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"Mary's Miracle Mindset"

Dec.21, 2014 4th in Advent Luke 1:26-38(46-55)


Christianity is a supernatural religion. A faith system shot through with miracles. Try to cut them out and you're left with nothing but a nice-sounding set of platitudes, not much more startling than "Look both ways before you cross the street!"

The miraculous is embedded hard-core right in our earliest expressions of faith. Take the Apostles' Creed, for instance. "I believe in...Jesus Christ...conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary..." Now, that seems very strange! As if to sort of weed out those who would have trouble with Jesus' resurrection and ascension at the end of His earthly life, God arranged for His Son to make His grand entrance in a similarly surprising and unique fashion: conceived not by human agency, born of a virgin. The rational mind reels! But at least you've got to hand it to the Gospel-writers for being consistent: according to them, not only did Jesus perform miracles that wowed multitudes during His ministry, His entrance and exit both likewise smacked of the supernatural.

Can we develop a miracle mindset - an attitude that accepts God may dabble and even direct supernaturally in human affairs? A prior question may be, which do we trust in more - God or science? In the previous century, liberal theologians constructed elaborate theories to "explain away" the miraculous element in many Bible stories. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea on a sand bar in ankle deep water that Egyptian chariot wheels got bogged down in. Jesus fed the 5000 when everybody got the memo about sharing their lunch. Jesus didn't really bodily rise from the dead, it was just a collective creative wishful use of imagination. A delusion or deceitful conspiracy for which they'd all dare to die! And so forth. All because the modernist mind found the idea of super-nature objectionable, irrational: science explained everything so wonderfully, it gave us control even over our foundational "myths".

But the postmoderns in the 21st century look back at the 20th century and see the bankruptcy of the modernist mindset. Sure it was the century of science: but science adapted to human domination brought us the bloodiest, most tyrannical century yet. Science empowered us - to the point we almost blew ourselves up. We worshipped nature: and harnessed the atom so we could blow up entire cities with a single bomb. Science, it seems in retrospect, is NOT the saviour the liberal theologians supposed. Our root problem is not technological (we need more resources, processes, gadgets) but spiritual, moral (we hate each other's guts). Control over the laws of nature merely exposed our moral nakedness and brutishness.

So, towards the end of the century and on into this, people have turned to various non-traditional spiritual sources for the enlightenment a science-only mindset could not offer. So what if eastern religions promoted reincarnation? It doesn't have to be scientifically provable. Wicca has seen a rise in followers: spiritual power is attractive, seances and occult rituals provide meaning and community in something bigger, even if they are tied to evil. People are hungry for meaning beyond the narrow box of our space-time dimensions and scientific laws.

So maybe it's time to take a second look at Christianity even if it IS so thoroughly based on the supernatural. Today we meet afresh the mother of Jesus. What is it about Mary's mindset that suited her to host a miracle right in her womb?


Luke 1:28,30 state: "The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.'...But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God.'" The words translated "favoured / favour" are rooted in the Greek term xaris or "grace". The lexicon has: 1a) that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: 'grace of speech'. 2) good will, loving-kindness, favour - "of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues."

So the angel is identifying Mary as one who has received God's favour or grace, His merciful kindness. Some would say, "For sure! I'd say being chosen to be the physical mother of the Son of God is an exceptional favour!" Roman Catholics may go so far as to venerate Mary as a special category of saint, conferring grace if one says so many "Hail Marys" (full of grace).

But did you know the New Testament puts other believers on a similar footing to Mary the mother of Jesus? The only other time that exact term "endowed / enriched with grace" occurs is in Ephesians 1:6: "to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us [literally graced us with] in the One he loves." Whom is Paul including in this? "The saints in Ephesus" - your garden-variety church folk who believe in Jesus. And of course, he's absolutely right - "By GRACE you have been saved, through faith" (Eph 2:8) - we who are saved have ALL been 'graced' / received God's favour, because Jesus' blood has been applied to forgive our sins.

Do you have a mindset that's conscious of God's favour, of how much He's done for you that you don't deserve? What's the opposite? In contrast to a Grace Mindset there's the Ego Mindset: self-reliant, dog-eat-dog, "if you want anything in this world, you've got to be the one to make it happen." "It's all up to ME." If your attitude is saturated by focus on Ego rather than God's grace, don't expect miracles to happen.


Note how Mary responds to the angel's appearance and announcement in vv29&34. "Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be...'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'" Mary demonstrated a capacity to WONDER at God's greatness, the awesomeness of what He was about to bring to pass. Do you believe in a great God? One who created the universe? One who can wipe out almost all humanity in a flood when they're wicked? One who can calm the storm, heal the sick, and raise the dead? One who can roll up the heavens like a scroll when judgment day approaches? Then you have a BIG God, One who ought to inspire us to wonder, be aw-struck at what He can do.

Jesus said in Mt 18:3, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Children seem to have an innate ability to wonder. If we know and serve a great God, we needn't lose that as we age. Like Mary we can ponder, "How will this be?" We can live with the tension when things don't seem to fit: when God's promises have not yet been fulfilled in our predicament or situation. "How can a child be born to a virgin?" Yes, that's a mystery!

What's the contrast here with a worldly mindset? Perhaps the latter can be characterized by terms such as "pessimist, realist, cynic, skeptic." Such folks have lost their capacity to wonder: they project THEIR definitions of what's possible on the things of the spirit and find them wanting. Mary showed a capacity to wonder at God's greatness; we need to leave room for God to work, even when our circumstances don't seem to allow it.


The active agent in this passage - taking root in a poor peasant girl from a very unremarkable village in Palestine - the active agent is God's powerful word. Are we willing to co-operate with that, to allow His promise, His plan, to overwhelm and consume our life? Are we really willing to put ourselves at His disposal, regardless of how unrealistic and novel it may seem?

Note vv35-37: "The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon 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 barren is in her sixth month.For nothing is impossible with God.'" Here the translation "nothing" is not as strong as it should be; literally, "No WORD (rhema) is too hard for God." And Mary replies in the next verse, "Let it be with me according to your WORD (rhema)." [NRSV] Clearly, the miracle-making power of God is released through the agency of God's word, His speech, His promise is power-packed in a way human words aren't. The question becomes, are we willing to co-operate with God's powerful word? Can we respond as Mary does in 38, "I am the Lord's servant.May it be to me as you have said"? "Whatever you say, God - count me in! I'm totally at Your disposal!"

What's the contrasting mental attitude here? That of disbelief. Resisting God's word rather than embracing it. Earlier in the same chapter, John the Baptist's father is struck silent for a time, as the angel Gabriel explains in v20, "because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."

Back in 2Kings 6-7 about 850 BC, the city of Samaria is under siege by the king of Aram. A great famine has been dragging on, and the king of Israel threatens to kill the prophet Elisha. In 7:1 Elisha prophesies, "Hear the word of the LORD.This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria." This evokes an incredulous response, v2: "The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, "Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?" "You will see it with your own eyes," answered Elisha, "but you will not eat any of it!""

If you read the rest of the story, you'll see how 4 lepers sneak out at dusk and discover the Arameans had left in a hurry: the Lord caused them to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army. The lepers start plundering the camp and burying the treasure then say to each other, "This isn't right! We ought to tell the others." Long story short - when the city finds out, everybody rushes out and begin plundering the camp, so the price of food suddenly drops; but the disbelieving officer is trampled in the rush (2Kins 7:17). God's word came true with power - but the officer wouldn't co-operate, with dire consequences.


In vv46-55 we see Mary break into poetic praise of God's merciful love, after she visits her relative Elizabeth and confirms she who was barren is in fact in her 6th month of pregnancy, just as the angel said. What's she highlight about God's love?

1) Love is considerate, it gives special attention: v48 "For He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant." Literally "looked upon, had regard for" the lowly state. Love is considerate, it pays attention to the situation and need of others.

2) Love is merciful or kind. V50 "His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation." V54 "remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever..." The lexicon defines mercy as "kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them."

3) Love gives up the best place. V52 "He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble" - lifts them to a better place. In Philippians 2:6-7 Paul recalls Jesus "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." That's the essence of the miracle of the Incarnation: the Son of God became Son of Man, one of us. He left His heavenly throne for a stinky manger. In John 17:5 Jesus prays, "Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." The glory He left behind so we might become holy and glorious.

4) Love makes space at the table: v53 "He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." Jesus welcomes us to the table of communion: Mt 26:26-29 "Take, eat, this is my body...This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins...That day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

5) Love HELPS, it serves to save, be a 'paraclete' - one who comes alongside to help. V47 "My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour..." v54 "He has HELPED His servant Israel..." Jesus described the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 as a Comforter / Counselor / Paraclete: literally "helper". Are we willing to express God's love to others by helping them as He has helped us?

I thought this video about two individuals with exceptional needs, "Moe & Ann", finding a new church home pointed well to ways we can be more loving, as those who've experienced God's grace and mercy in our own lives. (0:30-1:42; 2:20-7:55; 9:00-10:40; re point #1&2 considerate / kind - greeters and when in service; #3 sat in back seat - often "power position" at church; #4 family welcoming around table, including support workers; #5 patient-directed - customized help) ...Let's pray.