Here’s the link to Luke 1:26-45.
Let me begin with a question: Do we believe God’s plans intersect with our lives? Do we believe God can include us in accomplishing his larger purposes? Can and does God include you in what he’s doing all around you?
For the last couple of weeks we’ve looked at the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. We’ve seen God do the impossible and enable them to conceive a child when they were far beyond child-bearing years. We’ve seen how Zechariah initially responded to the angel Gabriel’s message. We’ve seen how God has kept his promises and at the same time answered the prayers of disappointed people.
What I want to suggest this morning that what we see in our story today is what we might call a holy intersection between our lives and God’s larger purposes.
“Greetings, favored woman!”
Because the angel Gabriel wasn’t finished delivering messages after he met Zechariah in the temple. Next on his list of people to speak with was Mary. And when we think about people like Mary — and Zechariah and Elizabeth — we often think of them as special people. They are a cut above. More spiritual. Maybe even more deserving of God’s attention.
But did God choose them because they were special, or were they special because God chose them?
Let me ask it this way: is it possible that God could have chosen other people through whom to carry out his purposes? Did it have to be Zechariah and Elizabeth? Did it have to be Mary (and of course Joseph)?
In other words, what if it hadn’t been Mary’s home Gabriel visited? What if Zechariah hadn’t been selected to burn incense in the temple where he would encounter Gabriel?
Perhaps God had been sovereignly at work throughout history in such a way that it led to this point, where Mary and Elizabeth, these two relatives, became — literally! — the bearers of God’s good news: of Jesus and of John. Not because of who they were but because of God’s grace.
Notice what we’re told about Mary, that she was a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. This is crucial because the Messiah was to be from the line of David. Indeed, when speaking to Mary, Gabriel says of Jesus that the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.
To say that God has chosen us for his purposes is to say that he is so at work in our personal stories, in the various circumstances of our lives, in the history that precedes us, that we have the blessing of becoming who he calls us to be.
What I want to suggest is this: that here in this story of Mary and Elizabeth we see the holy intersection of the lives of ordinary people and the work of God. I’ll put it another way: God doesn’t sidestep the particular details of our lives to accomplish his purposes; he does so through those specific details.
One of the ways we see this in our story is in the connection between Mary and Elizabeth. They were likely either cousins or aunt and niece. But they were relatives who obviously knew one another and cared for one another.
Because as soon as Mary found out about Elizabeth’s pregnancy what did she do? She went to see Elizabeth. She went to see the one person who would understand what she was experiencing. Both of them were miraculously, unexpectedly pregnant. They could relate to one another.
Think about that for a moment. God was working out his purposes in history. He was sending both the Messiah, that is, Jesus; and he was sending someone else to prepare the way for Jesus, that is, John. And it just so happens that their mothers are related?
Here we witness the holy intersection of God’s good purposes of salvation and the lives of ordinary, everyday people like Mary and Elizabeth.
The Lord orchestrated things in such a way that it was Mary and Elizabeth who would give birth to Jesus and John. So they could encourage one another in the midst of this wonderful but possibly overwhelming experience. And so together they could praise God and celebrate that they were being included in his larger purposes.
And so it wasn’t like God looked down, saw Mary and Elizabeth, and thought, “Hey, look at those two! They’d be perfect mothers for Jesus and John! That’s what I’ll do!” For reasons we’ll probably never know, God chose Mary and Elizabeth. Chose to favor them. Chose to bless them. Chose to work out his purposes through them. And chose to do so long before either of them were even born.
Because even though Mary and Elizabeth’s roles in God’s plan were unique, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t work in a similar way in our lives. In other words, God “wrote” the story of salvation with characters that are real and relatable. So we could believe that God can also be at work in our lives.
Do you believe that God’s work can intersect with your life? Or: do you believe that what’s happening in your life somehow is a part of what God is up to in the world? For Mary and Elizabeth their lives of faith intersected in a profoundly holy way with God’s holy purposes. Ours can too. Ours do too.
“You will conceive a son and you will name him Jesus”
Now, obviously, God didn’t send Gabriel to Mary and Elizabeth to announce the birth of just any babies. John was coming to announce the coming of Jesus. Elizabeth’s years of infertility and Mary’s expectations of a future family now dovetailed with what God was purposefully seeking to do. Because here’s the other thing: God’s purpose for us as individual people always intersects with his larger purposes.
In this story we see a holy intersection between what he seeks to do in us and what he seeks to do in the world. Or to put it another way: when God is at work in your life, he’s also at work in the world. This is because of how he’s at work in your life, not in spite of it or in addition to it.
More simply, God uses who you are, not who you’d like to be or who you might wish you were.
For example, all of who I am now is the result of my lifetime of experiences, good and bad. My temperament, my specific traits, what I’ve gone through, everyone who has been a part of my life, my strengths and weaknesses: all of this is what makes me who I am — including as a father, a husband, and a pastor. God chose — and still chooses! — to work through me. Not only to be at work in me. But to be at work through me. Somehow in ways I will never understand his work in me intersects with the way he works through me. Mystery of mysteries, God includes me in what he’s doing in the world.
And so what I really want to say is this: this is also true for you. Do you sometimes wonder if your life has significance? Because in God’s purposes it does.
Think about this. Not only is our God a God who works out his purposes in history, in the real world, but he does so through the lives of ordinary, messy people like you and me.
Mary and Elizabeth were not impressive, powerful, or influential people. For the most part, neither are any of us. But that doesn’t matter. God chooses to work through obscure, small, seemingly unimportant channels. God chooses to work though people who live on the margins of power.
My life — and your life — is a holy intersection between our everyday experiences and what God looks to do in the world.
There’s an old saying: “Bloom where you’re planted!” Wherever you are, whoever you are, God has a purpose for your life that connects with what he wants to do in the world. I know this can be hard to believe sometimes. I know our lives can seem mundane and uneventful from a divine perspective. But I think the biblical story tells us the precise opposite.
If I were to point out one major difference between the experience of Mary and Elizabeth (and Zechariah and Joseph) and ours, it would be this: we’re not necessarily likely to experience an angelic messenger giving us the details on how this is going to happen. We do however have the word of God which shows us how God goes to work in the world and in our lives, that helps us see how we are to live lives of faith and obedience — and of openness to the work of God in and through us.
“The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God”
If we want to know for sure that God works through such a holy intersection between his purposes and our lives, we need to look no further than Jesus himself.
Mary asks Gabriel how it will happen that she, who has never been with a man, will conceive a child. He says: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Upon her arrival at the home of Elizabeth, Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, proclaims the child in Mary’s womb as Lord.
How do we know that God chooses to work in and through the mess of human life? How do we know that God’s purposes intersect with our lives? Because he came in Jesus. This child Mary would bring into the world would be the Son of God — God in flesh and blood, the Creator entering his creation.
Let me put it this way: Jesus is the ultimate holy intersection. God didn’t only send someone; he came himself. He came as one of us. Indeed, that’s what this season — and the Christian faith as a whole — is all about. The incarnation — the coming of God in the flesh — tells us that God himself is willing to intersect our world with his very person.
Is all of this easy to believe? Not always. Is this easy to live? Probably not. We’re talking about a great mystery. We’re talking about stuff that can elude our grasp.
And so I am not suggesting that just by hearing me say all of this that you should just easily believe it, accept it, and live it out. I don’t have three easy points you can apply to your life. I don’t have neat and tidy answers to all of life’s questions.
What I do have is the story of Mary and Elizabeth, the story of the birth of Jesus, the story of God’s purposes intersecting with not only human history but ordinary human lives.
What I have is Elizabeth saying upon finding out that she was pregnant with John: The Lord has done this for me.
What I have is Mary saying after Gabriel’s message: I am the Lord’s servant. My it be done to me according to your word. I have Elizabeth’s words to Mary: Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!”
And we have Jesus, the holy intersection between ourselves and God himself. And I think it’s when our hearts and lives are open to this possibility that we can begin to experience the holy intersection of our lives and God’s purposes, between what he wants to do in us and what he is doing in the world.