The Rev. Stephen Dale | Speaking of Religion: Joy can't wait

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"Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you." That's what the angel said to Mary when she was informed that she would become pregnant and give birth to a very special child. We have to wonder, shouldn't Mary be excited by these words, this greeting? To know that God has favored her?

But instead, Mary was "much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be."

I actually think Mary's uncertainty makes a lot of sense. Because when the Lord chooses someone, it doesn't always work out the way that person hopes.

Mary knew the stories. Moses on the run in the desert, called into God's reluctant service. Elijah, fleeing into the desert, asking God to end his life. Jeremiah, beaten, placed in stocks, chased away from his people for the words God gave him to share.

Jonah, snack time for a giant fish.

I'm sure she DID ponder what sort of greeting this might be, and it her pondering might have gone something like this: dear God, no, please not me!

Being favored by God doesn't always turn out the way one might hope, or expect

That's the way it is with all of us, too. Each one of us, at some place in our lives, is given the opportunity to do something extraordinary, even if it's in a simple way. Some of us might be called to rush into a burning building. Some of us might be called to step up to face down someone who is inflicting harm on another person.

Maybe we're called to simply be people who are both with and for other people, others of God's children who are lost and alone, hungry and afraid, struggling day to day to make it from day to day.

We are all given the opportunity to be extraordinary, if only we have the courage to take it.

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But taking that chance is difficult. It challenges the way we approach our lives.

And, let's face it, taking the opportunity to be extraordinary is frightening.

We don't know how it'll turn out. We don't know what other people will think of us. But we do know that all too often, stepping up, seizing the moment to be something better and loftier, something that reaches for God's peace amid the cause of the world, doesn't always end well for the one stepping up.

We might see the moment coming, our moment, the moment in which we are invited to fulfill the promise of humanity in some small, but powerful, way. We might hear that invitation and ponder what sort of invitation that might be.

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And if we let that moment go by, we can be frozen by our fears.

Mary was there, in that moment, and she faced the choice. She remembered the trials and troubles of God's prophets. She remembered how they were scorned. How they were assaulted. How they were accused and discredited. She must have remembered all of this while she pondered what she would do with this strange intelligence that the angel brought her that day.

But, ultimately, she also remembered the rest of all those stories.

Moses was reluctant but ended up freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt.

Elijah asked for death, but was granted abundant life, and became the greatest of Israel's prophet's, right up there with Moses, and he appeared with Jesus on the mountain during the transfiguration.

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Jeremiah was exiled from his people, but he foretold the return of his people from their exile in Babylon.

As for Jonah, well, he kinda just stayed a bitter, angry man, but at least he seems to have come out of the fish from the front end rather than the rear.

But what Mary must have remembered most is that throughout history, God has asked the people to do amazing things, to take risks, yes, and it wasn't always easy: it was dangerous and frightening.

But it was also life changing, for those who answered God's call.

And it was world-changing, world transforming, for all of us.

And so Mary sang her song of joy at the words the angel brought, because while she knew her life would be made much more difficult by God's choosing her, but she also knew that God's choice to use this poor young girl from the backwater town of Nazareth would change everything.

And it has.

This season, and in all season, joy can't wait.

Rev. Stephen Dale is a pastor of the United Methodist Church who has come to Bennington to start the AfterDark faith community in Bennington, and is also serving as the pastor of the Pownal United Methodist Church. He can be reached at, or (802) 440-0217, or at, or at


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