Sermon by the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry
Advent 4: December 24, 2017
Being “favored of God” is not what we ever expect. We expect to be “favored” the way the world considers favor: things going successfully, money being made, families all smiling and happy, all is well.
Nope—not always what God has in mind when he ‘favors’ you.
She was betrothed, so in that time, in that place, she was probably 13 or 14. Now think about the 13 and 14 year olds you know.. Got that in your head?
Or, if there are no teens in your life right now—think back to when you were 13 or 14? Got that in your head?
13 and 14 year olds typically are either very nervous about stepping out and trying something new, or they are overly confident—without a really well developed sense of cause and effect. I’m not saying that to dismiss the teenagers here. Really.
The human brain doesn’t reach full maturity until at least the mid-20s.
Scientists know that the brain activities that center in the prefrontal cortex include problem-solving, prioritizing, thinking ahead, self-evaluation, long-term planning, and cause and effect. It’s not that teens can’t do these things, it’s just that it isn’t fully developed yet.
The rental car companies have it right. The brain isn’t fully mature at 16, when we are allowed to drive, or at 18, when we are allowed to vote, or at 21, when we are allowed to drink, but closer to 25, when we are finally allowed to rent a car.
There’s a reason military recruiters target youth between the ages of 18 and 22. Teens that believe in a cause are very single minded in their determination to help it. They will do nearly anything for it. They fear nothing, after all– their ability to deduce cause and effect is not yet going on all cylinders. This is a great asset to those with a cause.
So Mary is 13 or 14. She is quite a young woman. She is startled and unnerved by the angel—have you noticed how every angel in the bible begins their conversation by telling people not to be afraid?
So Mary listens to what the angel has to say. Pregnancy, Holy Spirit, the child will be great– Throne of David… She doesn’t yet have the experience to foresee all the things that could go wrong in this scenario. She hasn’t been– as a friend of mine said this week– “whacked about by life”—yet. She isn’t tired, she isn’t cynical, she isn’t even cautious.
She asks some pointed questions– as I said, she is quite a young woman, then she says—in essence—“OK. let’s do this.” She is convinced that the angel speaks the truth, and that God wants this. And she changes history by saying yes.
God bless all the teens out there. Partly because of the lack of a fully formed prefrontal cortex, we have people who rush in where angels fear to tread. Nothing is impossible with God and teenagers.
Now— how many of you know who Malala Yousafzy is?
Malala is a young Muslim woman from Pakistan. Her family runs a chain of schools in the region. In early 2009, when she was 11, she wrote a blog promoting education for girls in Pakistan. Nothing outrageous. Well, nothing outrageous to us.
Three years later, when she was 14, Malala was boarding her school bus. A gunman asked for her by name, then pointed a gun at her and fired three shots. He shot her in the head and body. He nearly killed her. But against all odds, she survived. The gunman was against education for women, and against women speaking out–even though that “woman” was 14 years old. When she finally recovered her health, she also recovered her voice.
Here’s what Malala said: “I speak not for myself but for those without a voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
Malala was 15 when she said that.
She also said: “Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.”
And one more quote: “Books can capture injustices in a way that stays with you and makes you want to do something about them. That’s why they are so powerful.”
Crazy kid, huh? Doesn’t have a fully formed prefrontal cortex yet. Rushes in where angels fear to tread. Believes nothing is impossible with God. She won the Nobel Peace prize. A teenager. From Pakistan.
Teenagers. They are tired of cynicism. Tired of what we can’t do. They are often the most likely ones to step outside their comfort zone. They are always more likely to speak the truth—whether we want to hear it or not.
And God uses those gifts. God embraces them. And God favors them.
But being favored doesn’t come without a cost. Malala was shot in the face. Mary witnessed the incredible birth, life and witness of her son, but she also knew the anguish of his execution.
Some would say that’s a “favor” they can do without. But some jump in with both feet and say, “Ok—let’s do this!”
God needs people willing to risk. God needs people willing to follow justice. God needs people willing to let go and trust the Angel. Are you surprised that God often uses teenagers? You shouldn’t be. God knows they have a certain innocence. And a certain fervor. So God often favors them in places we least expect.
Because nothing is impossible with God and teenagers. Amen.