I wrote this reflection for an ecumenical group a few years ago and stumbled on it today and thought it went well with this week’s texts.
Let us, for the moment, put aside our theological differences. We need not worry about the historical accuracy of the Christmas passages or if the Greek word for virgin really meant “virgin” or just “young woman.” Instead, let us assume that the story of Mary and Gabriel is true and worthy of our attention. And as we focus our attention on Mary, let us pray that God would open our hearts to a new knowledge and understanding…
Long ago, in days we hardly remember, a young girl lived in a small town and waited for the day of her marriage. She came from an ordinary family. She did not stand out in a crowd. Her parents arranged for her to be married to a man who could pay a reasonable dowry and support her with his trade; he was a carpenter. There was nothing unusual or extraordinary about either the girl, Mary, or the man, Joseph.
That is until one night, God asked her to do something beyond the scope of human imagination. There are many who would say that God did not give Mary a choice, but read carefully and the choice was definitely there – and it was Mary’s to make. She herself was little more than a child, but in one moment she made the most adult decision anyone will ever make.
And she was afraid. There is no way around her fear. Clearly, if some of Gabriel’s first words were, “Do not be afraid…” She was. And with good reason. How often does a teenager get a personal visit from one of God’s messengers?
However, in spite of her fear and her youth, she heard what the Messenger had to say. She would conceive and bear the Son of the Most High. She asked a very good question, “How can this be?” And Gabriel explained it to her as well as it could be explained… the Holy Spirit would come upon her. If this were not enough, her older (much older) cousin Elizabeth would also bear a son because nothing was impossible for God.
The scriptures do not mention any silence or time of reflection, but there had to have been a moment, as brief as the proverbial blink of an eye perhaps, that all was silent. Mary had to at least take a breath and let the significance of the moment fill her, wash over her, boggle her mind, before she responded. In a way, her response is more significant than the request. Remember, she was only a teenager, a virgin, engaged, but not married. She was a child up until the moment of her response: “Let it be with me according to your word.” Gabriel, no doubt, breathed a sigh of relief at this moment. What would he have done if she had said, “No”?
But she said, “Yes.” And this unwed, teenage mother changed the history of humankind. Sure her fiance wanted to break it off until God intervened. Yes, she had a hard time for a while and a long journey on foot (or on the back of a donkey) before she actually gave birth in a stable – little more than a dark, damp cave most likely.
But think of how little is really said of this incredible young woman. Her actions changed the world almost as much as those of her son. If it had not been for her saying “yes” to God’s impossible question, where would we be now?
Or if Mary had said “yes” and wanted the story to be about her, where would we be now?
Let us not skip over her story this Christmas. Let us, instead, look at what this young girl can teach us. She became the bearer of God and then stepped out of the way so the story that continued was God’s, not hers.
She called herself “the servant of the Lord.” Do we not also claim to be servants of the Lord? How often do we say “Yes” to God? How often do we agree to bear God into the world and then step out of the way so that the story that continues becomes God’s story and not ours?
This Christmas, take a moment to listen for God’s Messengers. Ask yourself: What is God calling me to do? Can I say Yes? Can I bear God into the world, even in a small way, and then step out of the way?
If fear gets in the way, remember we always have a choice. But also remember that an unwed teenage mother changed the history of the world.
What is the greatest gift we can give or receive? The answer is as simple as it is complex: to bear God into the world and then step out of the way.
RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday of Advent
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19