December 9, 2018
Luke 1: 26-38
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 forever, 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.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
“Don’t worry; God’s got your back.”
Mary knows, this greeting can’t be a good sign.
Gabriel could use some help on how to break difficult news. Starting with the Ancient Near East version of “now, don’t freak out,” isn’t a good look.
To be fair, Gabriel has an unenviable task, inviting Mary into a new reality that will turn her entire life, and the world, upside down. Except, while her pregnancy will bring liberation to humanity, it is also terrifying. He’s inviting a teenage girl to risk her life, risk her standing in her family in the community, by having a child. There’s no good way for him to say it. And yet, Mary lets the angel finish, stumbling through his pronouncement. Then, taking a deep breath, she raises her questions, finding a way to offer herself to what God is up to in the world, on her own terms.
Following the living God seems to me to be a process of taking a deep breath as we are told “this is going to sound crazy, but hear me out.”
Scripture is full of stories that are, by their nature, full of awe inspiring moments and drama. This text, known as the Annunciation, that is, the announcement to Mary, is the subject of paintings and dramatic moments in plays and films. It’s a weird moment, right, outside of our day to day? And yet, I’m struck this year at how this text is full of everyday heroism. I saw in this text echoes of families and communities who are invited to midwife the mission of God into our world. There are so many Mary’s willing to try to move our world just a little bit more towards how God has dreamed of it being, moving it towards what we barely hope to pray could be true. They ask questions, they feel overwhelmed and hopeful, perplexed and full of doubt, but they rely, not on their cunning or physical power, but to have faith that God’s presence among us can give us the courage to join together and engage in the profound work that the Holy is up to.
Our world is full of Gabriel’s and Mary’s these days, and this week, has been full of this story. This past week was beautiful and hard, and precious.
Last week I got a call from Rachel Brooks, a community organizer with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, or BUILD, as it’s more commonly known. Rachel is one of those people who, when I see I have an email from her, or her name comes up on call waiting, I know there’s something going on that I need to be paying attention to. She’s someone whose job it is to know all the Mary’s in our midst. She’s a prophetic voice calling God’s Justice out from within us. She is able to announce to people, through hearing our stories, and asking questions, what the Holy One can do, if we accept the invitation for the incarnation to be real in our lives. She’s also funny, and as a queer woman of color, someone who I find I want to learn from.
Like I said, when she calls, I pick up.
She called to invite Pastors to join her, and organizers from Anne Arundel County, to go to Immigration Court here in Baltimore. One of our fellow pastors, Pastor Edy, was having a hearing, and the Church was invited to support his request not to be deported to Guatemala.
You see, Edy, he’s another Gabriel if ever there was one. He sees what’s possible in people’s lives with God, and even though it might be a difficult conversation, he announces good news.
I showed up at the Federal Building, wearing my collar, suit, and Purple Vestments, and immediately was greeted by organizers, who directed us through security, to a circle of pastors and organizers praying. There were over twenty of us, and the mood was electric.
We were reminded of Edy’s story, of why he had fled from Guatemala. Edy grew up in his father’s church, and always made sure to clean the space before he left. Eventually, he was invited to preach and sing, and as a younger pastor, he quickly attracted the attention of the young people in his community. Walking around, singing worship songs, he got to know some of the local kids who were involved in one of the gangs in the village. He shared with them that God loves them, and Jesus could change their lives, that there was another way to be loved, another community they could belong to.
Edy quickly became a youth pastor, but the leadership of the gangs didn’t appreciate his promises of a new life for the youth they were grooming for life in their gang. Edy’s life, and the life of his family, was threatened multiple times, and eventually he left for the United States, hearing that in America, his right to practice his faith would be protected. And so he came. The only problem was, he didn’t know what Asylum was. When he entered the country without documentation, the process was never explained to him, and he didn’t know that he could apply to live here for his own safety. Eventually he was deported, but because of the continued threats against him, he re-entered the US. This re-entry bars him from seeking Asylum, under our laws.
Edy found that there were people to minister to here in the US who faced similar struggles to his. He ministered to them, and built relationships, organizing folks to learn about the complicated process of navigating our immigration system.
And then, tragedy struck. The apartment building he was living in burst into flames because of a gas leak. He risked his life, trying to get people to safety out of the building, even attempting to run back into the inferno to reach a child that he was tragically unable to save.
After the fire, the residents, many of whom were undocumented, needed help securing shelter, rebuilding their lives, and dealing with the fact that the property owner had been negligent in the safety of the building. Because of folks undocumented status though, they didn’t want to risk confrontation, for fear of ICE.
Everyone was unwilling to confront those in power, Except Edy. He realized that his voice could help his people. And so he spoke on the news to reporters, and in the local government, to try to help his people. And that’s when ICE apprehended him.
There are parts of which we are that God invites us to live out of. There are parts of us that we don’t realize have prepared us to step into situations we never dreamed of.
Mary somehow discovers within herself courage to risk asking questions of this angel, and step forward. She discovers courage. But she also knows that she can’t do this alone. God will be with her, the angel assures her, and she’s going to need people around her that can see that the Holy One is who is at work in her body, in her life. And so, she sets out with haste for Elizabeth.
Edy, when he was detained, the people in his community, they found that Edy had awoken something within them. And so they reached out, to pastors and community leaders, to Community Organizers, and before you know it, Edy was able to get access to a lawyer, and pastors were coming to visit him in prison. His family was receiving the support they needed, especially his one year old daughter, who was able to come and visit her Dad in detention.
And then, when his hearing came up, we showed up. There was power, beyond anything I’ve ever felt in a public action. We were handed printed cards with the names of the congregations we pastor, saying that our churches support Edy, and lined up to fill the hearing room seats. The security guards were freaked out by how many of us there were, and they forced all of us to leave. The professional organizers negotiated with him, and some of us were allowed to enter.
And so, last Tuesday, I sat behind the lawyer representing our government, in a cramped courtroom, praying for Edy as he answered questions, praying for his lawyer to be given the words, praying for the judge’s heart to be open, and if I’m honest praying for the government’s prosecutor to have a bad day at work.
Edy shared his story, and shared how he was ministering to the Men in ICE detention, how he can’t stop but share the good news of God’s love and transforming power in the world, in the very places and people our government leaders tell us to fear, or to blame. But our world is full of Edy’s and Gabriels, and sitting among the organizers and pastors, I saw them as Mary’s compelled to join in with what God is doing.
I watched as Rachel and the other organizers encouraged and empowered Annapolis community members to be a part of what God was doing through Edy. I heard about their tenacious work and pursuit of a better world, a world turned upside down.
And I saw as they birthed justice into our world, as Edy was awarded an indefinite stay of deportation, heard their cheers and tears as it was explained that he would be able to stay in the US for the rest of his life with his daughter, his family, and work as a Minister. I heard their determination to take on our broken immigration system that is terrorizing so many.
Beloved, this Advent, let’s be on the lookout for the Mary’s in our midst, those Bearers of Christ’s light, who are overturning the powers of this world. Let’s be friends with the undercover angels, the Gabriel’s who give voice to God’s dreams for our lives, through the Power of the Christ Child. This Advent, let us gather, full of questions and puzzlement, knowing that the Holy One is with us, and that we can be a part of something that matters, if only we take courage and listen for the invitations of the strange Angels among us. And may the tenacious, powerful women in our midst, the Mary’s of this age, find within our community, our families, and the community that makes manifest the family of God, when we are needed most.
May it be so,
In the Name of Christ our Brother, God our Creator, and the Holy Spirit Our Friend, Amen.