2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


Sermon Briefs: Luke 1:26-38

A general statement which can be made regarding sermons preached on this text is that they tend to jump ahead of Advent promise to the wonder of the birth. Perhaps that is an appropriate approach this year for sermons which will be preached just three days before Christmas. Undoubtedly, most people sitting in the pew will come expecting "Christmas worship."

One sermon which stays within Advent is written by Delores S. Williams.1 She speaks of the unexpected which is associated with Advent. She combines the theme of the unexpected with God's choice of the poor to be God's representatives and partners. She calls us to ask how we can "liberate Christmas from the commercialization of `the unexpected.'" She seeks to put the spiritual quality of the unexpected back into Advent. Advent, she says, can be a time for Christians to review their relationship with the poor and the oppressed. Christmas joy, then, would arise out of the happiness of practicing charity all year long.

In a sermon entitled The Mother Who Bore Him,2 W. E. Orchard wrestles with the place of women in the church. He begins with the opposite extremes by which Mary has been viewed by the church: from the worship of Mary to utterly ignoring her. Orchard believes the veneration of Mary came about in two ways. The first was the medieval concept that neither Christ or God was accessible. Therefore, people turned to the sympathetic intercession of Mary. The second factor is quite modern, says Orchard. (This sermon was published in 1914!) Because Christianity has largely ignored womanhood, he believes the exaltation of Mary is a groping after the feminine in the character of God. In a lengthy argument, Orchard proceeds to his conclusion that in the choice of Mary, God gave women spiritual equality with men.

George H. Morrison's Advent sermon8 on this passage is devotional. All we are asked to do is ponder the qualities of Mary as the mother of Jesus. This is a rather ordinary sermon, but one idea is intriguing. Morrison says that Mary had the gift of song. She "set the difficulties of the day to music." Morrison reflects upon Mary's poetic skill and meditative nature and the ways the child Jesus may have been influenced by her.

A meditation by J. Barrie Shepherd4 lifts Mary off the pages of our Bibles and portrays her as a real-life woman. Mary is shown after the birth of Jesus, asking some very tough questions regarding the blessing she was promised by the angel.

Mary speaks, asking herself whether the angel had come to her in a dream; yet it seemed real, she says. She tells of the "journey in the bleakest dead of winter" and the doors locked against the stranger. Is this the blessing she was promised?

She continues, complaining her way through her disappointing circumstances. The drafty cattle cave is a blessing which can be done without. The child is a blessing, but then every mother is blessed by the birth of a child. There must be something more.

Maybe God's plan went wrong. Perhaps she or Joseph had been to blame.

When she considers the joy the child will bring to her and to others "before the end," Mary experiences a shadow falling across her heart. This leads to reflection about "blessing" and what being blessed has always meant to her people.

The meditation ends with Mary at peace. She still does not understand what the blessing is. But she feels secure. She knows God's presence "in this cold and darkened place." She says to her audience, "Don't ask me to explain. Just kneel...Worship him in silence and be blessed."

Suzan D. Johnson Cook5chose this passage as her text for wrestling with the response of the others in our lives when we are called by God. She tells of her experience when she left her position as a television producer. At the time there was a demand for black women in the industry, and her future was assured. To those who were not called, her choice to enter seminary and eventually, full time ministry, was the craziest thing she had ever done.

Moving on from her own story, Cook speaks of Mary's experience as a young teenager chosen by God for a role which most people in her village were not spiritually prepared to understand. None of Mary's neighbors or acquaintances would have chosen her. She became the object of emotional abuse and societal pressures, and was forced by an old tax law to travel in late pregnancy. Mary's situation made no sense logically. Spiritually it made all the sense in the world. Cook views Mary's life as a pattern for what many women down through history will experience when they are called by God, and yet, "There is no room in the inn."

Janice W. Hearn


1. Delores S. Williams, "Representatives and Partners." The Christian Century, Vol. 107, No. 36, December 12, 1990. 2. W. E. Orchard, D.D., "The Mother Who Bore Him," Advent Sermons: Discourses on the First and Second Coming of Christ (London: James Clarke & Co., 1914), pp. 53-66. 3. George H. Morrison, D.D., "The Mother of Our Lord," Frederick J. North, Ed., Advent and Christmas Sermons by Representative Preachers (London: James Clarke & Co. Limited, 1925), pp. 181-190. 4. J. Barrie Shepherd, "Mary at the Manger," The Christian Century, Vol. 104, No.36, December 2, 1987, pp. 1078-1079. 5. Suzan D. Johnson Cook, "Mary the Mother of Jesus: Blessed Among Women," William D. Watley and Suzan D. Johnson Cook, Preaching in Two Voices: Sermons on the Women in Jesus' Life (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1992), pp. 99-103.