As usual our most recent Sunday 10 AM service was filled good spirit and amazing members of the Calvary community — as well as guests.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘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.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
Since the first driver placed a “Proud Parent of an Honor Roll Student” bumper sticker on their car, some other driver stuck behind them has been annoyed. At some point, one of those annoyed drivers directed their energy to entrepreneurial endeavors, selling bumper stickers to mock the Proud Parent. SFGATE writer Amy Graff points out that options include “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Roll Student” and even, “My Dog Made Honor Roll.” While I’m not a fan of parental license plate bragging, it is commonplace.
Over the last week, an image of one of these bumper stickers has caused quite a stir at a high school in Riverside County in Southern California:
“My daughter got pregnant at Norte Vista High School.”
Media outlets have tried to determine whether this sticker was a mean joke or the actual sentiment of a parent trying to be supportive. Norte Vista says their school seal was used without permission, but there is more to the story.
Apparently Norte Vista has an education program for teenage mothers and fathers. A young woman named Celeste who graduated from the program last year told CBS news that the bumper sticker isn’t a joke to her: “They offer the mother and father a second chance,” said Celeste: “They try to find jobs for both parents. If I were a mother and my child were in that program, I think you just have to make the best of it.”
Just making the best of it can be incredibly difficult.
Imagine the situation of Mary, the expectant mother of Jesus.
I am reasonably certain that Mary’s parents did not proudly display a, “Our Daughter Got Pregnant in Nazareth” sign on the family donkey.
There is a gap in the Scripture from the time Mary receives this news from the angel Gabriel.
Mary was a young teenager set to marry Joseph. More than a relationship, this was a transaction for her family to gain resources. The conversation between Mary and her parents had to be more difficult than we can really imagine in our context. “Mom and dad, I’m pregnant, and the father is . . . the father is . . . God.”
The very next line after today’s reading from Luke 1:26-38 is “In those days Mary set out and went with haste . . .”
She apparently did not compose “Silent Night” and go shopping for maternity wear at Neiman Marcus.
Jung Young Lee, a pastor and professor until his death in 1996 (originally from North Korea), explains that “Jesus was born to be a marginal person. He was conceived by Mary when she was unwed . . . Thus, while the birth of Jesus to Mary was divinely justified, it was nevertheless socially condemned. Jesus, as well as his parents, was marginalized from the time of his conception.”
Though Mary received reassurance directly from an angel, there had to be times when she felt alone, perhaps even forsaken.
The painting of her on the cover of today’s bulletin represents that isolation poignantly. Imagine yourself in that situation. What would you do next?
“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. (Luke 1:39-42)
In a time of potential despair, Mary received an open armed greeting and reminder that she was loved. She received grace that foreshadowed the love her son would bring the world. She received grace even when the rest of the world would have condemned her.
Though the story Mary’s baby would have eternal significance, at that moment she was a terrified young woman who received very difficult news. At that moment, Elizabeth represented strength and the grace of God.
Church at its best should be that way.
There is probably someone sitting near you right now who has received some news they really did not want.
The cancer has returned. Their job situation isn’t working out. Someone in their life is struggling and they cannot fix the problem.
Maybe you can be Elizabeth to that person, reminding them of God’s love.
We all go through cycles of strength and seeming to have it together, but the lows do come for everyone.
In her book Amazing Grace, writer Kathleen Norris explores the hope that Mary brings. A Benedictine sister Norris spoke with wonders why Mary is so frequently portrayed “as a teenage beauty queen, forever 18 years old and . . . perfectly manicured.” Why is the Mary we usually see looking much to young and prissy to have walked in the hills and given birth to a man who was then 33-years-old. Another friend of Norris offers a theory regarding the Pieta by Michelangelo at St. Peter’s in Rome: “It’s an ageless image of Mary because the effects of salvation are already present . . . she’s ageless, but she knows the cost of salvation; she sees it in the death of her son. Her serenity is hard-won, and the wonder of the image is that even when she is looking straight at death, holding it, hers is not a grieving face, but one full of divine love and pity.”
When we remind those who feel marginalized and forsaken that they are blessed children of God, we carry the spirit of the Christ child.
 Jung Young Lee, Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 79.
 Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: a Vocabulary of Faith (New York: Riverhead Books, 1999), 118-19.