This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and we just heard a gospel reading foretelling the conception of Jesus – just three days before we celebrate His birth.
The timing of this gospel reading often confuses people – why do we hear about Mary being called to be the mother just days before she gives birth?
This Gospel reading is here in the lectionary because we are in Advent – a time of anticipation of the birth of Jesus. We have heard of the foretelling in the Old Testament of the birth on the first Sunday of Advent, about preparing the way in the first and second Sunday of Advent. Last Sunday we heard about John the Baptist foretelling the coming of Jesus. This Sunday we hear about how this man, Jesus, was to come into the world, born of a young, unmarried Jewish woman. One who was told by the Angel Gabriel:
You will conceive in your womb and bear a son (Luke 1:31)
Gentlemen, you will have to bear with us for a few minutes:
Ladies, close your eyes and think back to when you were twelve or thirteen. I don’t know about you, but knowing about the intimate details of marriage and pregnancy was not in my realm of reality.
According to the Jewish tradition of the time, Mary was between twelve and thirteen when she was betrothed to Joseph. Probably she was living in the house of Joseph, but their marriage was not to take place for another year. Part of the ritual was for the two to live in the same house, getting to know each other, and possibly for Mary to learn the likes and dislikes of her betrothed.
Unlike Elizabeth, who had yearned for years for a child, Mary was only betrothed and young enough to be the daughter of Elizabeth. So the appearance of Gabriel was not an answer to a long-spoken prayer. She was not ready to have a baby yet. But, Mary’s time and plans were not God’s time and plans. God was re-aligning lives and upsetting schedules to do His work.
Think about how astonished and, probably, frightened you would have been if an angel visited you with this news. But Mary accepted the reassurance from Gabriel when he said ‘fear not’. – talk about faith! But not blind faith, because Mary questioned Gabriel about how this was going to happen. She wanted to understand what the Lord had in store for her, how all of this was going to come to be.
Here is a very young girl, facing what could be a very unpleasant time in her life with the rejection of her family, her betrothed and her townspeople. Just as today, unwed mothers are believed to be immoral, often rejected by parents, and most certainly, not a candidate for marriage to one who is not the father. And her story about an angel appearing —- come on now. And what do you tell a betrothed who has never known you when you show up pregnant? Who is REALLY going to believe that? And the news from the angel says your life will never be the same again.
What would you say to news like this?
In spite of all those things, Mary’s faith was so strong that she pronounced
‘I am the Lord’s Servant’. (Luke 1:38)
People throughout history have chosen to follow their own wisdom and paths, rather than listening to God’s truth and God’s wisdom. When faced with the truth of God, we often are reluctant or just plain terrified. But Mary knew that God was with her; she would not be alone, but had the presence of God within her and surrounding her.
So she said,
‘I am . . . your servant’. (Luke 1:38)
Are we, like Mary, after all is said and done, able to say
‘I am the Lord’s Servant’. (Luke 1:38)
knowing that the way may also be confusing, hazardous and unpleasant? Do we have the faith to submit ourselves to God’s will?
Why did God choose Mary? Why does God choose us to do different things in our lives? I think it is because we are willing to say ‘yes’ and trust and be faithful servants, even when we are afraid. If you remember, every time God sends an angel down, that person is said to be afraid. The first thing the angel always says is ‘be not afraid’. God understands our uncertainty, our reluctance, our feeling of unworthiness and assures us of His love and support. And in each case, despite their fears, the people have trusted and said, ‘Yes Lord’. Because God called them and they trusted God despite their fears – they responded in faith.
Are we willing to be faithful and open to God and his promises? Are we willing to let the Christ child into our hearts and trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us?
Imagine what could happen in our lives and the lives of others if we are willing to step out in faith and say ‘Yes Lord’.
We need to be like Mary and be willing to sing out with enthusiasm and say ,‘Yes Lord’.
We are waiting in anticipation for the birth of the Christ child, this fourth Sunday of Advent. The next few days are going to be ones of celebration – but also filled with stress. What a great time to say every morning,
‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord’.
- When you are traveling and the kids are bickering with each other, what would it mean to say ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord’?
Very late on Christmas Eve, when ‘some assembly required’ toys are in 200 pieces and the instructions are beyond comprehension, what would it mean to say ‘Here I am, servant of the Lord’?
When we are faced with financial problems, mortgages, college for the kids, your own job, what would it mean to say ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord?’
We can say these words.
“Here I am, servant of the Lord’,
out of faith and comfort, and hopefully out of habit. We can say these words as a prayer to grow as faithful disciples, unsure at times what we are supposed to do in this world. God cares about what happens in each moment of our lives. God invites us to live in love, peace and grace and know that we are never alone in this world.
God is inciting us to reach out and minister to others. Most of us will never be invited to do something as wonderful and big as Mary. But, really, it is the small everyday things in our lives that make all the differences. More often than not, the problems in the world are not the fault of God, but because we do not fulfill our part in our partnership with God and fail to say ‘yes’.
Like Mary, we are called to be partners with God. Accepting that challenge and privilege is what it means to be obey God and walk faithfully with God in love and trust.
What is God inviting you to say ‘yes’ to?
Be not afraid – walk in faith and trust.
Speak with faith and trust: ‘I am the Lord’s Servant’.
Love came down at Christmas – radically
Delivered at Trinity Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH, 21 December 2008