Advent 4, Year B: Luke 1:26-38.
On this 4th Sunday of Advent, we marvel at Mary’s acceptance of God’s invitation for her life. We marvel at her YES.
The Feast of the Incarnation is drawing near. But before we behold the arrival of the Christ child, first we behold his mother. Mary, named theotokos by early church theologians. Theotokos. A Greek word translated as: the God-bearer.
As we behold Mary, the God-bearer, in today’s gospel, questions begin to form, a holy curiosity emerges:
What caused Mary to be “full of grace”? — a more accurate translation than “favored one.”
And, how was it that, though perplexed, she said yes to Gabriel? Said yes to God.
What sort of up-bringing and formation took place in her life, took root in her heart, that prepared her to say yes in this moment?
I’ve even wondered: were there others before her who had said no?
We’ll never know. But Luke’s gospel shares this: The angel Gabriel was sent by God to the dusty, little town of Nazareth. As one scholar notes: Nazareth is “a town so small that the larger territory of Galilee must be named first so that the reader will have some idea where it is.”
Nazareth is certainly on the map today and the beautiful and unique 20th century Church of the Annunciation dominates this small-town skyline.
At the heart of this impressive basilica, there is a stone cave which has been a pilgrimage site for millennia. Inside the cave is a stone altar. On that stone altar, there is an inscription written in Latin. Translated, it says this:
And the Word was made flesh HERE.
In a particular time. In a particular place. Where a particular person named Mary … said yes to God.
Her response evokes the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Here am I; send me.” But her words are her own, and are now repeated by all who love her son:
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
So, what is Luke revealing to us about Mary and her YES?
Her posture, or her gesture, was one that was open to the Spirit. She was turned toward God. She was full of grace. Her life and faith were such that, as today’s collect poetically describes, God found a “mansion prepared” in which to dwell.
But note: this state of grace did not keep her from being perplexed. To which Gabriel responds: do not be afraid.
The Bible is full of angelic commands of do not be afraid. It must be what human beings need to hear!
While part of the message is likely “don’t be afraid of the divine presence”; the other part is always about the purpose of the divine visitation.
When angels appear, you are being invited, set apart, and called upon to step beyond what you have imagined.
When angels appear, you are being invited to embark on an adventure that will test you, exceed your abilities and capacities, causing you to continually seek God’s help.
This adventure may cause you to be harm’s way, or at least draw a few critics. And all of it will require trust. Trust in God and God’s purposes.
… And let’s not romanticize it. This is plenty reason to be perplexed and afraid.
It was no small thing for Mary to say YES to Gabriel’s proposal. Just as the word was made flesh HERE, as the Latin inscription on the altar in the stone cave proclaims, it was made flesh in a particular time and context in which she could have been stoned to death for showing up showing.
In saying yes, Mary literally risked her life.
Also, remember — the Annunciation did not happen in a religious vacuum. Judaism was not the only religion around; other competing belief systems existed. The Greeks and Romans had their gods and their beliefs and those stood in contrast to the God of Abraham and Sarah.
For example, think of Zeus. Zeus would come down from on high and have his way with anyone he wished. That is not what happens in today’s gospel. Our God stands in high contrast to Zeus. Our God has been defined through the ages by steadfast love (hesed). And we know God best through Jesus, who never compelled anyone to follow him, but instead extended invitation.
In all of this we see that YHWH is a different operator.
And Mary — full of grace, perplexed, but trusting … said YES.
And her witness is THE glorious example of God’s Spirit meeting a receptive human being and bringing life and salvation!
The kingdom of heaven draws near, healing bodies and souls, transforming lives and this world — just as surely as the Church of the Annunciation transforms the Nazareth skyline today!
God’s desire for humanity’s restoration is set into motion with Mary’s yes. For humanity was healed in the Incarnation!
That’s a lot. That’s really, really big. So, let’s bring it down … to us. In this particular time. In this particular place.
We prepare a mansion for God within us and among us through prayer, repentance, the study of scripture, and works of mercy. These things create a receptive posture toward God. When God’s creative Spirit meets with our receptive hearts, we like Mary, become pregnant with the Spirit.
For we believe that God is at work in this world, with “daily visitation” as our collect proclaims. A daily invitation to us to say — YES.
Every time we say yes to God, we, like Mary, become theotokos, God-bearers — bearing Christ into the world today. For this is our ministry, to partner with God bearing Christ into our daily lives:
In this particular time.
In this particular place.
Full of grace — perplexed, yet trusting.
What is God inviting and calling us to here and now? A calling which is salvific and life-giving in ways perhaps presently unknown to us.
Ponder these things in your heart (Luke 2:19).
And, I have an important message for you, which perhaps I should have led with:
Do not be afraid!
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 Shae, John. Mark: Year B “Eating with the Bridegroom”, p. 34.
Fourth Sunday of Advent collect: Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 212)