"Congratulations, O Blessed One!"
December 20, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The Angel's Announcement
1. The passage that was read in this Christmas worship service is known as "The Annunciation." The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, "Congratulations, o blessed one! The Lord is with you," (verse twenty-eight). Mary was surely astonished because an angel had appeared to her. She was surely overcome with bewilderment. But the reason for her surprise and bewilderment was not because an angel had shown up. The scripture says, "She was bewildered at the message." She was bewildered at the angel's words. Yes, she was. She was perplexed at what was suddenly told to her, "Congratulations, o blessed one!" The angel did not overlook this perplexity of Mary. Without a moment's delay, he gently explains the details for [saying] "Congratulations!" "Mary, do not be afraid! You have received grace and blessing from God. You are with child and will give birth to a boy, name that child Jesus!," (verses thirty through thirty-one).
2. It is such a heavy thing [to hear]! The angel says, "Do not be afraid," but for Mary there is nothing more dreadful to hear than this. At that very time Mary had been engaged to Joseph. She was waiting with thrilled anticipation for the day of [her] wedding and the celebration. As a Jewess she must have dreamed of her building with Joseph a home devoted to [the Lord]. But, the announcement from the angel contained details that would crush her modest dream as an ordinary young lady, a virgin, to bits. "You are with child and will give birth to a boy." That's what the angel told her. [The angel] was saying that [this pregnancy] had obviously nothing to do on the part of her fiancee Joseph. It is hardly unlikely that Mary did not understand what kind of situation this would lead to. It would not only lead to breaking off her marriage to Joseph. When Joseph would charge [her for her breech in the marriage contract], Mary would not be exempt from the penalty of an adulteress. As a matter of fact, Joseph would suffer later. In The Gospel According To Matthew it says, "He resolved to divorce [her] secretly," (Matthew 1:19). By wording it as "divorce secretly" it means "sever the relationship without formal charges of infidelity."
3. In any case, the angel brought with him a turmoil in her life that Mary could never have imagined in her wildest dreams. Indeed, the events that would go beyond Mary's expectations did not only have to do with marriage. Before too long a child would be born to her. Before too long the boy, to be given the name Jesus, will begin doing things that will go totally opposite against the religious traditions of the Jews. He will catch the eyes zeroing in on him by the Jewish authorities. Before too long he will be crucified on a cross and be killed. As for this Mary, her own son will be crucified on the cross and be killed. The angel had brought with him a life for Mary that will unfold in a manner that Mary could never have guessed.
4. Furthermore, it wasn't that the angel had been sounding out Mary's own desires. "God is calling upon you to give birth to the messiah, how about that? He wants to use your womb, but how do you feel about it?" Gabriel made no such inquiries. It was already decided. Even without contacting Mary, it was decided that she would have a stormed-filled life of dramatic ups and downs, and he had actually come to make "the announcement" of this to her. He had brought to her what had already been decided, he came to deliver [this decision] to her.
5. Well, [it's] this scene in which the angel appears. It's the story that we hear once a year. But, even though we hear it countless times, we may only be hearing it as a mere "fairy tale." It's real nice as a story the children perform in pageants, however, something like this could never happen in the real world. Don't we think that way? Yet, when you consider it, this story is an extremely realistic story for us.
6. Do our lives usually unfold the exact way we think it should? No, they don't [come about] like that. Doesn't it happen more often than not that it does not go the way we expected it to? At times, we haven't a clue where we're going, all of a sudden we're made to ride a roller coaster, and when it feels like we've suddenly dropped, we're going up again; but still though, our lives end up continuing on some how in an unexpected direction at some recklessly fast speed. That's how things are, more often than not. To be loaded down with an unexpected weight of responsibility, to be made to walk a perilous journey, having to do things like that is the way it is so many times. In those times, do any of you receive inquiries about your opinion in advance? "For a long while [you can] expect a life of continuous chaos and suffering, but do you accept it? Or do you reject it?" Have you gotten someone to ask you your desires like that? It doesn't [happen] that way. You are not asked your desires, rather you could expect that it would have been given to you unilaterally, top-down. [Much rather], isn't it [more so] as if an angel had suddenly brought it to you and made the announcement in top-down style? In short, the situation that happens to us ordinary folk is basically the same, but only in [our] story we don't have the habit of seeing angels or hearing their voices. What I read to you today is not some fairy tale kind of thing that has nothing to do with our worlds; [it's the stuff the real world is made of].
Congratulations, O Blessed One!
7. When we consider this, it is the statement from the angel Gabriel that is inexcusable. "Congratulations, o blessed one!" This angel saying that - What do you think of it? Had the angel brought here the announcement that "You will marry Joseph and build a happy home!," and said, "Congratulations, o blessed one!," I could understand the logic. But it did not go that way, he brought her not what she was wishing for, not what she was dreaming for, but the kind of situation that would make a mess of what she had been wanting, [it didn't look like] "Congratulations, o blessed one!" In fact, if it was us, how would [we have liked it]? "What kind of 'congratulations' is this! It's nothing to be congratulated for!" We'd say that and hurl invectives at the angel, I'm sure of it.
8. But as we read and understand this passage, the angel Gabriel was not speaking in jest or satirically in saying "congratulations." He said it dead seriously. Then how did it actually go for her? Was Mary unfortunate and miserable? No, we know it didn't go that way for her. As you recall, Mary became with child through God, and therefore, her marriage would be wide open to a crisis. When the baby would be born, there was no place for the delivery, and then finally it would be delivered in a stable for cattle. Worse still, without knowing why, the boy that was born to her would be chased after for his life by King Herod the Great, and they would flee to Egypt and not be able to avoid living the life of refugees. Later on, notwithstanding the fact [her] son Jesus would be the eldest son, he would end up leaving home saying "I am proclaiming the kingdom of God." Several years later Mary would be standing still at the foot of the cross upon which her son Jesus would be crucified. The case can be made that the life of Mary was filled with suffering. But, we know that Mary was not unfortunate or miserable.
9. This statement, "Congratulations, o blessed one!," this statement which the angel said dead seriously, shows us something important. When a person has suffering it doesn't necessarily mean misfortune and misery. When our life does not unfold just as we wanted it to it doesn't necessarily mean that we are unfortunate or miserable. Even if a person's life is filled with suffering, the person doesn't necessarily need to finish life as an unfortunate wretch. That's what it's saying. A person can still be happy and blessed at that point in time. They can live as a blessed person. They can life their whole life like it says, "Congratulations, o blessed person!"
10. Now how in the world is this possible? That part is the important part. What did the angel say? After it said, "Congratulations, o blessed one!," it continued as follows: "The Lord is with you." That's right. [It is possible when] "the Lord is with you." Whenever the Lord is with [someone], that person can live as a happy and blessed person.
11. How should we understand what "the Lord is with you" is to mean? To say that God is with you does not mean that [God] is at [your] side every second so you can get your orders in right away as needed. God is with you but not like a servant that you can summon at a snap as needed. [We are not to understand it to mean that, but rather] to mean that the Lord will use our lives, he will use our bodies and our being. In other words, the fact that God will use [us], means that our whole lives have meaning. It doesn't end in meaninglessness. Mary's whole life was used as a life as Christ's mother.
12. The happiness of human beings lies in that very place where persons are walking with God and they let God use them. They let God use their whole lives for someone. For someone's salvation. For God to love someone else. The happiness of human beings lies exactly right there. Therefore, one could say, "Congratulations!" even to Mary. And it is the same for us here in this place as well. "The Lord is with you." We are not here simply by chance. Our being assembled together now and worshipping is actually a sign that "The Lord is with you." The Lord is ready to use you. No matter what condition you are in now, you can live blessed and happy.
13. So, an important part is the statement from Mary. Mary spoke as follows. "I am a lowly maidservant of the Lord. According to your word, let it be to my body!" "Lowly maidservant" means a servile low position. It is somebody who serves. In a way, Mary has presented herself saying, "Lord, please make use of me! Please use me!" We will live presenting ourselves and saying, "Please use us!" At that time, the Lord will truly make something significant out of our lives. Whenever you present yourselves saying, "Please use me!," somebody will be rescued by the love of God through you. Please begin to walk with the Lord anew from here on out! "Congratulations, o blessed one! The Lord is with you."