Advent 4B (12/21/2008)

Let It Be

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." 38 Then 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.

When I consider this week's text, and reflect on the story that lies behind it, I can't help but hear in my mind the soulful strains of Paul McCartney and his piano in "Let It Be" (Let it be, let it be...), or the moving refrain from Marty Haugen's "Holden Evening Prayer" (An angel went from God, to a town called Nazareth...). Any number of artists have been inspired by this story of a humble young first century woman, who received the word of God in a visit from an angel (Gabriel, no less), and whose faithful response has inspired people for generations. Songs. Paintings. Sunday School plays. Novels. This story has been relayed to us in so many ways, by so many different people, involving so many different images, that we can hardly figure out what we believe about Mary's story that comes from the Bible, and what comes from popular culture.

I, for one, tend to think of this story as a dramatic moment in young Mary's life. I imagine Mary to be a innocent, humble, unknown girl. She is living with her family in a modest hut, learning how to keep a house and care for a family. She may be involved in a synagogue, but more because of her parents' commitment than her own. She is preoccupied with the same simple, childlike concerns of other children her age.

In a moment, with a word, she is thrust into adulthood. Gabriel comes to her and proclaims that she will become Mother of God. It is a frightening prospect for this unmarried single girl. Yet she accepts the call, and her life is never the same again. There will be joy and delight along the way, but also great heartache and pain. Mary is no longer a young, carefree school girl, but the Mater Dolorosa - the Mother of Sorrows.

Reading the text lately, however, I wonder if I've had it right all these years. Perhaps this moment with Gabriel wasn't as pivotal for Mary as I have assumed. She asks a simple and understandable question ("How can this be?"). But once Gabriel explains it to her, her response is brief and simple: "I am God's servant. Let it be." Rather than a pivotal moment, perhaps this conversation with Gabriel simply moves Mary along in the same trajectory she had been on her whole life: that of seeking to please God, and live according to the tradition and practice of her Jewish ancestors. Perhaps this is one more faithful step, in the life of one who had committed herself to God years earlier.

Christmas is a season when we celebrate the Word of God, born in a Bethlehem manger - Immanuel ("God with us"). Wouldn't it be nice if our engagement with this festival stirred us to spend more time with the Word of God, as it comes to us on the pages of the Bible? Wouldn't it be nice if, rather than depending on Christmas carols and television specials and Hollywood movies and cartoons, we took time during this season to read the ancient story with fresh eyes for what God is trying to proclaim through the birth of this baby in Bethlehem?

Our prayer for each of you is that these ancient stories might take life in your hearts this season. That you might see, in the birth of this newborn savior, God's deep desire to shower you with grace and transform you with love. That the Christ who was born two thousand years ago in Bethlehem might be born anew in your heart today. That's what God was hoping to accomplish when Gabriel made his visit to Mary, and that's what God continues to do through the proclamation of the Gospel today.

As you move through these few remaining days before the celebration of Christmas, may you find time to turn your attention back to the original story that St. Matthew and St. Mark remember or us. The very power of God resides in these stories. May it touch your heart, and shape your life, and encourage your faith, for Jesus' sake.


David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  • How does St. Luke describe Mary before her meeting with the Angel Gabriel?
  • What did Gabriel say, that provided Mary with a glimpse of her future as Jesus' mother?
  • What does it mean that Mary thinks of herself as a "servant of the Lord?"

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  • What have I assumed about Mary's story that might not be supported by the text?
  • How does Mary's story inspire me to faithfulness?
  • When will I take time to read the Christmas story in Matthew's Gospel and/or Luke's Gospel between now and Christmas Eve?