Here ends my advent reflections, serialized out a sermon I gave last week. Merry Christmas, everybody.
Gabriel goes on to make Mary a promise—really a series of promises that aren’t so much for her as they are for the world.
•Her son, to be called Jesus, will be great.
•Jesus will be called “Son of the Most High”—invested with the power we sing about from Sunday to Sunday.
•God will give Jesus the throne of David—the shoot from the stump that Isaiah tells us will bear fruit.
•Jesus will reign over God’s people forever; his kingdom will have no end.
Gabriel finishes his pitch with a reminder: Nothing is impossible with God. He cites Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, as evidence. So Mary is being given what Luke wishes for Theophilus and, really, all of us: the certainty of our faith.
This love that Mary is being given to carry will be a burden, no doubt, but unlike those other burdens—burdens of anxiety and shame, bitterness and pettiness, nastiness and busyness—the burden of love eventually results in the birth of love. And the birth of love, as we celebrate it at Christmas, eventually results in our deliverance, as we celebrate at Easter. And this kind of messianic love is self-propagating; Jesus didn’t merely come to earth to merely die for our sins; he came to recalibrate us not as people carrying grudges and secrets but as people who are carrying love—for ourselves, for our neighbors, for our world.
I have a friend who has given his life to carrying the love of God to all corners of the world. His organization sets up little communities in red light districts in Bangkok and outcast settlements in Mumbai and trash heaps in Latin America, and there they make new friends and explore ways of making life better. The love of God is being birthed in those places.
I have another friend who carries love back and forth to and from Haiti. In a country—a puddle-jump from Miami—where the average citizen lives on $2 a day, he’s teaching kids to read and building better schools so that those kids will be grow up with dignity and opportunity. He’s handing out some 30,000 Creole-language Bibles a year so that as folks learn to read they’re reading about this burden of God’s love that ultimately delivers.
I have another friend who decided that gay people and Christian people were talking at and past each other when they should be talking to, and listening to, the Jesus who was promised in this passage we’re reading today and who delivered on his promises in the passages we’ll read on Good Friday.
There’s no denying that these guys—all three of them—are carrying burdens. Some of them endure harsh critique for the way they’re carrying this love we’ve been given. Some of them live much less prosperous lives than they could because they’ve taken up their particular burden. All of them have a lot to juggle to make room for this burdensome love. But if you ask them why they do it—why they don’t just drop the whole thing and make their lives easier—they’ll tell you that it’s because a long time ago a modest little woman from a town of no repute was given the gift of a burdensome love. And that burdensome love gestated and grew and was born and made his way through life. And then he carried a burdensome cross to the outskirts of town, and then carried a world’s worth of shame and secrets and grudges and self-absorption to a place where it could no longer ruin us. And then he rose again to carry us through difficult days and years and centuries and millennia until ultimately he delivers us safely to a place of no tears and no shame. They do it because God is love, and carrying love, no matter how burdensome, is a gift.
All this stuff really happened, and it happened for God’s purposes, which emanate from his character, which is love. The Gospel as Luke here presents it is love throughout. Mary is given the privilege of carrying love, but in a sense so is Theophilus, and in a sense so are we.
We carry this conviction with us: that God knows what he’s doing.
We carry this confidence with us: that nothing is impossible with God.
We carry this assurance with us: that the faith we celebrate each Sunday played out in real time among real people some two thousand years ago.
We carry this promise with us: that the work God is doing among us and in us is not only for us but for the world through us.
We carry this certainty with us: that God is love, and that we are bearers of that love.
We carry this burden with us: that this love we carry is real and concrete and powerful and changes things when we give ourselves over to it.
This is the witness of Mary and the glory of Christmas. Every day, by the grace of God, we are carrying love. Imagine what we could do with it?