned pregnancy, and birth, to unwed teenagers!
And since we just happened to be a clergy couple…, when the mother and grandmother requested to talk with the female pastor, I valiantly stepped out of the way, to let Kim go and meet them, alone, and hear their story!
So, I wasn’t there, but I think Kim’s message was basically, Hello favored one! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid! Which, of course, is the message that the angel Gabriel brings to Mary. Unfortunately, back then, there were apparently no female angels available to Mary!
Understandably, we often take little notice of this greeting by Gabriel – “Good morning, favored one! The Lord is with you; Do not be afraid!” – which is overshadowed by the main message that, she has been chosen to birth the Savior! But what if we saw it as closer to the meat of the good news, in Mary’s extensive and quite detailed story in Luke? What if we see it as the marker it is, for the in-breaking of the power and love of God, to come into our lives and our world?! Angels – or messengers of God – are startling, and unexpected, even though they appear in Bible stories as the regular guy next door, or perhaps an out-of-town-stranger, anyway! That’s how it happened to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and Daniel, long before Mary. A message from God has arrived!
Her initial reaction, says Luke of Gabriel’s message, was, much perplexed! We don’t really know how long Mary chewed on these words, a message which I imagine made her uncomfortable, took her aback, and seemed an unreal intrusion into her simple rural life. She was likely a young teenager, but that was actually, ‘of the normal age,’ when one was given in marriage, with a dowry, to become a mother. But certainly, this news from the Angel Gabriel was not the way she would have imagined it!
Was it comforting that Elizabeth was also just 6 months pregnant, ahead of her? Maybe when she went to visit her older relative, “her kinswoman,” that was the time Mary really warmed up to the idea of being the God-bearer, as the Orthodox say. Elizabeth tells Mary that her child, John the Baptist, leaped in her womb, at her greeting.
And Gabriel says, “This son of yours will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” No one at that time could have understood, all that might mean exactly, including Mary, even if it were to come true! Though rumors of ‘a Messiah that would save the people’ from their lowly, over-taxed, and oppressed predicament, were certainly swirling around, more or less, all the time.
So, Mary’s question to Gabriel is pretty level-headed, I’d say: You know I’m a virgin, right? So how can I be pregnant?!
Don’t worry, says Gabe! The Holy Spirit will take care of everything. If Elizabeth can bear a child in her advanced age, then you know that nothing will be impossible with God! Some, very tangible proof, that Mary could ponder, as her own belly grew full with Jesus.
Does Mary understand and accept the angel’s message right then and there? It seems a lot to absorb! I’ve found that people want to at least sleep on news, that will so significantly changes their lives!
But then again, when I was 13 years old, I had some very strong beliefs, and faith, already. Maybe Mary had already caught the vision, that God had in mind for her and her people?! “Here am I,” Luke has Mary say, “let it be with me according to your word.”
Maybe then, the reassurance and words of comfort that Gabriel offers, are the most important part of his message?! Maybe nothing can be accomplished without first building on the confidence of trusting that everything will be alright. That we have nothing to fear, if we have a God for whom nothing is impossible! Do not fear!
Jesus himself – being conceived on this message, grows up into it, as the Messiah, and he also uses the same, “fear not” with the disciples and others, at crucial and transformational moments when lives are about to change – like when he calls James and John to be his disciples; when the crowds gave up hope that Jesus could save Jairus’ bed-ridden daughter, because he was delayed healing another woman; and to all the listeners of his Sermon on the Plain. “Do not be afraid… I, the Lord, am with you.”
God comes at unexpected times, breaking into our lives to change what is broken, what is intolerable, what is unjust, and births and creates new life for us, as parents – sometimes of our own dear children, and sometimes of things we may not have even envisioned were possible before!
The expectations of change and new life we have, are often filled with uncertainty, even hard work, and maybe sometimes with a little bit of luck! The gestation period of expectant-waiting, may give us time to get used to the idea. But there’s nothing like a friend or older relative, to step up and act as our ‘guardian angel,’ and reassure us that, ‘the Lord is with you, O favored one; do not be afraid!’
So take heart, you servants of God, if Mary can do it, so can we! “Here am I! Let it be with me according to your word, Lord God.” Come, Lord Jesus!