Today we are looking at the stories of two women, two women who became pregnant by someone who wasn’t their husband. Bathsheba, who was spied on undressed then brought to king David for his pleasure, and Mary the fiancé of Joseph whom the Holy Spirit made pregnant with Jesus. I read the story of Bathsheba a few times and have to say that I made a very shocking discovery: nowhere in the text does it imply that Bathsheba sinned in this interaction with David. In reading between the lines a bit I have to say that the bible doesn’t give the impression that Bathsheba had any choice in what happened. David played the peeping tom, sent his men to bring her to him and then slept with her. Would it make us feel better if she had tried to resist David? Yes, but her passivity in the face of overwhelming power tells us a lot about the lack of options women, especially the wife of a foreigner, had at that time. Her passivity may even have been an attempt on her part to spare the life of her husband. We don’t know, but need to be very careful when encountering stories and situations where there are power differences to not blame the victim for the crime committed against them. When Nathan came, he came to confront David, not Bathsheba; did Bathsheba suffer at the death of her child? Yes, but her suffering started well before that event. That is not the end of the story though. God is not one to let an injustice go unredeemed. Bathsheba’s next son became the king of Israel, David watched his family disintegrate into infighting factions and Solomon the son of David and Bathsheba claimed the throne of Israel and built a great temple to God. The story of God’s redemption doesn’t end there though, God had a plan to redeem the whole world through the broken family of David and the broken heart of Bathsheba. Their family line persisted and even though it lost access to worldly power, brought us to another young woman who had access to the power that came from trusting the God who redeems all hurts and sorrows.
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He 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. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The 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. 36And 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. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then 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. Luke 1:26-38
Mary was a poor girl in a hick town a little west of a major Roman enclave. She was engaged to a man who was most likely older than her and had little to no say in the running of her life. She was the property of her father until she married and became the property of her husband. Into this life of a girl who obviously had little control over her activities we can infer that despite the lack of control Mary chose to honor God in what she did and spent time praying and pondering the words she had heard from her parents about God. Mary was familiar enough with the stories of her people that she echoed the words of Miriam in her praise to God for using her as the vessel of the Messiah. Mary knew that God used the unlikely to confound those who thought they could control events, but growing up without any control showed Mary the lie behind the illusions of power. When that angel came to her Mary neither dropped in fear nor made assumptions about the angel’s purpose, but waited to see what was meant by the favored greeting. This response belies a maturity beyond her years. How often have I gone haring off after hearing what essentially was a greeting and expression of love from God? It is very easy to assume that just because we hear from God that he loves us that our agenda has been blessed and that it is time to hit the ground running.
Mary waited to hear the full message and on hearing it asked a very practical question about the implementation of this plan. There was just a tiny matter that she felt needed to be brought to the angel’s attention that would raise some fairly major difficulties in achieving the desired goal. I also think that Mary was stating in no uncertain terms that she was not willing to compromise the call to be faithful to her future husband. Honestly I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to see the expression on the angel’s face as he tried to deliver this message. This has entered into some fairly intimate and awkward territory. Mary needed to be reassured that what would happen was truly of God. Here is another area that we can learn from Mary, we need to weigh the words we hear from God and ask questions if we don’t understand something. Mary questioned God’s messenger here and while some would say that it wasn’t her place to question God, this text and many others in the bible warn us to test the words and spirits that come to us. Mary knew that she was called to be faithful to her future husband and the angel could say what it wanted, but if it was asking her to violate that, she was going to send that angel packing. We need to guard ourselves as well, because there are many voices out there purporting to be connected to God that have sweet messages that sound good at first, but on closer investigation fall short. Those messages start out with telling us how special we are and then begin enticing us to buy another gadget because we deserve it. We also get messages that start off by telling us how horrible we look, but with this product we can look great. We hear messages about what the good life looks like, but if we follow all of those messages without testing them against the scriptures and God’s priorities for redemption, our homes begin to look like the Hoarders crew is due to start filming next week. Mary knew what God’s priorities were and knew that God would not ask anyone to go against those priorities. Sometimes the overwhelming messages we get from the millions of ads we see overcome that sense of sacred attention we try to cultivate and we end up with things in our lives that we not only don’t need, but have materially contributed to the degradation of the earth or have been made by child or forced labor. The fog of advertisement and the mantras of “free-trade” can overcome the urge to follow the Christ who came to us through a woman that refused to accept anything that got between her and the life God called her to live, no matter how attractive the message or messenger.
The angel reassured Mary that nothing untoward would happen and gave her a sign that what he said was true: Mary’s aged cousin Elizabeth would bear a child as well. Mary’s reply echoes the words the high priest Eli told Samuel to say when he heard God calling him. “Here I am Lord. Speak for your servant hears.” Mary said let it be so and then when the angel left went to Elizabeth to double check on the angel’s sign and get away from the glances and rumor mill of small town Nazareth. When she had met Elizabeth and received confirmation in the flesh, Mary sang out the following words in praise of God and acknowledging the purpose God has given his people and began to carry out in her womb. She said
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46b-55
God’s salvation had come and through that salvation the world would be changed. Human hearts would be changed and the mercy of God would be poured out through his son Jesus. The proud and powerful would be cast down from the thrones built on the oppression of others and those who bore the brunt of their oppression would be freed. There have been times when the oppressed have given in to temptation and become oppressors themselves, but Jesus seeks to free us from that cycle. The change he brought is not a change of who is on top of the heap, but to remove the heap entirely, creating a space that has been redeemed from the value systems of this world. That is our mission, we are to embody a redeemed space in a culture of competition designed to separate us into winners and losers. Jesus’ sacrifice in coming to us as a helpless infant, living life as the “illegitimate” son of Joseph and Mary, then giving up his life and livelihood to a ministry which showed us the way of the cross lived out in graphic brutal detail leads us to care for the “losers” and even allow ourselves to be considered “losers” by the society around us. Tamar the abandoned widow, Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the immigrant, Bathsheba the rape victim, and Mary the unwed mother were all considered to be “losers” in the societies they were in, but God sees beyond our definition of success and failure and intentionally shows the value of those our society considers worthless. As we reflect on these women that God brought Jesus to us through, let us be aware of those who our society and culture considers to be worthless. Let us also ask God to help us move beyond awareness of the value he sees in each of his creations, that he came and died to redeem, and actively seek out and welcome the precious children of the most high God upon whom his favor rests. Let us seek out the abandoned widows, the women forced into prostitution, the immigrants, and the victims of our world’s value system and welcome them into our family. As this motley crew enters into our time of Open Worship, remember to hold this time in reverent communion with God and the, broken, misfit, overwhelmingly loved, rich, healthy mix that exists within these walls and our spiritual family the world over who celebrate Jesus’ coming with us.