Take my lips, Oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” Well, Christmas is almost here, almost. Christmas Eve will be upon us at sunset. Meanwhile, right now, it’s the fourth Sunday of Advent. And, this Advent still has one more important lesson for us. Let’s not rush past this story of the annunciation. It’s one of those stories that tell us who Jesus is. The story suggests something about how we might best respond as well. That word, “annunciation”, joins a list of other words that we use when talking about our faith, words like incarnation, transfiguration and resurrection. Certainly, big words like those can be a bit intimidating. It’s important to remember that these big words tell us something about what Christian people believe about God. Annunciation, for instance, is a fancy word for announcement. Today we heard the angel Gabriel announce several things to Mary. She is favored by God, some translations say she is God’s blessed one, and God has given her a particular role to fill. Mary, who isn’t even married yet, will become the mother of a son, a son who will be great, a king in David’s line. Further, Mary’s son will be called “the son of the Most High”, which is just another way to say God. What happened was important for Mary but it’s important for us too. The Annunciation tells us that God loves all people enough to become one of us in the most humble way possible. How do you react to that news? Did you notice? The Gospel tells us that Mary was both awe stuck and perplexed all at once. I can just imagine. In my experience many people would tend toward skepticism in the face of such an announcement. Zechariah, for instance, when Gabriel announced that his wife was pregnant, asked “how will I know this is true, after all, my wife is old”? Mary, naturally enough, followed in Zechariah’s footsteps asking: “How can this be…? I wonder, though, about the angel Gabriel, he’d delivered the message faithfully. Can you imagine him in that pause between giving the message and hearing Mary’s response? In his book, Peculiar Treasures, Frederick Buechner imagines the moment this way. “She (meaning Mary) struck the angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, but he’d been entrusted with a message to give her and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, and who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said. And as he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings, he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.” Because, of course, we’ve heard it again and again, God created us with the remarkable freedom to choose for ourselves. Desiring our faithful, loving, obedience God will not ever force our human response, however longed for it is. We are free to disobey, to turn away, to find our own way, to depend on ourselves alone. It’s a mark of God’s love that God respects our freedom so completely and has always done so. And so it was, in that moment between the message delivered and the response given, that the whole creation waited with bated breath. What would Mary’s answer be? Did you hear it, that sigh of relief given by the whole creation, even by the Creator of all, at Mary’s answer? “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) As I said, this announcement, this annunciation, is just as important for us as it was for Mary. Remember, please, God deeply desires our faithful, loving, response. Mary may not have been sure just exactly how things would work out but remember her response. She is so honest, she doesn’t try and hide her uncertainty. Still, even in the face of her understandable perplexity she says “yes”. She welcomes God into herself. And, in that moment of saying “yes”, Mary is “overshadowed” by God, filled by God, caught up in something completely beyond herself and changed entirely. Yikes. I can’t entirely imagine Mary’s experience, but something here captures my remembered experience of being pregnant, of carrying the mystery of a new life within my own body. It was an experience of being pulled out of myself to be changed entirely by the growing reality of another. I don’t know how it is for you, but I find that new realities are often both exciting and challenging. After all, who can control that new life that God is bringing about through us? But, maybe, we don’t really need to take on that burden. After all, one thing to be learned in this Advent season has to do with how God holds out to us that great gift of love and, today especially, how God trusts us to respond to that love. Can we not, for our part, learn to offer our trusting love, and commitment, in return? Look at Mary, she is such a good model for us here. Here’s the thing, it is our saying yes to God, as Mary did, that gives us true freedom. Remember here that the name “Jesus”, in Hebrew “Yeshua”, means “God liberates”. We are always moving forward into God’s future. As with Mary our response if crucial. We each have been given particular gifts and we each have a particular role to play in the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom, that now and not yet time, of hope, peace, joy, and love. Can you respond, as Mary did, saying: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord…”(Luke 1:38) trusting God to give you “strength and courage” as you go out to “love and serve our Lord with gladness and singleness of heart”? (post-communion prayer, BCP page 365) Your response is critical, just as much as Mary’s was, the whole creation waits with bated breath, trembling in anticipation. What will you say? Amen.