Advent 4, Dec. 20, 2020
Before today’s passage from Luke, Mary is living her life … She goes about her daily routine in a small out-of-way town called Nazareth … She has a fiancée … there’s a marriage in her future and … as far as we know … children are expected to follow.
Then, God interrupts.
Mary receives a visit from the angel Gabriel who brings her a message from God.
He greets her with the words “the Lord is with you” and tells her that she has been favoured by God.
The angel tells her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the power of God will overshadow her and that … even though she is a virgin … Mary will give birth to a boy … who she will name Jesus … and who will become known as “The Son of God.”
AND that his kingdom will have no end.
Depending on the translation, Mary is perplexed … puzzled … or fearful.
Mary will be a pregnant, an unwed teenager whose fiancée is not the father of the baby.
When her pregnancy becomes apparent, there is a good chance that she will be shunned by the community and her family.
Mary exists far from the centre of society and is a gender that is little more than property in her world. She … like her relative Elizabeth, can be easily overlooked and pushed off to the margins.
Still, after hearing Gabriel’s words Mary … in a decision anchored in trust … says “Here I am a servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary gives herself over to God’s plan.
God has been active in Elizabeth’s life, as well.
Even though she has passed the usual child-bearing years … Elizabeth is also carrying a son … who will be called John.
John, as we know, prepares the way for Jesus’ ministry in the world.
Mary hikes through the treacherous Judean mountainside to visit her relative … to share time with someone else who has experienced the possibilities … the wonders … that God’s actions can bring.
Once she arrives, Elizabeth and the baby are both joyous when they recognize the promise that is present. Mary … someone who could easily be ignored by the world … is called “blessed.”
The world around her may place little importance or value on Mary’s life … but God places a high value on her … Gabriel had assures Mary that she has received God’s favour.
Actually, in the original Greek the word that we translated as “favour” is actually the word that means “grace.”
Whether she’s puzzled … perplexed … or fearful when God … breaks into her life, Mary makes a profound move from being overwhelmed to being strengthened through knowing God’s grace … knowing that a change in the life of the world is looming and that it is a change that she helps bring about. Grace does that.
It is from the strength in her trust in God’s promise that Mary sings the praises of the Lord as she visits Elizabeth.
Mary sings that the lowly have been recognized … that the powerful will be brought down … that the hungry will be fed … and the rich will lose their status and be made humble.
God … through the child … will turn the world upside down. Nothing is impossible Gabriel tells Mary.
In fact, in coming to Mary and Elizabeth … in working through them … God was already actively changing the status quo.
No wonder Mary sings a song of thanks and praise … in the harsh world she inhabits … the impossible now seems entirely possible.
Mary’s song is one that theologian Marilyn McCord Adams says shows that God takes our self-offerings … all that we have and all that we are … lifts them up on heaven’s altar … sanctifies us with the Holy Presence … makes us partners, co-workers, collaborators with God.
Advent is a time of waiting … of anticipating … and of transformation. This Advent is no different and very different.
In the midst of the pandemic … when communities and the structures of the past have been damaged … and the familiar is a distant memory … perhaps we should look for the possible … for where God breaks in and calls us to be collaborators.
During this season of Advent … when we anticipate the light that will come into a darkened world … perhaps we can use it as a time to prepare ourselves … to be open to the Holy working in us in and the world.
To ensure that we are as open to the word as Mary was in today’s story … that our hearts are open to the grace we have received and open to bringing that grace … that love … to the lives of others around us and being grateful for the grace that touches us.
Mary’ song is one of gratitude … for the wonder that God has brought to her life … and the wonders that God will continue to bring into the world … gratitude for the dramatic change that grace makes possible.
God blesses Elizabeth with a child and … in turn … her experience … her story … becomes a blessing for Mary … helping convince her that she is worthy of God’s favour … when Mary asks, “How can this be?”
And Mary … through the blessing … through God’s favour … through God’s grace … becomes a blessing for the world.
As we move toward the conclusion of the season of Advent … during the midst of Covid’s second wave … we can echo Mary’s question … just as Elizabeth did … “How can this be?”
How can this be … that you are alone?
How can this be … that you are hungry?
How can this be … that you are suffering?
How can this be … that your worth has been unrecognized?
In the stories of Elizabeth and Mary, we can see the over-arching promise of God’s grace … its ability to reshape lives and … ultimately … the life of the world.
Like Mary … like Elizabeth … we have each received the gift of God’s grace. … we are each favoured … and we are each called to minister to a world in need… to make God’s presence known in the life of the world … in other words … to be a blessing.
To lift those brought low …
To feed the hungry …
To walk humbly …
To comfort those in pain or fearful …
To be with the lonely …
To be a community whose foundation truly is love.
Through the gift of grace …. through our being favoured … we are called to be a means for the Holy … for God … to break into the life of the world … to carry love into the darkness and illuminate the way … to show that God favours all.