Advent 4B (12/18/2011)

Lessons:2nd Samuel 7:1-11, 16 St. Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26 Romans 16:25-27 St. Luke 1:26-38

Prayer of the Day: Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 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. 36 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. 37 For 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.

St. Luke 1:26-38, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

An Angel went from God, to a Town called Nazareth to a Woman Whose Name Was Mary

With these moving words, we’ll respond to the hearing of the Gospel tomorrow night at Saint Peter. We’ll be praying Holden Evening Prayer, and as is often the case, our hearts will be stirred as this story of the Angel’s announcement to Mary follows the reading of the Gospel and the sermon.

I suppose we all have our own images of what this face-to-face meeting between Gabriel and Mary looked like, but I find myself wondering what took place just beforehand.

What was Mary doing before the angel showed up? One ancient tradition suggests that she was reading Isaiah 7, where God speaks to King Ahaz, saying, “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” Another tradition holds that she was busy at the loom, making a funeral shroud for her yet-to-be-born child. At any rate, the message of the angel must have come to her as a surprise — as an interruption of the plans she had laid for that day.

She can’t have fully known which plans from God would interrupt her life (although the legendary Mary making a funeral shroud may well have had a hunch…). But they would come to include the difficult journey to Bethlehem, the birth of her firstborn in less than optimal circumstances, the flight to Egypt to save his life, the cautious return after Herod’s death, his rise to fame as a preacher, teacher and healer, and the devastating series of events that led to his death. Not many of these interruptions would be pleasant for The Mother of Our Lord.

Mary may have suffered this interruption (these interruptions?) with grace, but I prefer to have more control over my days. I usually arrive at the office early, with a fairly well established “to do” list in hand. There are days when I make good progress on my list, but there are also days that end with the list longer than it was at the beginning of the day. You can imagine which days I judge to be more productive; more faithful. (My kingdom come; my will be done, on earth as in heaven…)

Mary knew better than to imagine that her will was more important than God’s. We see it in the song that rises from her lips just after the announcement (also sung during Evening Prayer). As she gathers with her kinswoman Elizabeth, she (or they) sings out:

The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. [St. Luke 1:49-52]

The arrival of the angel may have interrupted her day, but Mary was quick to see that God’s interruption was the world’s, and her, blessing. Great new things were about to happen. God’s mercy would be extended. The proud and powerful would be brought down a notch or two. The lowly would be lifted up. And Mary, faithful Mary, would help to usher it all into the world.

We are grateful, this week, for the example of Mary, The Mother of Our Lord. Even though she may have had something else in mind for that day, she responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What must most young, first century girls have looked forward to in life?
  2. How was God’s vision for Mary’s life surprising? Inspiring?
  3. What gave Mary the courage and insight to respond in the way she did?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do I think is most important in the daily schedule of my life?
  2. When has God interrupted my plans, and caused something sacred to take place?
  3. How might I keep my mind open to the surprises God has in store for me?