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LUKE 1:26-38 | HAIL MARY FULL OF GRACE…

“HAIL MARY FULL OF GRACE…”

LUKE 1:26-38

DECEMBER 6, 2015

 

CAN YOU GUESS WHOSE PICTURE HAS BEEN ON THE COVER OF TIME MAGAZINE MORE THAN ANY OTHER PERSONALITY IN THE HISTORY OF THAT PUBLICATION?

 

IF YOU GUESSED MARY, THE MOTHER OF JESUS, YOU ARE CORRECT. PICTURES OF HER IN STAINED-GLASS, PORTRAITS OF HER BY FAMOUS PAINTERS, SCULPTURES FROM AROUND THE WORLD, EVEN SITES PURPORTING TO SHOW APPARITIONS OF THE VIRGIN MARY, HAVE GRACED THE COVER OF TIME MAGAZINE MORE THAN ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL.

 

THIS YEAR – ITS NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC’S DECEMBER ISSUE THAT FEATURES A PORTRAIT OF MARY, AND INSIDE, A LENGTHY ARTICLE ENTITLED: HOW THE VIRGIN MARY BECAME THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL WOMAN.

 

CONSIDER THIS FROM THE ARTICLE IN NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC:

 

“MARY IS EVERYWHERE. MARIGOLDS ARE NAMED FOR HER. HAIL MARY PASSES SAVE FOOTBALL GAMES. THE IMAGE IN MEXICO OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE IS ONE OF THE MOST REPRODUCED FEMALE LIKENESSES EVER.

 

MARY DRAWS MILLIONS OF PEOPLE EACH YEAR TO SHRINES SUCH AS FATIMA, IN PORTUGAL, AND KNOCK, IN IRELAND, SUSTAINING RELIGIOUS TOURISM ESTIMATED TO BE WORTH BILLIONS OF DOLLARS A YEAR AND THOUSANDS OF JOBS.

 

SHE INSPIRED THE CREATION OF MANY GREAT WORKS OF ART AND ARCHITECTURE (MICHELANGELO’S PIETA, NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL), AS WELL AS POETRY, LITURGY, AND MUSIC (MONTEVERDI’S VESPERS FOR THE BLESSED VIRGIN).

 

AND SHE IS THE SPIRITUAL CONFIDANTE OF BILLIONS OF PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD, NO MATTER HOW ISOLATED OR FORGOTTEN THEY MAY BE.”

 

I AM NOT A ROMAN CATHOLIC. NEITHER ARE MOST OF YOU, THOUGH SOME OF YOU MAY HAVE COME FROM A CATHOLIC UPBRINGING. AND YET MOST OF US KNOW, OR ARE AT LEAST FAMILIAR WITH THE HAIL MARY PRAYER:

 

HAIL MARY, FULL OF GRACE.

THE LORD IS WITH THEE.

BLESSED ART THOU AMONGST WOMEN,

AND BLESSED IS THE FRUIT OF THY WOMB, JESUS.

HOLY MARY, MOTHER OF GOD, PRAY FOR US SINNERS,

NOW AND AT THE HOUR OF OUR DEATH. AMEN.

AS A NON-CATHOLIC, AND YET HAVING SERVED AS A HOSPITAL AND HOSPICE CHAPLAIN, I HAVE PRAYED THAT PRAYER, WITH THE HELP OF MY CATHOLIC PATIENTS, DOZENS OF TIMES OVER THE YEARS IN EMERGENCY ROOMS, AT BEDSIDES, AND IN MOMENTS JUST BEFORE THE DEATHS OF PATIENTS.

 

FOR THEM, FOR BELIEVERS AROUND THE WORLD, IT IS QUITE POSSIBLY THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT PRAYER OF THE FAITH, THE “OUR FATHER” OR LORD’S PRAYER BEING FIRST.

 

FOR OUR ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS SEASON THIS YEAR I HAVE CHOSEN TO FOCUS ON THE PASSAGES OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE FEATURING MARY, THE MOTHER OF JESUS, NOT SO MUCH TO VENERATE THE WOMAN HERSELF, BUT TO POINT US TOWARD HER AS AN EXAMPLE FOR OUR OWN FAITH AND LIFE.

 

MY SERMON TITLES AND MESSAGES WILL BE FOCUSED ON PHRASES FROM BOTH SCRIPTURE AND THE HAIL MARY PRAYER AS WE CELEBRATE THE BIRTH OF CHRIST AT CHRISTMAS.

 

LISTEN, ONCE MORE TO THESE WORDS FROM OUR PASSAGE FOR THIS MORNING FROM THE GOSPEL OF LUKE:

 

“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 NAMED JOSEPH, OF THE HOUSE OF DAVID.

THE VIRGIN’S NAME WAS MARY.

 

AND GABRIEL CAME TO HER AND SAID, “HAIL O FAVORED 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 FAVOR 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 WILL GIVE 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.”

 

WHEN AUTHOR FREDERICK BUECHNER TELLS OF THIS ENCOUNTER BETWEEN THE ANGEL GABRIEL AND MARY THE SOON-TO-BE-MOTHER-OF-JESUS, BEUCHNER FOCUSES ON GABRIEL:

“SHE STRUCK THE ANGEL GABRIEL AS HARDLY OLD ENOUGH TO HAVE A CHILD AT ALL, LET ALONE THIS CHILD, BUT HE’D BEEN ENTRUSTED WITH A MESSAGE TO GIVE HER, AND HE GAVE IT.

 

HE TOLD HER WHAT THE CHILD WAS TO BE NAMED, AND WHO HE WAS TO BE, AND SOMETHING ABOUT THE MYSTERY THAT WAS TO COME UPON HER.

 

‘YOU MUSTN’T BE AFRAID, MARY,’ HE SAID.

 

AS HE SAID IT, HE ONLY HOPED SHE WOULD NOT NOTICE THAT BENEATH THE GREAT, GOLDEN WINGS HE HIMSELF WAS TREMBLING WITH FEAR TO THINK THAT THE WHOLE FUTURE OF CREATION HUNG NOW ON THE ANSWER OF A GIRL.”

 

IT IS MARY’S ANSWER, AND HER POSTURE IN ANSWERING, THAT I WANT US TO CONSIDER THIS MORNING.

 

“AFRAID?” PERHAPS, A LITTLE; “PERPLEXED?” MOST ASSUREDLY;

 

“PONDERING WHAT IT ALL MEANT?” MOST DEFINITELY, AND IT WON’T BE THE LAST TIME WE SEE MARY PONDERING WHAT ALL OF THIS MEANS FOR HER, AND FOR THE WORLD.

 

AFTER QUESTIONING HOW ANY OF THIS CAN BE, AND HAVING IT EXPLAINED TO HER THAT GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING, INCLUDING HER, LISTEN TO MARY’S RESPONSE:

 

“HERE AM I, THE SERVANT OF THE LORD;

LET IT BE WITH ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD.”

 

 

SHE IS READY, WILLING, AND ABLE.

 

SHE MAKES HERSELF AVAILABLE TO GOD.

 

SHE HAS THE FAITH TO BELIEVE IT IS ALL TRUE.

 

SHE ACCEPTS GOD’S WILL, GOD’S WAY, AND GOD’S PLAN FOR HER LIFE, SURRENDERING HERSELF TO COME WHAT MAY.

OFFERING HERSELF AS A SERVANT OF THE LORD.

 

AND WHILE IT IS MOST CERTAINLY AN ACT OF HER OWN FREE WILL, A CHOICE SHE MAKES FOR GOD, PERHAPS THE HAIL MARY PRAYER ALSO PROVIDES US WITH AN ANSWER AS TO HOW ALL OF THIS CAN BE:

 

“HAIL MARY, FULL OF GRACE, THE LORD IS WITH THEE.”

 

AS I SAID IN LAST SUNDAY’S SERMON, “ON OUR OWN SOME THINGS ARE POSSIBLE, BUT WITH GOD, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.”

 

GOD IS WITH MARY – FILLING HER WITH GRACE; AND IN RETURN, MARY IS WITH GOD, AVAILABLE TO DO GOD’S BIDDING.

 

THIS IS WHAT I MEANT ABOUT MARY’S POSTURE IN ANSWERING GOD – SHE IS OPEN TO GOD – SHE IS READY, WILLING, AND ABLE TO GO WHERE GOD NEEDS HER TO GO; TO HOW GOD CAN USE HER; TO WHAT GOD CAN DO WITH HER AND THROUGH HER.

 

FIRST AND FOREMOST, IT IS MARY’S AVAILABILITY THAT ALLOWS GOD’S WILL TO BE DONE.

 

IN MOST CHINESE RESTAURANTS, AT MANY DINERS, IN BANQUET HALL SETTINGS, THE WAY YOU INDICATE TO THE WAIT STAFF THAT YOU WANT TEA OR COFFEE IS BY TURNING UP YOUR CUP THAT HAS BEEN PLACED FACE DOWN AT YOUR PLACE.

 

MARY’S CUP WAS TURNED UP. SHE WAS READY TO RECEIVE WHATEVER GRACE GOD POURED OUT UPON HER AND INTO HER LIFE. SHE WAS AVAILABLE; READY, WILLING, AND ABLE.

 

AND SO IT IS WITH US. FOR GOD TO DO SOMETHING IN OUR LIVES; FOR GOD’S GRACE TO BE AVAILABLE TO US; FOR GOD’S WILL TO BE DONE IN US AND THROUGH US, OUR CUPS MUST BE UPTURNED TO RECEIVE WHAT GOD IS OFFERING.

 

“HERE AM I… A SERVANT OF THE LORD… LET IT BE WITH ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD…”

 

WE TOO CAN BE “FULL OF GRACE” IF WE WILL JUST POSITION OURSELVES TO RECEIVE.

 

THOSE WHO HAVE PURPORTEDLY SEEN APPARITIONS OF MARY, THE MOTHER OF JESUS IN ONE OF THE MANY PLACES AROUND THE WORLD WHERE SUCH THINGS ARE SAID TO OCCUR; (THERE’S A WORLDWIDE MAP OF SUCH PLACES IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ARTICLE I WAS TELLING YOU ABOUT.)

 

AND THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT THEY OR THEIR LOVED ONES HAVE BEEN HEALED AT SUCH SITES;

 

HAVE DONE SO, BY BELIEVING, AND BY POSITIONING THEMSELVES TO RECEIVE WHAT GOD HAS TO OFFER.

WHETHER OR NOT WE BELIEVE SUCH ACCOUNTS ARE TRUE IS UP TO US;

 

BUT WHAT’S APPARENT IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ARTICLE IS THAT WHILE TENS OF MILLIONS OF PILGRIMS HAVE MADE THEIR WAY TO THESE SITES;

 

AND THOUSANDS HAVE CLAIMED TO HAVE SEEN THE VIRGIN MARY, OR BEEN HEALED BY HER PRESENCE THERE;

 

EVEN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS A HARD TIME BELIEVING AND AUTHENTICATING THESE VISIONS AND HEALINGS, THE NUMBERS BEING IN THE TENS AND HUNDREDS.

 

BUT NONE OF THAT REALLY MATTERS – WHAT MATTERS IS PEOPLE’S FAITH IN GOD; THE PILGRIMAGES THEY MAKE; THEIR HOPE THAT SOMETHING CAN BE DONE FOR THEM OR FOR THEIR LOVED ONES; AND THEIR WILLINGNESS TO POSITION THEMSELVES IN A WAY SO AS TO RECEIVE.

 

ONE OF THE STORIES THE AUTHOR OF THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ARTICLE TELLS IS THAT OF 59 YEAR-OLD ARTHUR BOYLE OF BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS.

 

ON LABOR DAY OF 2000, RIDDLED WITH CANCER AND GIVEN MONTHS TO LIVE, BOYLE FELT BROKEN AND DEJECTED AND WOULDN’T HAVE MADE THE TRIP TO MEDJUGORJE, (pronounced: MED- JU-GORAY) BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA HAD NOT TWO FRIENDS FORCED HIM INTO IT.

 

BUT THAT FIRST NIGHT, AFTER HE WENT TO CONFESSION AT ST. JAMES THE APOSTLE CHURCH, PSYCHOLOGICAL RELIEF CAME RAPIDLY.

 

“THE ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION WERE GONE,” HE TOLD THE REPORTER. “YOU KNOW WHEN YOU’RE CARRYING SOMEONE ON YOUR SHOULDERS IN A SWIMMING POOL WATER FIGHT – THEY COME OFF, AND YOU FEEL LIGHT AND FREE?” I WAS LIKE; WAIT A MINUTE, WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO ME? WHY IS THAT?

 

THE NEXT MORNING WITH HIS FRIENDS ROB AND KEVIN, HE MET ANOTHER OF THE “VISIONARIES,” VICKA IVANKOVIC-MIJATOVIC, IN A JEWELRY SHOP AND ASKED FOR HER HELP.

 

GRIPPING HIS HEAD WITH ONE HAND, SHE APPEALED TO THE VIRGIN MARY TO ASK GOD TO CURE HIM. BOYLE SAID HE EXPERIENCED AN UNUSUAL SENSATION RIGHT THERE IN THE STORE.

 

“SHE STARTS TO PRAY OVER ME. ROB AND KEVIN PUT THEIR HANDS ON ME, AND THE HEAT THAT WENT THROUGH MY BODY FROM HER PRAYING WAS CAUSING THEM TO SWEAT.”

BACK IN BOSTON A WEEK LATER, A CT-SCAN AT MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL REVEALED THAT HIS TUMORS HAD SHRUNK TO ALMOST NOTHING.

 

SINCE THEN BOYLE HAS BEEN BACK TO MEDJUGORJE 13 TIMES LEADING OTHERS FROM THE BOSTON AREA IN NEED OF HEALING.

 

“I’M A REGULAR GUY,” HE SAID. “I LIKE TO PLAY HOCKEY AND DRINK BEER. I PLAY GOLF.” BUT HE CONTINUED, “I HAD TO CHANGE THINGS IN MY LIFE.”

 

TODAY BOYLE SAID HE’S BECOME “A SORT OF MOUTHPIECE FOR JESUS CHRIST’S HEALING POWER AND OF COURSE, FOR MOTHER MARY AND THE POWER OF HER INTERCESSION.”

 

IN THE MEDICAL PROFESSION WHAT YOU AND I MIGHT CALL A MIRACLE IS OFTEN REFERRED TO AS “SPONTANEOUS REMISSION” OR “REGRESSION TO MEAN” DR. FRANK MCGOVERN, THE BOSTON UROLOGIC SURGEON WHO HAD DONE ALL HE COULD FOR ARTHUR BOYLE TOLD THE REPORTER.

 

“CANCER’S VIRTUAL DISAPPEARANCE IS A “RARE” BUT STATISTICALLY POSSIBLE HAPPENING.” BUT THE SURGEON ADDED, “I ALSO BELIEVE THERE ARE TIMES IN HUMAN LIFE WHEN WE ARE WAY BEYOND WHAT WE EVER EXPECT.”

 

DID THE INTENSE HEAT BOYLE EXPERIENCED WHEN THAT WOMAN HELD HIS HEAD IN HER HAND PLAY A PART IN HIS HEALING?

 

FROM THE 2006 BOOK HYPERTHERMIA IN CANCER TREATMENT: A PRIMER,

 

“SPONTANEOUS REGRESSION OF SOME CANCERS HAS BEEN DEMONSTRATED TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE INDUCTION OF FEVER AND ACTIVATION OF IMMUNITY.”

 

ARTHUR BOYLE SAID THAT ALTHOUGH HE CONTINUED HIS TESTS AFTER HIS RETURN FROM MEDJUGORJE;

 

“IT WAS FAITH THAT ENABLED ME TO GET INTO A STATE OF PEACE WHERE MY IMMUNE SYSTEM REBOOTED ITSELF AND KILLED THE CANCER – THAT WAS ALL DONE THROUGH GOD.”

 

“GETTING OURSELVES INTO A STATE OF PEACE…”

“POSITIONING OURSELVES TO RECEIVE WHAT GOD HAS TO OFFER…”

“A POSTURE OF ACCEPTANCE AND RECEPTIVITY ON OUR PART…”

 

THIS IS WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM MARY’S EXAMPLE BEFORE GOD, AND HOW WE CAN COME TO SAY:

 

“HERE AM I, A SERVANT OF THE LORD, LET IT BE WITH ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD…”

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