26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Note: Prior to the sermon, the choir sang the anthem “Mary Did You Know?” in which Mary, the mother of Jesus, is asked a number of questions related to the life of Jesus, whom the angel announced Mary would carry in her womb.

Based on what the angel Gabrielle told Mary, the answer is “Yes, she did know.” She did know that her baby boy is the Lord of all creation. The angel told Mary that her son would one day rule the nations. Because Gabrielle told her that the child is the Son of the Most High God, Mary could have easily concluded that he had already walked where angels trod. And as impossible or improbable as it might sound, yes, she did know that whenever she would kiss her little baby, she would be kissing the face of God. The angel told her those things.

To what degree she really understood them, I guess we can’t say for sure. But Mary certainly didn’t know every detail we hear in that song. The angel didn’t tell her that her son would walk on water. She didn’t know he would give sight to a blind man or calm a storm with his hand. She didn’t know details about his life the song doesn’t mention – that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, or that his first miracle would be changing water into wine at a wedding. She didn’t know those things.

And I bet she didn’t know a couple of other things. As the angel spoke to her that day, I bet she didn’t know all the ways her life would never again be the same. After the birth of Jesus, where did she ever fit it? Where was the friend who could ever tell her, “All is well; it’s going to be ok; I know how you feel; I’ve been through the same thing; the Holy Spirit got me pregnant too”? Where was the support group for Pregnant Virgins who have to raise the Savior of the world without messing it up for anyone? We know that didn’t exist. We also know that the angel’s announcement didn’t stop Mary from having a real life, with real responsibilities and challenges. For example, we know that Joseph was around for Jesus’ birth. And since we also know he wasn’t around for his death, it meant that Mary, at some point, had to say goodbye her husband – and come to grips with the fact that this miraculous child didn’t stop it from happening. Mary didn’t know everything that was coming. In some ways, she was surprised. And that happens sometimes to us too at Christmastime.

Earlier this month, the 198 employees of St John Properties real estate company in Baltimore gathered with their families for their annual Christmas party. During the party, each of the 198 employees was handed a red envelope and told that their Christmas bonus was inside of it. This year, the leader of the company said he wanted to do something that would make a significant impact on their lives. So he took $10 million and distributed it among those 198 employees, which means each employee received a bonus this year of around $50,000. They didn’t know that was coming. That was a good surprise.

But not every surprise is good around Christmastime. Last year on Christmas Day, a 7-year-old boy in Canada called 911 – because his parents gave him snow pants for Christmas and he wanted to let the authorities know it was not appreciated.

I don’t know if you’re getting snow pants for Christmas. But I do know that, for some of you, you didn’t know how hard this year would be compared to any other that’s come before it. You didn’t know about the job loss or the hospital stay or the decisions your children would make. I know that, for some, you didn’t know how much you would really come to hate the holiday season become an annual reminder of just how many people in the world are far more interested in doing something other than asking you how you’re doing and stopping being busy for long enough to listen to your deeply personal and complicated answer to that question. I know that, for some, you didn’t know that the one thing you wouldn’t be able to wrap this Christmas is your arms around someone significant you love who’s gone and not coming back again. But now you do know. And you also know it hurts more than you would have ever imagined.

And we know some other things about Christmas. Some know that the most wonderful time of the year brings out the least wonderful parts of your personality as the stress, expectations, and loneliness get to you very quickly. Some know that what they should really give someone they love this Christmas is an apology, because they broke a promise, they hurt them, or they weren’t very attentive to their needs. One thing no one knows, except you, of course, is who that person you see in the mirror really is, how broken they really are, and how hard it is to admit that to anyone because they’re afraid that, if anyone knew the truth, no one would really want to spend Christmas with them.

That’s what Queen was afraid of. Queen is a dog, so I guess it’s a bit hard to say for sure what Queen is afraid of. But about a year and a half ago, Queen was found behind a dumpster in Kansas City. She was beaten up and dirty and had a torn ACL which required surgery. So someone brought her to the local animal shelter. And that’s where she stayed for over 400 days, which is when Scott, a regular visitor to the shelter, noticed that she wasn’t getting better. She didn’t look happy when he walked by her kennel, as she did previously. She looked sad. She didn’t run up to the glass anymore when people stopped to look. She stayed on her bed and did nothing; as if it began to sink into her doggy brain that the thousands of people who had walked by her kennel over the last 400 days wanted nothing to do with her. And that’s when Scott decided to do something.

He moved in with her. He moved his desk, his computer, a lamp, a clock, and even a plant into Queen’s kennel and lived with her, working remotely for his job, and promised to stay by her side until someone adopted her. Once word got out about what he was doing, it didn’t take long before someone did. After more than 400 days in a kennel, it took only another 7 days of having Scott as her roommate before this puppy that was so broken, so alone, and had so many things about its future that it did not know, found a home. And now, all is well. Queen is going to be ok.

Just like you will be. Even if you don’t always know where you fit in. Even if there’s no one on earth who knows how you feel. Even if you’re beaten up by life, dirty, or really broken. Even if you’ve lost someone really significant. Even if you know this Christmas will be harder than it’s ever been. You’re going to be ok. Not because Scott’s going to spend 7 days with you in a kennel. But because God so loved the world that he spent 9 months crammed inside the womb of a virgin, and then he did not leave when the pain really started coming; when he grew up and had to make a choice between your future and his, between his comfort and your forgiveness, between stopping the nails and giving you one place to which you could always look to see just how great the love of our God is; great enough that he would pay any cost, shoulder any burden, and endure any pain to bring you to the one place where you will never hurt, cry, or die ever again.

And God knows we’re not there yet. God knew what kind of world he was getting himself into. It was a world that needed love to come close enough that we could always find him. That’s what the angel told Mary was coming – a love that would be close enough to her that she could feel him kicking; which is possibly why, after Gabrielle told Mary that her life was about to change in all sorts of uncomfortable ways she was not expecting, Mary simply replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” In other words, all is well, as long as God does what he promises.

Christmas is a clear reminder that he always does. He always will. So that no matter who you are or what has happened, your heart would know how to say, “All is well.”