Advent 4B Lectionary Text: Luke 1: 26-38
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He 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. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The 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. 36And 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. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then 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.
Annunciation literally means “the announcement”. The word by itself probably holds no real mystery. But it is the beginning of the central tenet of our entire Christian faith—The Annunciation, The Incarnation, The Transfiguration, The Resurrection. For us, whether we realize it or not, it begins the mystery of Christ Jesus. For us, the fog lifts and there before us is the bridge between the human and the Divine.
The text says that Mary was much perplexed. The truth is, this young girl was so confused at first. Well, of course she was confused! And on top of that, she was terrified. You see, to put it into the context in which Mary lived, there is a folktale that is told in the Apocryphal Book of Tobit that tells of a jealous angel who would appear on a bride’s wedding night each time she married and kill her bridegroom. This story, of course, was part of the culture in which Mary lived. She had grown up hearing that story. And remember, that even though Mary and Joseph had yet to be formally married, they were betrothed. This is more than just being engaged. The commitment had already been made. There had already been a dowry given. So Mary could have thought that this angel was coming to kill her bridegroom. Not only would she lose her intended spouse but she would be left with nothing. As one who was already betrothed, she would essentially be relegated to the class of widow with no resources. Then the angel tells her not to be afraid. Don’t be afraid? Good grief…she was terrified!
I think Mary’s initial response (as its translated in our Scriptures) is one of the most profound phrases ever: “How can this be?” How can this happen when it doesn’t make sense? Why me? Why of all the people in the world that you could have chosen, why choose me? In other words, you have got to be kidding me! We identify with this. Even when we intend to obey God, we struggle when it is so far out of the parameters of the life we have that is makes no sense. It is the question of faith. It is what we all ask about our lives. Because, surely, in this moment, Mary saw her world toppling down. And the world waited. God waited. How can this be? Because, you see, it CAN’T be–not without God and, interestingly enough, not EVEN without Mary.
The passage tells us that Mary pondered these things. I love that image of pondering. So, what does it mean to ponder? If you read this Scripture, it does not mean thinking something through until you understand it or until you “get it”. Nowhere does it say that Mary was ever completely sure about what was going to happen. Nowhere does it say that she ever stopped asking questions, that she ever stopped pondering what this would mean for her life. It really doesn’t even tell us that she actually stopped being afraid. Nowhere does it say that she expected this turn of events.
And then this angel shows up. What if Mary had said no? What if her fear or her plans had gotten the best of her? What if she was just too busy planning for whatever was going to happen next in her life? What if she really didn’t have time to do any pondering today? Now, as much as we’d like to think that we have the whole story of God neatly constructed between the covers of our Bible or on that nifty little Bible app that you have on your iPhone, you and I both know that there is lots of God’s work that is missing. We really just sort of get the highlights (or at least what the writers think are highlights). Who knows? Maybe Mary wasn’t the first one that God asked to do this. Maybe she was the second, or the tenth, or the 386th. After all, this is a pretty big deal. I mean, this pretty much shoots that whole long-term life plan thing out of the water.
But, you see, this story is not about Mary; it’s about God. And through her willingness to ponder, her willingness to let go of the life that she had planned, her willingness to open herself to God’s entrance into her life and, indeed, into her womb, this young, dark-haired, dark-skinned girl from the wrong side of the tracks was suddenly thrust into God’s redemption of the world. It is in this moment that all those years of envisioning what would be, all those visions that we’ve talked about, all of the waiting, all of the preparing, it is here, in this moment, that they begin to be. This is the moment. Just let it be.
That’s what this whole Advent journey has been about: Preparing us to respond, to respond not to the gifts that we think God will bring, not to what we have experienced before, but to what God offers us in this moment. We are no different from Mary. God is waiting on our response; waiting to hear whether or not we, too, will say “yes” to birthing the Christ Child in our own lives.
So God waits patiently for Mary to respond. The world stops, hangs suspended if only for a time, its very salvation teetering on the brink of its demise. Oh, sure, if Mary said no, God could have gone to someone else. Surely God could have found SOMEONE to birth the salvation of the world. But it wouldn’t have been the same. After all, the Divine did not just plunk a far-removed piece of the Godself into a womb. Our understanding is that, yes, the Christ was fully Divine; but Jesus was “born of a woman”, fully human and, as a human, Jesus carried Mary’s unique and specific DNA with him. Mary was not just a container through which God came into this little world. Mary’s DNA, Mary’s response, Mary’s “how can this be?”, Mary’s “yes” is written all through the salvation of the world. In this moment, this moment for which the world has waited, the moment for which we have prepared…in this moment, the history of the world begins to turn. The Light begins to come into focus and the heavens begin winging their way toward us, full of expectancy, full of hope. Mary said “yes” and the Divine began to spill in to the womb of the world. Salvation has begun. The world is with child.
“What is the good if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 2,000 years ago, if I do not give birth to God today?” He says that “We are all Mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.” (Meister Eckhart)
Grace and Peace,