Sunday, December 20, 2020

4th Sunday in Advent, 2020=B: Unafraid

Lectionary: Micah 5: 2-5a; Canticle 15; Hebrews 10: 5-10; Luke 1:39-55 

 En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen. 

In our Collect today we prayed: “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation…” What if God actually visited us the way God visited Mary in today’s gospel? You realize we just asked for that.right? And that God hears and answers our prayers. Just sayin’…

So often we listen to this story of the Annunciation and assume that Mary is afraid because heaven just broke through into earth and an angel is standing there in front of her. Legend describes him as having wings as white as snow and eyes like flames.

We don’t know that - or if the angel just suddenly appeared, walked or flew through the window or door to Mary’s room, or if he found her outside - the gospel doesn’t tell us. All we know is that the angel Gabriel came to Mary and greeted her by calling her “favored one.”

Given that Mary’s response to Gabriel’s greeting was to ponder it, it doesn’t appear that his presence made her afraid. If you heard the strength of her faith proclaimed in the Magnificat last week, it’s clear that while Mary may be humble, she is anything but faint-hearted.

I think when Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid he’s referring to what he’s about to say - that God has chosen her to bear the long-awaited Messiah into the world. Still clearly unafraid, Mary responds with a very practical question - how? To which Gabriel replies, the “Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High God will overshadow you…”

There are several times this word, “overshadowed” appears in Scripture. Adam was overshadowed by God in Genesis. (2:21) Moses was overshadowed by God in Exodus. (33:21-23). The disciples were overshadowed by God on the Mount of the Transfiguration in Luke. (9:34) Each time God was affirming for these faithful servants the power, presence, and protection of God, not just in general, but specifically for them, as they set out to accomplish what God was giving them to do.

When Gabriel told Mary that God would overshadow her, she would have known the stories in Genesis and Exodus, and what being overshadowed would mean for her. Her proclamation in the Magnificat that all generations would call her blessed can then be understood not as a departure from humility, but as an acknowledgment of her destiny.

I’m sure Mary had lots more questions swirling around in her mind as she pondered the reality of what was being asked of her. Like most of us, and like the prophets before her, Mary had to wonder, ‘Can I really do this?’ Do I have what it takes?

As if hearing those questions in her mind, the angel Gabriel assures Mary (and us) that God is already making this happen. Her cousin Elizabeth, who was barren and too old to have a child, is pregnant. Mary now has a companion for her journey, and as we will see later, so do their sons. 

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”

One word that does describe Mary, as this gospel makes very clear, is purity. Mary was pure – not in the patriarchal, puritanical sense, but in the spiritual sense. To be pure is to be undistracted, to be completely in line with God and God’s will.

Mary’s response to what she was being asked to do was purity personified: “let it be done with me” as you have said. It is an affirmation of her faith that the God of love is with her and will accomplish through her the part of the plan of salvation designed just for her to do. As we said when we lit the fourth candle today - there is no power greater than love. Mary knew that, trusted it, and so could respond faithfully to God’s call to her.

Mary has been an important part of my spiritual life since I was a little child - a constant presence, strength, and inspiration for me as I have grown in age and spirit. She has truly been for me, Theotokos, the God-bearer, bringing Christ into my life and experience in very real ways.

These experiences taught me that I, too, am a God-bearer. We all are. The Spirit of Christ dwells in each of us, sanctifies us, and calls us to bear that into the world – each in our own way, in very real ways, according to God’s plan. 

As this season of Advent draws to a close, I pray we, like Mary, welcome the love of God into our lives and our bodies as God continues to work for the salvation of the whole world. I pray we, like Mary, truly believe that God is with us, in us, and will accomplish through us the part of the plan of salvation designed specifically for us - as individuals and as the body of Christ, the church. 

 Let us pray… Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation that we may know your presence, and be bearers of your love, mercy, and justice into the world. By your presence in us and with us we know that anything is possible, any risk worth taking, any price worth paying. Because you have asked it, we will give ourselves to it - fully, faithfully, as our Mother Mary did. Amen.

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