The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Sermon preached by Kath Boyd – Reader
Have you ever asked yourself the question “why me”? I know I have. It’s usually in a sort of tone that says “why me, how come I’m the one who got stuck with this rotten job, why am I the one who got lumbered with this, why am I the one who missed out, or something similar, why me??? Have you noticed that we seldom ask “why me?” When something good happens? Most likely we just think that’s great or think that we probably deserved our good fortune. When we ask the “why me?” sort of question we are usually feeling a bit hard done to and perhaps a little sorry for ourselves. It isn’t fair! Or so we think.
As I just said, I used to say or think this quite often, particularly if I seemed to be having a run of bad luck. Then one day I asked myself “well, why not me?” And I couldn’t really come up with a reason. Sometimes life just works out that way and in the grand scheme of things there is no special reason why I should not have my share of difficult or unpleasant or anxiety provoking tasks and happenstances than anyone else. So a few years ago I decided to stop saying why me or at least try to and I think this has helped me to have better outlook on life. I certainly don’t waste as much emotional energy on a question that can’t really be answered.
When I was thinking about what I would talk about in this sermon and I read the passage from Luke about Mary visiting Elizabeth I must admit that at first I couldn’t think of anything to add to the story as it stands, but as I looked at the passages either side of it I wondered if Mary had ever thought “why me?” One of the things we have come to believe about Mary is that she was probably quite young when she became Jesus’ mother, possibly around fourteen years of age which is very young indeed to become a mum and I think it would be safe to say that for most young girls or women of that age the prospect of giving birth and motherhood would probably be quite scary even if it was or is culturally more usual than it is for our society. I was just twenty when I had my first child and believe me I was scared.
We hear about the visit of the Angel Gabriel who announces to Mary that she has found favour with God. We are not told that she was scared by this but that she was “perplexed” about what it meant. When the Angel tells her what will happen and about the destiny of her child she asks a very practical question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” When she is given the explanation and the news about her relative Elizabeth’s pregnancy she simply accepts everything and says “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” she doesn’t ask “Why me?”
We are not given any information about what she said to her parents or her fiancé Joseph but from a human perspective I can’t help wondering what their responses were when they eventually became aware of her pregnancy. Would she have been believed or would they have thought her untruthful or even deluded? We do later learn that Joseph, who was obviously a kind man, plans to quietly break their engagement to spare her any humiliation until he too is visited by the Angel who makes everything clear. Did Joseph think “Why me, why is this happening to me?”
The first action by Mary that we know of is what happens in the passage from Luke when she goes to visit Elizabeth who is by then six months pregnant. It seems that the response of the child Elizabeth is carrying, to Mary’s arrival must have affirmed the special nature of both babies to both women and they stayed together for three months no doubt sharing their experiences and happiness and supporting one another, not worrying what everyone else might be thinking.
Mary was obviously a young woman of great faith and trust. Instead of saying “why me?” in a negative and complaining way as many of us sometimes do when something unplanned happens she regarded herself as favoured and blessed by God even though what lay ahead of her was going to be incredibly difficult and demanding and the means uncertain, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” What a mature response and if you go on to read the Magnificat, which follows on from the reading we heard today, you will get an even greater sense of her maturity and faith.
Perhaps we can learn a valuable lesson from Mary. So often what is asked of us is difficult or we are tired, worn down or overwhelmed by the tasks we face or the impossible timescales involved. Maybe because of our circumstances we feel powerless to change or improve things but instead of asking “why me?” perhaps we could look at the situation differently and see that what is being asked of us is an opportunity or even an honour and a privilege. A small example of this was when I recently delivered my batch of Christmas leaflets for church. I have to admit that it’s not a job I particularly look forward to because I dread the thought of anyone getting confrontational if it’s something they don’t want or regard as junk mail; you see I have this awful tendency to fight battles that haven’t even been declared which really isn’t good for me. However, I said I’d do it and so having psyched myself up (and it wasn’t raining,) I got on with it and wonderfully no one challenged me, a few even said thank you and I found a few flats I’d never seen before so it was a sort of mystery tour experience. I was down to my last two leaflets left when I went to the back door of a neighbour next to our shop. She happened to be in and when she saw me she seemed pleased and signalled for me to wait. When she got the door open she said “would you like to come in for a drink” so I thought that’s really nice of her, why not? I’m not in a particular rush. We had a coffee and quite a long chat. She’d lost her husband a year or so ago and I think she enjoyed having someone to talk to, especially someone who had known him. When I left I couldn’t help thinking that this little encounter had been a gift and something of a privilege which I wouldn’t have had if I’d not helped out with a job I hadn’t much wantrd to do. Thinking back over my life there have been many good things that have come out of not the best of circumstances and it’s only later that I’ve been able to see this. Now I can say thank you for them instead of bemoaning the hand fate dealt me.
A great many things in life are not what we would choose but we can’t always change them. What we can change is our attitude towards them. We can choose to see things differently. Instead of seeing tasks and chores and burdens or drains on our time or other resources we can choose to see opportunities to meet and get to know other people who may turn out to be really interesting and they may even become friends. A task we previously dreaded can be an opportunity for personal growth if we are prepared to challenge ourselves and move out of our comfort zone. We may find we are actually quite good at something we never envisaged being able to do. By changing our attitude to some of the things that we feel trapped by or scared of such as other people’s opinions of us or our social status or wealth or career we can even set ourselves free. After all, it is up to each of us to decide what is important to us and what is not. We shouldn’t always allow others to dictate that for us.
So next time something comes along and you are tempted to ask “Why me?” pause for a moment and consider what you may be being offered and then ask “Why not me?” And if it feels right then take the next step like Mary did and say “Here am I”