GOSPEL READING Luke 1:26-38
The Holy Gospel according to Luke.
Glory to you, O Lord.
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 whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, 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 God will give to 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.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer,
I wonder if the annunciation to Mary might function as a summary of the who Advent season for us; a “hindsight is 20/20” kind of experience.
Here we are. The last Sunday of Advent. Looking back on the last three Sundays, the last four weeks, what has this season actually meant? Why does it matter? It’s a legitimate question when the 4th Sun in Advent is also Christmas Eve. When the last four weeks have seemed like a blur of parties and Christmas paper and other wrappings. What difference has it made to wait, prepare, anticipate for four weeks? Maybe recognition of Advent’s meaning might occur in remembrance. And maybe this is an essential truth of how we make sense of what we have experienced. Since we can only interpret the full meaning or meanings of past experiences in the present moment.
Mary is our model, our example, our witness, our sister who voices for us a pattern of Christmas expectancy and Christmas response. She embodies our Christmas feelings, our Christmas questions, our Christmas ponderings, not only in response to the time leading up to Christmas but also in our post-Christmas reality.
How does she do this?
First, we need to remember that Mary doesn’t really do anything. She is favored. The angel Gabriel comes to her. She doesn’t seek this encounter out. God seeks her out. It’s important to ask, would we really, honestly, seek God out given the chance?
Or would we find ways of avoidance, running to our places where who we are will not be found out, throwing away our own need for or trust in God because God might decide that our loyalty is not worth the effort or a chance worth taking?
Second, we learn that Mary is perplexed. No kidding. At the same time, the only thing Gabriel has said so far is “the Lord is with you.” There’s been no mention of pregnancy or a virgin birth. Rather, simply, the Lord is with you. Let’s be honest. Perplexity is exactly our response when the Lord shows up. Me? Why me? Why now? I think we underestimate the impact of what it means to know that God is actually around. Here, with us. Doesn’t God have better things to do? Bigger things to take care of? More major issues to maintain besides me? Perhaps some more perplexity would do us well.
Third, Mary asks, “how can this be?” To what extent is Mary’s question here the called-for response when it comes to the amazing things God does? Mary not only utters these words for the sake of herself but also for the sake of God. God, really? Is this really what you want to do? Are you sure? Being human? Subjecting yourself to the vulnerability of humanity? You may want to rethink this.
Finally, Mary makes a commitment. “Here am I.” Like the prophets of old, she commits herself to the God who chooses the unexpected. At the same time, she entrusts herself to a new self, to a willingness to imagine a future beyond her present, to embrace an identity of which she has little knowledge or understanding but to which she willing to commit.
“…let it be with me according to your word,” says Mary. Let it be. What an affirmation of faith, a declaration of trust, and a testament to courage!
I can only imagine what must have been going through Mary’s mind as she processes the angel Gabriel’s words to her. And isn’t that the way God works? Just when you think you have your life plotted out, your future planned, and your affairs arranged, the Divine One comes into your life and throws you a massive curve ball. Once you get over the shock of whatever change God has visited on your life—willing or unwilling—you stand with a mental dustpan and broom in hand, sweeping up the remains of your carefully constructed past while simultaneously focusing your vision on a new reality. That new path ahead may seem wildly improbable, perhaps downright foolish, even absolutely absurd, but remember the angel’s words: “With God all things are possible.” Just ask Mary.
Here’s the thing: We humans become so wrapped up in our carefully woven schemes and plans that we easily forget whose we are and in whom we move and breathe. Even in our faithful work of the kingdom, we sometimes slip off the rails of the divine track to trot down a path of our own choosing under the mistaken notion that we are “doing God’s will.” Even the most casual glance down the halls of history will tell us the foolishness of that approach to discipleship. Yet we are good at justifying and rationalizing our own wills and ways as being aligned with God.
Here, this very week, we can take some instruction from the mouth of one who was barely more than a babe herself, from the teenaged Galilean girl who became the mother of God’s own incarnate self, who bore the Savior of the Nations into this world at great risk and cost by uttering the simple words “Let it be with me according to your word.”
What we do know is that she stepped forward into God’s reality with all of her being, for the rest of her life. Perhaps that is enough for us, too, to simply be present in God’s reality–one step at a time.
Sometimes, to be sure, our steps will be hesitant and faltering. At other times our feet will dance for joy. There will be day of great weariness and sorrow, while other moments will find our steps resolute and purposeful. We are part of God’s grand narrative of creation and salvation, woven intimately into the fabric of faith. Let it be. Let it be with us according to your word. Let this be our prayer as we are sent into the final week of Advent, this new beginning of the ever Good News of God.
Mary’s witness in the season of Advent invites us to move outside our liturgical constraints to imagine the meaning of a liturgical season beyond its weeks; beyond our propensities to have appropriate responses to faith, living out faith, understanding faith that are inextricably tied to events established by religious institutions. Mary’s response is honest and truthful.
In Mary’s sense, Advent establishes a way of life. A way of faith life. That is, so much of how we experience life can be identified with or connected to this pattern —a sense of favor and regard, feeling perplexed, voicing our concern, confusion, wonder, amazement, and then a response voiced liked the prophets of old, “I’m here, God.”
This is true not only for the specific, localized, and concrete events in our life. It is also true for the arc of our life of faith. In other words, the pattern set by Mary—regard, perplexity, questioning, commitment—provides the template for action in and understanding of specific moments in our life but also establishes a means by which we might envision the entirety of our relationship with God.
I like the idea that Advent might matter beyond this Sunday—that it has a bearing on our life after its own ending, even after the season of Christmas is officially over. Why? Not just because it helps us appreciate the reason for a season; not just because it gives explanation to how the church has decided to organize theological time; not just because it encourages us that all of this really matters; but because I like the idea of Advent as away of life, a way of life that seems to resonate with the meaning of incarnation. You see, regard, perplexity, questioning, commitment sums up God becoming human, our response to this decision of God, and how we seem to make sense of our own human condition. I need that the incarnation matters past December 25. I need that I matter to God beyond God’s initial regard. I suspect you do as well.
Maybe this can be the year to live an Advent way of life.