The Fourth Sunday of Advent
E. Bevan Stanley
December 20, 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Mary said to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
King David was finally established on his throne. There were no wars at the moment and life is good. He feels bad that he is living in a nice house but the ark of the covenant is still just in a tent. He wants to build a nice house for God, a temple. But God speaks through the prophet Nathan (whose name means “Gift” by the way) and tells David that the Lord never asked for a house. Instead God will make David into a house, that is a dynasty. It’s a pun on the word for house. This is what came to b known as the Davidic covenant. In the words of the Lord, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” After about four hundred years, David’s kingdom falls to the Babylonians. After the exile puppet kings are installed by the Medes and Persians. Then the Greeks come and rule; then the Romans. What has become of the promise God made that there David’s throne would endure forever?
Now we are about a thousand years after David, and Luke starts the story of the messiah with this sentence. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” There is a lot of hope packed into this sentence. First, the sixth month is the sixth month of the pregnancy of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, who had been barren. She is already living into a miracle of life that she never expected. God sends his angel Gabriel to a particular address in a town in Galilee, and to a specific person, a young woman named Mary. Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who just happened to be a descendant of King David. God is going to keep the promise to David.
This encounter has a lot of drama in it. The archangel says to the teenage girl, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Now, clearly Mary is not an Episcopalian. If Gabriel said to any of you, “The Lord is with you,” you would respond with what? “And also with you,” of course. Seriously, though all the weird stuff come after this first greeting.
Not receiving any response, the angel continues by telling her that she is going to the mother of a very important person. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The promise to David will be fulfilled.
Mary had stopped listening after the first phrase, “you will conceive and bear a son.” Her response is not to be impressed with what an important person her child is to be, but much more pragmatic. “How can have a baby when I have not had sex with anyone?” 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. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said the most amazing thing. This is why she is remembered, this is why she is the foremost of all the saints. She said to the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary said “Yes.”
Yes, I am willing to put myself at God’s disposal. Yes, I will cooperate with God’s work. Yes, I will allow God to fill me with divine life. Yes, I will bring this new live into the world.
Why would Mary respond this way? What made Mary say that? She was not married. If she got pregnant, her fiancé would drop her. The neighbors would ostracize her parents. She might even get stoned for adultery. Was she out of her mind?
There was no command. Yet when the angel called her “blessed one,” he was not just being polite. She knew in that moment that she was blessed and favored by God. She knew, too, that what she was being called to do was not merely a biological oddity. She was being asked to participate in some immense divine act. She was being asked to be the doorway through which God would come to earth. She did not understand all that, but she knew that it was bigger than anything she imagined.
What made Mary say “yes?” Faith, foolishness, love, joy, recklessness, passion?
We all know. There is in each one of us a place where Mary’s “yes” makes sense. It may be a small grain of sand, or a dimly burning wick. It may be that Mary’s “yes” sounds like a trumpet blast in our soul. However it is with each of us, we do understand.
Mary is a mirror for the Church. As Mary is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and becomes full of life, so also the Church is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and filled with the divine life. As Mary gives brings forth the incarnate God into the world, so the Church brings Jesus into the world in the person of her members. Like Mary, the Church can only be a source of life when it yields itself to God’s love.
Mary is also a picture of how each of us individually should respond to God. We say yes. No matter how impossible it may seem. No matter how reckless it may seem. Let us look inside our own selves. What if anything is growing there? Are we willing to let go of our own agendas so that this life that is in me but is not me can have its way? We are called to be Maries—full of grace. We don’t know what the child will become, but the whole thing is divine.
What Mary did was to open herself to God. What Mary did was to allow the divine seed to implant itself in her and to grow. And most of all she made room for the impossible. I am struck by the importance of the obvious axiom that all things are possible with God. I realize that most of my fears and anxieties come from the fact that I do not believe all things are possible. I can’t imagine a solution, so I fret. I see only the usual outcomes, and I fear. I can imagine only what has happened in the past, so I become discouraged about the future.
But consider life itself. By any statistical calculation, we are incredibly lucky to be here. For the conditions for biological life to come together is improbable to a degree that we would say it is impossible were it not for the fact that here we are. It is no accident that in proving his point the Angel reminds Mary that her barren cousin is now six months pregnant. The biblical stories of God’s power usually involve the highly improbable arrival of life. The desert will bloom says the prophet Isaiah. Sarah conceives in her old age. Hannah and Elizabeth bear children when all hope was gone. Both Elijah and Elisha restore children to life, as does Jesus. Finally, Jesus rises from the dead. When life is threatened there is healing. When life is ended there is resurrection. When a relationship is torn asunder there is reconciliation. When injury occurs there is healing. When sin damages ourselves and others, there is forgiveness. Nothing is impossible with God.
Nothing is impossible with God. Whatever we may regard as our shortcomings, our looks, our abilities, our accomplishments, in whatever way we feel we are less than we should be, God is present to help and to love. Sometimes, what we regard as a fault, God regards as a gift. Sometimes, what we are unable to do, God is able to do through us. Sometimes, what is necessary but impossible, God only needs someone to say, “Here I am. Be it to me according to your word. God says to David, “Take your three stones and kill Goliath.” The boy gives Jesus five loaves and two fish, and five thousand are fed. A young woman says yes, and the world is saved.
That, of course, is the hitch. God insists on a partnership with us. He insists on our free choice. He requires someone willing to be the agent of impossibility. What we seek–peace, good work, the ability to help others, health, life, joy–these things God wants us to have. When they seem improbable or even impossible, then we need God to do the impossible. And God needs us to be available to the impossible. This is the call of our hearts; this is the call of God.
Today Gabriel comes to each of us to say, “You are blessed. God wants to grow in you.” And we are all invited to say, “Be it unto me a according to your word.” We cannot understand more than Mary at that terrible and glistening moment when the angel comes. But that small part of us that does understand, that spark that ignites when we hear her “Yes” says, “Yes I am willing to go on with story. Yes, I am willing to be filled with the new thing God has planted.
Yes, I will let it grow and be born into the world. I do not understand how this will be. I cannot see how it is possible. I cannot believe that I will live through it. All I know is mouth is saying “Let me to me according to your word,” Amen. Let it be.