Chosen by God – Br. James Koester

Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Psalm 98
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
Luke 1:26-38

Those of you who have joined us at one point or another for one of our meals, will know that most of the time, on most days, we listen to the reading of a book during the meal. It’s only on Sundays, Tuesdays and some feast days that we share in conversation. A number of years ago, our book of choice was a little denser than we normally read at meals, as we read Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary by Miri Rubin. Mother of God was a heavy read, and as we joked at the time, in the end we knew more about Mary than she knew about herself! One of the underlying themes of the book was that before she became known as the Mother of God, before she became known as the Queen of Heaven, she was simply Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of Jesus. In essence, underlying all the titles, and the various devotions, that is who she was, and that is who she remains, Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of Jesus.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that young girl of Nazareth. It is a feast not spoken of in scripture but one deeply rooted in the tradition of the Church from ancient times, and one which says as much about us, and our life in God, as it does about Mary herself, and her life in God. So while the focus today is on Mary, we see in her the source, and ground, of our own life of faith. In looking at Mary we gaze not outwardly, or even upwardly, but inwardly to our own adoption as children of God[1] because it is there that we find Mary’s true vocation, and ours as well, to be the adopted daughters and sons of God.

This feast reminds us that while Mary was chosen for the particular purpose of becoming the mother of God’s son, so too has God chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before [God] in love.[2] The choice of Mary was not random, or happenstance. It was particular and eternal. She was chosen and appointed by God while yet in her mother’s womb to be the Mother of our Lord[3] In the same way, we too have been chosen by Christ, for Jesus in the Gospel of John reminds us that:

[you] did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last ….[4]

Like Mary we too have been chosen by God from the foundation of the world to go and bear fruit, fruit that would last for all eternity. Think of it! You have not been chosen randomly, or by happenstance, but particularly and eternally, to bear fruit for God.

Mary’s particular vocation from before the foundation of the world was to be the mother of Jesus, and that vocation continues to unfold with the sound of fluttering wings:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.[5]

This is no ordinary encounter, but then, the message was no ordinary message:

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 … [6]

It was a particular and eternal vocation, to be the mother of Jesus, and for a moment eternity stood still while all heaven waited for Mary’s response. We remember Mary’s response to Gabriel throughout the year in the various feasts when we remember her life. Here at the monastery we remember that response throughout the day when we pray the Angelus: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it unto me according to your word.[7]  It was that yes for which Mary had been created. It was that yes for which Mary was made. It was that yes for which Mary was appointed and chosen from the foundation of the world. It was that yes for which she was prepared while still in her mother’s womb. And it was for that yes that all heaven waited for a brief moment in time. For the rest of her life, and indeed for the rest of time, the echoes of that yes reverberate, as the air vibrated that day in Nazareth to the movement of Gabriel’s wings. It was no easy thing to live with that yes, but once given it was not taken back. It, like God’s own choice of Mary, was for all eternity.

If the story of that yes is Mary’s story, and the story we celebrate tonight, so too is it our story, and so it is our story that we celebrate tonight as well. For like Mary, we too have been chosen by God to bear the Word of God, and to give birth to Word of God in the world. We may not, like Mary, have been asked to give physical birth to God’s son, but as with Mary, we have been asked to bear and carry and give birth to the Word of God. So as with Mary, so with us, eternity stands still while all heaven waits for our answer. What will it be? Will you like Mary say yes to God’s choice of you as friend, and disciple and lover?[8] Will you like Mary open the womb of your heart and bear, and carry and give birth to the Incarnate Word of God so that all might live for the praise of his glory?[9] Will you like Mary, say yes?

We say yes to so many things. Yes to another piece of dessert. Yes to an advertisement or sales pitch. Yes to an invitation or a request from a colleague or friend. And sometimes we say yes to God. Sometimes we say yes to God when we hear the wings of an angel. Sometimes we say yes to the very thing that we were made for. Sometimes we say yes to the very thing for which we have been destined[10] from all eternity.

When we say yes to God, our yes echoes that of Mary’s and the Word [becomes] flesh and [lives] among us[11] here and now and we, like Mary, become God bearers and our eternal destiny is fulfilled for all time.

Tonight we celebrate, not simply God’s choice of Mary from the foundation of the world to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word, but God’s eternal choice of us to be the bearers of that same Word as well. We celebrate not simply Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, but to us as well, for we too are favoured of the Lord.[12] We celebrate not simply Mary’s eternal yes but ours as well.

So tonight as you make a womb of your heart and a manger of your hands in which to receive the Son of the Most High, listen for the sound of angel wings beating upon the wind and join your voice to the echo of Mary’s and with her say yes to God who has chosen and appointed you from the foundation of the world to go and bear fruit, fruit that would last.

[1] Ephesians 1:5

[2] Ephesians 1:4

[3] Collect: Conception of the BVMFor All the Saints, compiled by Stephen Reynolds, Anglican Book Centre, Toronto, 1994, p. 371

[4] John 15:16

[5] Luke 1:26-27

[6] Luke 1: 31-32

[7] Angelus

[8] John 15:14, 15 “You are my friends if you do what I command you…” “…I have called you friends….”

[9] Ephesians 1:12

[10] Ephesians 1:11 “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,….”

[11] John 1:14

[12] Luke 1:28: “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

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  1. JC Fisher on December 8, 2023 at 18:44

    The notion (dogma) of the “Immaculate Conception” that our Roman kin have declared has bothered me for two reasons: 1) the idea that humanity’s fallen state (based upon a literal interpretation of Genesis in “Adam and Eve”) is like an inheritable STD, and 2) that Mary is then foreordained to NOT be exactly like the rest of humanity in our weakness (tendency to sin).

    While I still have these problems, I have changed on the “Mary is exactly like we are” bit (in response to atheist mocking that hit TOO close to home).

    And that’s this: regardless of Mary’s chronological age, I feel that Christians have to stipulate: Mary’s “fiat” was as a CONSENTING ADULT. Even if it takes a miracle: an “Immaculate Consension” if you will.

    As I see it, it’s not about protecting Mary from Original Sin—but God!

  2. Maureen on December 8, 2022 at 09:14

    Like Mary we too have been chosen….a daughter whom was alongside her mother with dementia to love her life to death with dignity. A daughter to to accept the wounds witnessed through her parents divorce in order for herself to be healed. Thank you Br. James for speaking these words of Love.

  3. CR on December 8, 2022 at 08:22

    Unlike Protestants, those of us raised in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition were taught that we are “allowed” to venerate Mary but only up to the point where the expression of that veneration becomes “too Catholic” (the exact location of the “too Catholic” line varies of course depending on where your individual church lies on the High Church/Low Church spectrum). This results in tremendous ambiguity concerning everything about Mary and her role in our devotional life.

    And yet many of us feel a profound– and for some, quite powerful– emotional tie to Mary. We feel called to her. This sermon provides a true theological grounding for that call and the veneration it inspires. This is not only helpful but comforting.

    Thank you.

  4. William and Carolyn Palmer on December 8, 2022 at 07:38

    I was so moved by this that I grabbed my laptop and carried it into the kitchen so that I could read it to my wife, who still was lingering over her breakfast. Thanks, Bro. James, for so beautifully reflecting upon Mary’s calling–and ours.

  5. Elizabeth Hardy on December 8, 2021 at 10:36

    Thank you Brother James: I was struck by the thought that I have been chosen by God to bear fruit that will last for all eternity. That gives me a much more profound sense of what I am meant to do on a day to day basis – not just accomplish a task or close a file. My ministry has to be more intentional and less superficial. Thank you for that important change of direction. Elizabeth Hardy+

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