From “How?” to “Wow!”
Isaiah 61:1-11 Romans 16:25-27 Luke 1:26-38
Well, the time of preparation is at an end. Did you get it all done? Me either. But, no matter, this journey is about to begin! Not just the journey to the Holy City that will be enacted in so many ways throughout all of Christendom, but the journey of faith that we mark every year with the promised birth of Jesus.
Yes, our season of expectation and hope has ended with a promise. The promise is that God will interrupt our lives. Some of you are hearing that and may be reacting like Lucy telling Schroeder to play Jingle Bells. You know the scene. He plays several styles until in exasperation he plays the note by note version on the piano, and she yells, “THAT’S IT!”
You see, we really don’t want God to interrupt our lives in any way that actually changes anything. We want our traditions and the comforts they bring. We want to get our shopping done. We want to touch and taste and see things that transport us out of the ordinary conflicts of our present tense. Mostly we want to avoid the pain of our past as well, but sometimes we want the space and time to mourn – just a little – that which has come and gone.
There’s nothing really wrong with any of that, unless it keeps us from hearing God’s persistent and present message of interruption.
God rudely interrupts our festivities with the most incendiary political tweet of the day, “Jesus is to be born of Mary. She’s a poor virgin. I’m the father.” The unspoken message – were it to be a follow up tweet – would be something like, “She has nothing to fear, but those in power should be shaking in their boots.”
Truly. This announcement – to be born of a god – was an essential calling card of national or multinational leaders. The biggest difference here is that the story is not only about a man of divine heritage, it is about a poor woman – a teenage girl, actually – of no account who was told not to fear because God loved her and wanted her to be a part of what God was doing, not only for God’s people but for the world. For those who read it first – and for you and me today – this is God’s way of saying, “Don’t you get it? I always choose to be revealed through the powerless.”
While the text doesn’t necessarily say that she has a choice, she makes one. She makes the choice to move from “How?” to “Wow!” She moves from disbelief to a level of commitment that could end her life if the wrong people heard at the right time and picked up stones for an adulterous girl.
More than the law, Mary knew her God. As we read further in her song of praise, she reminds us that this God is the God of deliverance. This God is the God who shows mercy to those that seek it. This God is the God who scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, brings down the powerful, and lifts up the lowly. This God is the God who promises to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty, because they trust in their wealth to save them.
This God is the same God that interrupts our lives today and says, “Don’t you get it? I always choose to be revealed through the powerless.”
So, what does that say about us? Is God not present with or revealed through you and me? Some would say that there is an argument to be made there. As for me, I would say that this story makes me open my eyes to the fact that there are those who are powerless all around us – even in this free and fair nation. The powerless remain a source of revelation about God, that is true.
But because of – as Paul told the church in Rome – “the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed” through Jesus Christ, I know that we can be sources of revelation, too.
In fact, this story about Mary invites each of us to be – as she was described in Greek – the “theotokos”; one who is a God-bearer. We can do this. Not as literally as Mary, but we can do this if we listen to God’s interruption as it comes to us in the need of friend or the suffering of a stranger. It comes to us in the struggle for power over others versus power that is shared for the sake of the common good.
When we listen to God’s interruption without fear and move in our hearts from “How?” to “Wow!”, we will find that we have become God-bearers with a role to play. Then we cannot help but sing like Mary to say, “Not me, but we – and all to God’s glory!”
For, the promise that we are left with is that our lives have been interrupted with an invitation for more. What will our response be to the continued interruption of God? Will we ignore it? Will we condemn the one who is vulnerable as we so often do? Will we do whatever it takes to feel secure? Or will we, like Mary, embrace the vulnerability and ambiguity of God’s grace?
For every day we are confronted with promises and lies. Some of them are even our own. What will our response be? Time will tell. My hope is that we can hold our response up against Mary’s, so that all we do is intended – no matter how imperfectly – to glorify God. Either way, the close of Advent is just the beginning of our active response to God’s grace.
Let us not only be active in our anticipation of what God is doing in our midst. Let us continue to be a people who look for God in unexpected places, even as we say, “Here we are. Let it be with us as you have said, so that we may glorify you with all that we have, and all that we are – even if that means becoming something that we have not yet been.”
Mary’s choice to embrace the truth that was growing inside of her resulted in a new identity. She became a mother, and she became the one through whom God physically revealed God’s purposes for all of humanity, for all of time. In our own way, we are called to that same end.
So, let us move together from “How?” to “Wow!” – not because of presents under a tree, but because God has interrupted our celebrations once again with the opportunity to be bearers of life and light in a world bent on snuffing it out. Let it be with us, according to God’s word, that we might glorify God in all we do and say. Amen.